Midnight Reflections, oil, 30 x 40, by Gary Lynn Roberts
By Wolf Schneider
Gary Lynn Roberts paints from a studio on his property in Cedar Park, just north of Austin, TX. Cedar Park was founded in 1873, and the 1870s just happen to be Roberts’ favorite decade. “I concentrate 99 percent of my paintings in the late 1800s,” he estimates, “and the majority of them are set in the 1870s, give or take 20 years.” This was the era of cattle drives, Indian encampments, and cowboys on horseback. Art-wise, it was the beginning of the Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell era. You might say that Roberts picks up where Russell and Remington left off. He carries on the tradition of western narrative painting just as his father, artist Joe Rader Roberts, did before him.
To Roberts, his historic paintings portray a more idealized period. “It makes me think of a better time and place, a time when a man’s handshake meant everything,” he says. “Men judged their lives—and their actions—by whether it was right or wrong, not by whether it was legal or not. I kind of fantasize back to those simpler times—like ‘The Waltons,’ y’know?” he chuckles.
The homespun way Roberts regards life echoes those values. With his heavy Texas drawl, he confides he doesn’t know exactly what all is involved in running the business side of his career, but he knows his wife does a great job of it because he doesn’t ever have to think about it. He says that even though he paints horses frequently, he doesn’t own any of his own. “You know the phrase ‘eating like a horse’?” he asks. Besides, he says, “I have lots of friends who own horses and still rodeo. I’m only a couple of minutes away from them by truck. It’s not like I’m in New York City or something.”
Roberts was initiated into the art world at a young age. “My father was a nationally known painter, and he used to wipe his brushes off on my diapers when I crawled by,” he says. It was only natural that he would become a painter, too. His earliest paintings were set in his home state of Texas. “I painted the Texas Rangers and scenes from Texas history—the taming of the Nueces Strip, things like that.”
But after years of driving up to Great Falls, MT, for the annual C.M. Russell Auction (his favorite western art show), Roberts has grown increasingly fond of the northern Rockies. Nowadays he has expanded his repertoire and sets the majority of his paintings there. In his painting patience, horses are saddled up and waiting outside a rancher’s cabin, with the Rockies as a backdrop. Shades of gray and brown dominate this tableau, which depicts the warmth of the rising sun hitting the mountains and an amber glow from the windows of the cabin where the riders finish their biscuits and coffee while their steeds patiently wait.
Roberts creates such colorful, lifelike scenes with a limited palette. He uses three yellows, two reds, and two blues, and everything else is mixed from these colors. There is white, too, but never a pure white, and he is always contrasting complementary colors. “For example,” he explains, “my shadows are on the blue side, so to complement them I put a little orange in the highlights. I play the complements. If there’s red, then I’ll add some green.”
Painting in a style that is part realism and part impressionism, Roberts sometimes makes colors brighter than they would be in nature. “You use every tool you have, and when that doesn’t work, then you exaggerate. And all good artists will do this,” he maintains. “I want it to be western, but I am more interested in telling a story than in being historically correct.”
Besides learning from his father, Roberts has also been influenced by many great American illustrators—painters such as N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, W.H.D. Koerner, and Frank Tenney Johnson—who were known for creating a mood and telling a story. Roberts has walls of books and magazines he inherited from his father, shelves filled with old issues of Colliers Weekly and the Saturday Evening Post that are brimming with historic illustrations and photographs.
But his secret weapon churns inside his own head and always has. “I paint from my imagination. I’ve got probably 70 percent of it down in my mind before I put the first piece of charcoal or paint to canvas. I never run out of ideas,” Roberts declares…
Featured in Septmeber 2007
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