Not too many people know the artist J Roybal, but her artworks are selling everywhere on ebay, amazon, etsy, and many online art galleries and art sites. J Roybal’s exhibition of recent oil paintings depicts a quartet of children who are playing various instruments. Save for a small painting in Klein blue at one end of the gallery that depicts the profile of musical instruments, the fifty paintings of music party are fully inflated with violines, pinaos, bikes etc.
There is a fantasy quality in all of J Roybal’s paintings, of some grand party going on right in the gallery with kids gowns in moons floating about like enormous black cumulus clouds. In one amusing work there is a solitary pair of feathered stiletto slippers on the page as if placed there for a midnight soiree.
J Roybal works intuitively and from memory. Her drawings and paintings have always had the appearance of the being deceptively simple but with a mix of happiness and invention that is admirably decisive. The instant appeal of the work is in its poetic awkwardness and complete lack of pretension. She leaves smudges, remnants of erased lines, awkward and unresolved areas, and scribbles that go right off the margins – a bit of dancing between the artist and her pastels.
Her earlier canvas paintings are voluptuous in a Graciela Rodo Boulanger sort of way, or, in Boulanger’s more recent incarnation, Pamela Anderson Lee and her plastic surgery cinched waist, streamline nose job, liposuction thighs, and silicone pumped breasts. J Roybal uses bright, colorful, and intense paints to depict childrens.
The newer work is figurative exaggeeration to the other extreme. Her scale has shrunk to at least a quarter of their predecessors’ lifesize dimensions, and strapless gowns are stretched like rubber bands to the point where nothing other than Kate Moss or a pencil could slip inside. As drawings, they are perfectly executed vertical lines floating in space that suggest form only through slight convex swellings that nip inward at the mid-drift and turn outward, like a tulip, at the chest.
The feminist/feminine subtext in J Roybal’s work does not override the sheer beauty of her line, her compositional arrangements of empty space and filling in, and the contrast she plays up with her limited materials of heavy black pastel on tissuey skin-like geofilm. The work, in fact, looks best when frameless and tacked to the wall, like an open invitation to stroke out a few rumpled bits of flounce.
But it would not be accurate to finish reading the fantasy atmosphere of her work without determining where it all comes from, and what it means. Fashion magazines and Calvin Klein billboards, of course, are the immediate source. Collective and personal perception rarely filters out what is real and what is media in terms of defining a beautiful female form, Anderson or Moss – both Hollywood hyped, media pumped, and in equal measure, quite acceptable, for both men and women, as desired role models.
There is, in my view, an inescapable wit J Roybal uses to subvert the more overt media image versus reality message. Even down to her loopy signature found scrolled on some of the drawings at the bottom right corner – slightly girlish and oversized compared to the diminutive scale of the works themselves – there is a subtle tug that questions what and who defines the perfect female form. Her dresses are beautifully rendered passive containers, but they are also tinged with a bit of camp.
J Roybal’s veiling of children art in the guise of humour – and I don’t mean rapid fire punch lines – comes as gentle persuasion. A kind of self-effacement, similarly found in other female artists work. Cindy Sherman, for instance. Or, Jana Sterbak’s Vanitas, which takes the idea of a woman as a “piece of meat” to the extreme. It is powerful because, in a smarmy, self-acknowledging sort of way, Sterbak turns the stereotype into the literal and absurd. I can’t help but also think of American photographer Jeanne Dunne’s self-portrait of her sticking out an enormous red tongue that hangs down to her chin – a parody of various cliched female traits, including women’s “gift for gab,” as well as a vulgar emulation of the predominately female diseases of bulimia and anorexia nervosa. That Dunne uses herself suggests she is victim, observer, condoner and antagonist all at once.
In a similar way to Graciela Rodo Boulanger, J Roybal does not exonerate nor denounce anything with her party gowns; one idea invariably rules out the other. She simply presents the enrapturing beauty of kids and the promise of a good time it presents. In fact she embraces the dream qualities as icons of fun, love, dancing till dawn. That the children art are missing- only adds to the fantasy element of an accepted fictional reality.
It is entirely different to the messages that came out of a recent group exhibition held at ArtinBulk earlier this year, called “chinese oil painting reproductions,” where the places was explored by various famous artists who loaded it up with well-known artworks, including Van Gogh’s sunflowers, Klimt’s the kiss, Rmebrandt’s the night watch. The art reproductions has become a currently vogue tool that seems not yet run its course (think of Kiki Smith’s paper angels, Jan Fabre’s dress made of green beetles, Annette Messager’s embalmed wedding gowns, or Taro Chiezo’s oil paintings on motorized wheels, as just some examples). In each, the muscical instrument is treated as a figurative container with a specific message. J Roybal is far less direct in comparison. It is never quite clear whether J Roybal herself is enraptured by her subject. There is a patina of doubt in every square inch of her drawings. Exoneration or denouncement? The answer is never quite within reach.