In their words: Conversations with Writing Topography artists—#08: Nigel Roe

Beaverbrook Art GalleryNovember 18, 20150 Comments

Over the next several weeks, we will be posting interviews with artists currently featured in the Gallery’s Writing Topography exhibition. These interviews were conducted by Rebecca Goodine, a university student participating in an internship at the Gallery. These interviews present artists talking about themselves and their work in their own words. Interviews were conducted with the artists by email, and have been lightly edited for grammar and flow (occasionally, questions and responses have been removed). At the end of interviews, we’ve included some links to provide a bit more information about a topic or theme from the interview; these links have been chosen by us, and were not provided by the artists.

Nigel Roe

Photo: Roger Smith


I think we can find inspiration anywhere and everywhere. I think we should be inquisitive about everything. We should constantly be learning new things as these bring a variety of new directions and possibilities to us as artists.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic practice.

I have been actively involved in the practice of visual art for the past 40 years. After leaving NSCAD in the 70’s I went on to work in the surface design business, creating patterns for wallpaper and textiles for ten years. I continued to explore my own work during this time and had a number of exhibitions in the Montreal area where I grew up. After this time, I became interested in gardens and man’s manipulation of nature to create gardens, and their relationship to nature in general. I moved to PEI in 1978 and since that time been exploring the concepts around the manipulation of nature by man to reflect his own desires.

How would you describe your work in the exhibition?

The works are based on the concept of portraits of trees… Trees that I find as interesting and with history and wonder. They can be old or newer trees, but it is about the tree in its physical space, the overall effect of the tree on the landscape and its surrounding. I am not trying to describe great or champion trees but simply trees that affect me in their own environment. The work of Jasper Johns* appeals to me. His approach to representing common objects in a different way forces the audience to reconsider the object itself; I find this same direction in presenting trees, objects that are so ubiquitous in our world.

Can you tell us about the process of creating the work in the exhibition?

The wall pieces are part of an ongoing series of tree portraits. There are now over 20 individual portraits that feature trees for a variety of locations. The hanging work is part of a forest that I am creating. Each hanging tree will be placed so that the audience can walk around and through a forest, enjoying and admiring each individual tree but also the relationship between them and the forest in general.

What was the development process like from your initial idea to the finished work?

I photograph and record landscape elements everywhere I go. Once back in the studio, the material is prioritized and refined, then transferred to final versions. I use the material Mylar to take advantage of its transparency. Many of the tree portraits have drawings on the front and back of the surface, and some have several layers of Mylar, so that the audience can read through the work much like reading through a real forest.

What is it you hope for the viewer to discover or consider through this work?

To simply enjoy and reconsider trees in a different way. Trees are almost ubiquitous and their value in the environment is overlooked. They play a huge part in keeping the earth stable by producing huge amounts of oxygen that is transferred back into the atmosphere. To take the natural environment more seriously and consider the implications of the tree/forest destruction.

How does your work connect with broader themes?

I feel that there are only two attitudes towards nature, one that confronts and one that accepts. In the first, form is imposed on chaos, as man attempts to manipulate nature into his or her own value structure, Capability Brown* being the most well-known examples of this in landscape design. In the second we discover in the chaos of nature an order, and accept the natural nature as it exists.

The histories of the western and eastern garden reflect these two ideals; both of these are supported by a philosophy. In the western garden, trees are planted and ordered, paths are straightened, and visible form is imposed… It is not without its beauty as well. In the eastern garden the landscape is simply taken as is, and the inherent nature found within is what becomes its beauty.

Why was it important for you to give a singular focus, and almost personify, the trees of the Tree Portrait series? Can you talk about your use of text in these works?

I am a big fan of typography due to my background as a graphic designer and teacher of the same subject. The type of lettering on each work reflects the ongoing conversations that I have while creating each work. If there was an audio speaker embedded in each work that one could turn up or on, the text is part of what you might hear. Writing and type has long been a part of my work.

More generally, how has your experience of Prince Edward Island been an influencing factor in your work?

I don’t think it would have mattered if I had lived anywhere else for this series; the trees might have changed, but the approach would have been the same. I enjoy the island as it is small enough to become intimate with trees as individuals, and for me to be able to return to see them throughout part of their ongoing lives. Another place might have just provided more variety.

What does ‘creativity’ mean to you?

Creativity is finding a direction or pathway that leads to personal fulfillment. It is a lifelong challenge and rarely is always smooth and successful. It is full of hurdles and outcomes that spring up in front of us.

What kinds of things do you find helpful as sources of inspiration?

I think we can find inspiration anywhere and everywhere. I think we should be inquisitive about everything. We should constantly be learning new things as these bring a variety of new directions and possibilities to us as artists.

What advice do you have to give to new and aspiring artists?

Work for yourself, not for the market, because in the long run the work will always be better. Do not be swayed by the quest for riches. Money generally brings trouble. Cultivate experiences, travel everywhere you can, explore new cultures and meet other artists everywhere. Practice your craft; art is routed in craftsmanship. We make stuff. Make as much as you can… some may be good.

Learn more about...

Jasper John (The MET)
Lancelot (Capability) Brown (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Artist bio

Nigel Roe received his training at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, the Printmaking Program at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and at the School of Art in Montreal. Since 1986 he has been the department head of the Graphic Design program at Holland College in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Roe has had solo exhibitions all over Prince Edward Island, and his work has been shown in numerous group exhibitions, including at the Air Canada Gallery at Place Ville Marie (Montreal), Kansai Invitational Print Exhibition (Tokyo, Japan), Dalhousie Art Gallery (Halifax), National Museum of Natural Sciences (now the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa), Gallery fgk (Gotland, Sweden), and with the International Association Hand Paper- makers and Paper Artists exhibitions in Basel, Switzerland, and Dortmund, Germany. His work is included in numerous public and private collections, including the Gotland Fornsal Museum (Visby, Sweden), Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario), Vancouver Art Gallery, Dalhousie Art Gallery (Halifax), Confederation Centre Art Gallery (Charlottetown), the TD Bank, Hewlett-Packard Inc., and the bmf Groupe (Montreal).

About the Exhibition

Writing Topography runs September 26, 2015 through January 10, 2016. The exhibition is organized by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and made possible with the generous support of the McCain Family, the Harrison McCain Foundation, and the McCain Foundation. Admission is FREE for Beaverbrook Art Gallery members and for children age six and under. More information on memberships and benefits can be found on our website at Featured artists include: Robert Bean, Gerald Beaulieu, Jennifer Bélanger, Rémi Belliveau, Jordan Bennett, Kay Burns, Amanda Dawn Christie, Richard Davis, Leah Garnett, Pam Hall, Mark Igloliorte, Navarana Igloliorte, Ursula Johnson, Philippa Jones, Stephen Kelly, Eleanor King, Fenn Martin, Michael McCormack, Kim Morgan, Nigel Roe, Sara Roth, Anna Torma, Gerald Vaandering, and Kim Vose Jones.

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