The title of Alma Roberts’ exhibition, “Chapter Two: Artistic Evolution,” implies that her foray into painting is her life’s second chapter. If that’s the case, given all that she’s accomplished, then chapter one is a real doozy.
As a matter of fact, the highly respected healthcare executive and author readily admits that it never occurred to her that she would be making visual art. Roberts, a well known literary artist and founder of New Breezes Cultural Arts Forum says, “I had no inclination that I had anything in me .”
One thing that she did have was the memory of a story that she grew up hearing about her father’s decision to set aside his talent as a painter in order to provide a good home for his family. Then, in November 2010, when she found herself awakened from her sleep, every morning for two weeks, by a voice repeating over and over, “Pick-up a paint brush and paint with your left-hand. Pick up a paint brush and paint with your left-hand,” she wasn’t sure what to think. After all, her father had been left-handed and a painter.
For months, she shared her “dream” with friends and relatives. Then, in February 2011, a friend gave her a very small canvas, along with some oil paints and brushes, and, without any formal training, she began to paint, with her left hand. Roberts continued to paint during 2011 and says that it got her through a tough time, emotionally.
“In 2011, my sister who was living with me died, and this was comforting to me,” she explains.
After leaving her position as president and CEO of Baltimore Healthy Start and following a few years’ hiatus from painting, in June 2014, Roberts says she was nearly overwhelmed by an urge to paint. This time, she didn’t hesitate. She couldn’t. In addition, most of the work in the show came from that urge.
“These paintings, literally, forced themselves out of me,” Roberts exclaims, excitedly. “Images would wake me up in the middle of the night”
She says that she began painting with her left, right and, sometimes, both hands. Then, she would buy more supplies and paint some more. In almost no time, she began to amass quite a few paintings.
“I was, literally, trying to push things out of my brain and onto the canvas. So, I would finish it. Then, I’d take a picture of it… Then, I was putting them in the closet. Closets filled with paintings…”
At the urging of friends and relatives, and the insistence of Kevin Brown that she show her work at his increasingly popular arts café, Roberts’ paintings are now out of the closet and will adorn the walls of Nancy by SNAC (131 West North Avenue) until the end of this month.
For her inaugural exhibition, the prolific artist selected 18 paintings from approximately 50 that she has completed. While each painting is near and dear to her heart, she says of her work in the exhibition, “Everything’s not heavy. It’s kind of all over the place.”
There’s the painting, entitled “Ferguson,” that she says expresses the range of emotions she felt, at the time.
“I was painting that in the heat of what was happening. I was sad for Mike Brown’s family, but I was angry. And, I wanted to get both of those feelings down on the paper, “she explains with the sadness of the mother of a Black son.
Then, there’s the painting, entitled “Dreaming of Chocolate Swirls,” which she says came from a silly and fun moment.
“I’d been dieting, and one day, I really wanted to just forget it and break the whole thing. So, I decided that I would paint the biggest chocolate bar that I could think of,” she says laughing.
Roberts says that while she paints, she thinks of her dad and their connection. “All my life, my heart’s been a little sad thinking about what he felt like, because these things have a life of their own. If he had images in his head that were pushing . but he didn’t have the time to do it…”
Then, she stops and looks at the painting entitled “Sempiternus.”
“It means, ‘for all time,’ “she says. “That’s really the interplay between worlds, the spiritual world and the real. If anything embodies what I was feeling about the bond between me and my father, it’s this piece.”