Roberta Stoddart’s paintings have been described as brave, dense, bold, thoroughly executed, and deeply felt. Intense and disturbing, they stimulate questions about our collective prejudices, our psychological spaces, and our notions of belonging. Stoddart has published two books, Seamless Spaces (2000) and TheStoryteller (2007), produced seven solo exhibitions, and participated in important local, regional, and international group shows. She is the recipient of a Peoples’ Choice prize in France and has exhibited at the Werner Gallery, Berlin, Germany. Born in Jamaica, she lives and works in Trinidad.
REC: What is the central theme behind this body of work?
RS: I find enthusiasm and peace in the search for meaning. Ongoing inspirations for my work are death and fear, rejection and isolation, unrequited love and loss, disillusionment and grief. I find the world a sad place, even with all of its blessings. The Tear Catcher collects my tears.
My father died in 2014. His absence is a constant reminder of death’s finality. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust—cremation returns my father’s ashes to the world. I live with the ghost of loss, and with the hope of resolution through love. In the mysterious flow of life, death and loss are our constant companions. My father’s ashes are inextricable from my dark, dusky landscapes.
My dystopian landscapes represent internal and external wounding. Life is hard and often unfair; yet life also gifts us with grace. Spiritual healing and transformationabound in disillusionment, loss, powerlessness, acceptance, and grieving.
What does your art aim to say to your audience?
I do not aim to say anything to an audience. I strive to paint for myself. But in doing so, I hope that an audience will identify with my work, be moved by it, be touched by it, Then, my work comes full circle.
In 2008, I created a body of work called Full Moon Madness. “Sleepwalkers”, a large narrative, explores the main concept of Full Moon Madness—that our limited conditioning puts us to sleep, and we long to awaken to our authentic selves and fulfill our potential. I connect mental health with aspects of myself, my family, Jamaican history and culture, the Caribbean, and our essential identity—the soul.
Literary inspirations for “Sleepwalkers” are Charlotte Bronte’s bleak Gothic novel, Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys’s haunting supernatural prequel, Wide Sargasso Sea, and Michelle Cliff.
I paint what I love and fear. My technical practice and subject matter are inseparably intertwined, grounding and liberating the other in turns. Honouring the tradition of painting, I push the boundaries of what I know, experimenting with subject matter and technique.
I find enthusiasm and peace in the search for meaning. Ongoing inspirations for my work are death and fear, rejection and isolation, unrequited love and loss, disillusionment and grief. I find the world a sad place, even with all of its blessings. The Tear Catcher collects my tears.
The mystery of faith—trusting goodness—is life to the heart. I paint with dark colours to signify the active existence of soul residing beneath my awareness. In the “Dark Night”, I find that love is my heart’s deepest desire.
Our Stone Age ancestors forged the first black pigments from fire, purifying charcoal from bone. Black endures—soulful, fecund, mystical, ritualistic, symbolic—resurgent and eternal. Black has secret splendour, depth and possibility, traversing between worlds, conjuring up infinity.
How has your art evolved over the years?
Striving to create meaningful connections in my life and in my work is the foundation of my creativity and artistic expression. I try to look for God in everything. Art is created through us, and by us. God is always involved.
God is—in everyone, everything, everywhere; seen and unseen. When I know that and can feel that, then nothing is inconsequential, all creatures are sacred, and all of life becomes an opportunity to love. The entire world is my inspiration.
I try to lean into what I fear – it is always what I should do next. Stepping into the unknown is how I grow — allowing my imagination to take precedence while I paradoxically insist on truth. Beauty is truth, and truth is beauty, no matter how seemingly ugly. I try to listen to the world and learn, but I know that I see most clearly and holistically with my heart. To possess a sense of humor, of the ridiculous, is equally essential to the creative process. What is happening internally in an artist’s life.