Roberta Booth painted with a pop-eclecticism that merged objects, landscapes and abstract forms into kaleidoscopic imagined spaces.Read More
Booth was born in Derby, England. She studied painting throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, first at Luton School of Art (1964–66), then at Coventry College of Art (1966–69). She obtained a Master's degree in printmaking at the Royal College of Art (1969–72). During her education, the artist was taught by leading figures Barbara Reise and Michael Sandle. Booth would go on to also become a teacher, lecturing at both Barnfield College and Harrow School of Art, as well as being a senior lecturer for over 30 years in the Cambridge School of Art at Anglia Ruskin University (1973–2007).
Booth travelled widely from her modest studio in Ashwell, Hertfordshire, exploring philosophies from the practices of Buddhism, Hinduism and Sufi mysticism. These philosophies would greatly influence her later paintings.
Roberta Booth's paintings changed drastically after the early 1980s, abandoning the austere monochrome of machined metal for multicoloured, explosive dreamscapes.
Booth manifested her anxieties around technological advancements by painting mechanical devices in surreal, often suggestively figurative settings.
In her paintings from the 1970s and 1980s, shimmering gradients representing luminous metallic surfaces cut into natural environments. A propeller churns the water in By Still Waters (1982); dangerously sharp shears sing to a sunny field in The Dawn Chorus (1976); the inside of a washing machine is invaded by grass in Automatic (1982). These works demonstrate both a poetic marvelling, and an apprehension, about the intimacies of everyday life. The natural and the man-made collide uncomfortably, with neither able to assert its dominance.
An anthropomorphised procession of ploughshares in Booth's large Earthworks 2 (1984) illuminates the threat of mechanisation, while simultaneously reminding us how technology is created in our own image. As Will Hine suggests, Booth's paintings from this period 'appear to puzzle over the value or the danger of creating ever-more sophisticated objects to satisfy human demands'.
Echoes of Booth's earlier approach, such as her crisp rendering and graphic use of colour, appear in works after the 1980s. However, the scope and vision of her compositions expanded, opening up into sublime vistas. These oil and acrylic paintings are generous in their complexity. In these works, Booth portrayed fractured worlds of pattern, colour, texture and form, arranged in a shallow pictorial field as if on a platter presented for the viewer's consumption.
Landscapes sublimate into real locations, as in Marrakesh (1998), where architecture sketched during Booth's visit to Marrakesh is collated with abstract patterns, a camera, snakes, a trumpet. In that same Garden (1999), presents four panels of vibrantly-coloured forms blooming into a shifting landscape of gardens and deserts. Here, Booth communicates the feeling of specific places without didactic representation. Taoist symbols and letters skirt the third canvas, revealing her reverence for mystical knowledge.
Booth made compilations of memories, thoughts, real and imagined spaces. She painted Eden-esque worlds crowded with mystical and mundane actors. Her jumbled references draw on detailed observations from her travels—including visits to Morocco, Guernsey, New Zealand and Spain—as well as various spiritual and philosophical texts. Thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi, Taoist sages, Iris Murdoch, Carl Jung, George Steiner and Hermann Hesse all provided rich sources for Booth's metaphysical ideas.
Roberta Booth exhibited widely across the UK and internationally throughout her career. She was represented by Duncan Campbell Fine Art in Kensington, London for nearly 15 years. Select solo exhibitions have been held at the University of Surrey (1979); Hanover Fine Arts, Edinburgh (1994); Duncan Campbell Fine Art, London (1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008); King's College, Cambridge University (2001); New Hall, Cambridge University (2003); and Castor, London (2021).
Select group exhibitions have been held at Hachette Gallery, London (1971); British Council Exhibition in Linz, Austria (1971); Cracow Print Biennial, Poland (1972); Serpentine Gallery, London (1976); Kettle's Yard, Cambridge (1983); University of Waikato, New Zealand (1996); The Workhouse Gallery, London (1999); and Turps Gallery, London (2018).
Roberta Booth's work is held in collections around the world, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the University of California, USA; University of Waikato, New Zealand; Oxford University, England; the New Hall Art Collection, University of Cambridge, England; and The Royal College of Art, London.
Roberta Booth's website can be found here.
Peter Derksen | Ocula | 2021