art: Review of ‘Brett, Barry and Uncle Ed’ in Norfolk
by Teresa Annas
The Virginian-Pilot 12/11/08

NORFOLK, VA – ED ROEBUCK was an important artist in the local scene from the 1960s through the ’80s. Then he looked like the Pop artist Alex Katz, a slight and angular man with a penetrating gaze. His realistic graphite figure drawings shared some qualities with Katz’s work, too, isolating enigmatic characters against a pared-down or blank background.

For the first time in years, Roebuck’s work is featured in a local gallery. ArtGallery in Ghent is displaying his work alongside that of two talented nephews who were deeply influenced by him.

Roebuck is best known for spray-painting X’s in 1981 over more than 60 of his own paintings in a Norfolk gallery, because a lawyer was threatening to seize and sell them to pay back rent. The act became a national story, and half the paintings sold, helping the artist, then in his early 40s, through a financial crisis. He’s also known as the 1970 best-in-show winner of the Boardwalk Art Show in Virginia Beach, where in 1997 he was last noted locally displaying his art. Through the years, Roebuck has been an artist of utmost integrity creating superbly crafted work. He hasn’t gone for easy sentimentality. His work is not Pop, in the sense of purposely reflecting popular culture, but it shares with Pop a cool distance from the subject.

None of his five drawings on view features people, yet there’s a sense of a human presence. His 1997 “The Village” is a close-up of a cactus. He once called it “Family,” saying that it reminded him of growing up with 11 siblings.

Roebuck rendered the piece with his usual painstaking detail, luring the viewer to enjoy the paddle shapes – like tufted pillows – and the complicated play of light. Light is a key element in his work and often gives his images the atmosphere of a low-key drama played out on stage.

Both nephews also have an air of theatricality in their work. Barry Roebuck studied art at Virginia Commonwealth University, makes his living in Petersburg as a commercial artist and exhibits internationally.

He paints on wood with ink, letting the wood show through in places, in the same way a watercolorist uses the white of the paper. He draws on the surfaces, too, with strong, almost angry graphite strokes, sometimes suggesting an “X” gesture.

His images are neosurrealistic landscapes. The land elements suggest Rorschach test ink blot shapes that resemble tree canopies, a flock of paratroopers and huge dark clouds.

Brett Amory lives in San Francisco, where he works as a graphic artist and exhibits extensively. Examples from his “Waiting” series, begun in 2001, are on display. Amory paints modern public settings containing figures that look disconnected from one another and the place. He has succeeded in capturing a sense of numbed anticipation – the opposite of living in the present.