Thursday, June 17, 2010

Artist Rob Roys: 20 years of productivity and counting

I met with Juneau's abstract artist Rob Roys in his downtown studio to talk about his art and paintings. With a view down Seward street, the studio above the Lisa Davidson boutique downtown feels like an inspiring place to create. Previously it was the creative home of John Fehringer, and then Jane Terzis, who used it for over 20 years.

Roys often plays music and warms up to painting by reading or sketching, then begins work on several different pieces simultaneously. When he is in high production mode, he'll spend up to 30 hours a week in his studio.

Roys says he's always wanted to be an artist and, aside from second grade when he sold a rooster sketch to a teacher, he created his first legitimate piece of art in 1992.

"It wasn't really derivative of anything that I'd been taught to do," he said. "It was personal, but had universal qualities to it. It looked like a painting and had brush strokes. It was the first time I thought I'd done something that was good," said Roys, who'd had an art studio since 1988.

Referred to by many as an abstract artist, he describes himself as "an Alaska modernist currently working in the figurative idiom," a description that confuses even his wife, Pagan Hill.

Early years

Before settling on acrylic paint as his medium, Roys tried many different art forms. He broke his hand many times playing sports, so he was steered toward hand-building activities. Being a ceramics major at UAF seemed logical.

"I couldn't control pencils very well, but I could control clay," said Roys, who eventually dropped out after a tumultuous time.

"When I encountered ceramics academia it was all about the wheel, if it wasn't about the wheel or the ceramics dogma at the time it wasn't considered anything worthwhile."

Upon his return to Juneau, an artist group called "Arts R Us" emerged and Roys tried different mediums like painting, drawing, and collage, showing pieces at local cafes.

Portfolio Arts eventually hung an 18" x 12" painting by Roys in their front window and someone bought it.

"It felt pretty good, it was pretty awesome because it was a real painting. I had just done it and hadn't really thought about it as a product," said Roys, adding that he would have been happy if someone just liked it but wouldn't have cared if they didn't.

Since then he thinks he has gotten better at painting, but believes people have also gotten used to seeing his work.

"Once they understand, it's a bit more approachable. If they see something they don't understand, they immediately don't like it."


At one of his first art shows over 21 years ago, Roys had someone write in his comment book, "Someone is wasting nice white pieces of paper."

Roys said the offhand remark really influenced him,

"I haven't ever wanted to waste white sheets of paper," he said. "I took it very personally, but at that time I needed criticism."

Roys says he feels it was a sign of attitudes of the time.

"At that time people thought you should kick younger artists as hard as you can and as viciously as you can because it will make them tough, and if it makes them quit doing art, well, good, then they shouldn't have been doing art in the first place. What I really learned was that wasn't right - it's better to be supportive and helpful to young artists."

Roys thinks this attitude has been changing.

"Critiques are so nice now - before people were mean to each other and now it's 'what's good about it?' Some people need to get kicked in the teeth once in a while though, as long as it's honest and constructive."

Art and money

"If you are trying to make a living at art, there are much better ways to make money," said Roys, who has a day job working for the state as a procurement specialist. He says his job isn't reflected in his work but did try to use it before.

"One time I tried to do a piece that tried to communicate the dismal situation of an office job and it was horrible - it was really awful, awful stuff. I keep thinking I'll revisit it but nobody wants to see people sitting in cubicles."

In contrast to the Renaissance days when artists could just create and not worry about money, Roys says today's artists are different.

"For modern Americans who are really trying to do real art they have to have some other source of income, that's just the way Americans are - we have jobs."

"A life in the arts is very rich. You won't be rich monetarily but you'll be rich in friends and culture and life experience."


Roys was born in Cordova and moved to Juneau when he was two. His father was also a painter and worked for the state.

"All my art is really about Juneau when it comes down to it," Roys said. Motioning to a painting in progress of a woman lying on a rug, Roys explains the meaning.

"That's somebody I've known for years - I've seen them grow old, go through relationships and have children."

In addition to people, Roys likes to draw pictures of spots in Juneau that have special memories or meaning for him.

He said he just knows when he's going to turn a sketch into a painting.

"Sometimes when I'm drawing, I just know that I'm drawing in a zone - I'm warmed up, everything is just perfect, everything is just right, my pencil is at the right sharpness ... so that's part of it, when I feel like I'm in the zone," said Roys, whose current projects include sketches from a life-drawing class he has been running.

He also gets his inspiration from headlines, the news, and, as a self-described "troubled teen," he also gets ideas from his past circle of friends that "had pretty bad life circumstances." "Apologies and Accusations" was the title of one of his art shows at KTOO that he says was "pretty therapeutic."


For Roys, painting is not a hobby, it's a passion. Roys has his eyes set on the all-Alaska juried show, which he hasn't been selected for - yet.

For people viewing his art, he wants them to experience whatever they want.

"I don't care what they think, because the most important thing is what I think, but I really want them to enjoy it. It's my way of contributing to the world."

"Art should try and make things that make the world a better place. Art makes peoples lives richer and better."

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