By Charlie Roberts, Artist
Words by Nikolaj Hansson / Illustration by Sine Jensen
Charlie Roberts can almost be considered an anomaly; raised in the US, educated in Canada and now residing in Norway, Roberts' art references cubism and comic books in greater fusion with the likes of Chief Keef and Bobby Shmurda. Utilising his talents across watercolour and oil on paper, paintings and carvings in wood, it's hard to know what's to expect next from Roberts. We sat down with the American artist for a chat on sports, Rae Sremmurd and the paintings of George W. Bush.
Having grown up in Kansas, do you often reference your birthplace in your art?
Not so much anymore, at least not directly. An occasional KC Royals insignia or a reference to a local gang, "The Lethal 7", will pop up in the work, but the Kansas references tend to be few and far between.
You grew up in the US but now reside just outside of the Norwegian capital, Oslo. How’s the Scandinavian way of life compared to that of the American?
The Norwegian life is quieter, less public and generally more muted. It has its ups and downs. The winter has more downs than ups, but it's good, and a great place to raise a kid. I miss the States though, the juice and the nuttiness of America. I have the expat's curse of becoming more and more obsessed with America the longer I'm away. I've made it into a fantasy America, where the weather is always nice, the parties are always killer and radio stations just play only good rap. I get to go back for work a lot, it's always fun. USA USA USA!
It seems that you’re quite the sports fan. Did you dream about becoming an athlete when you were a kid or was it always the art that came first?
I loved sports as a kid and was heavy into baseball and wrestling until my sophomore year in high school when any delusion of a future in sports vanished and music, partying and girls took its place. Now I loosely follow the NBA, UFC, and MLB, mostly through grantland.com and podcasts.
It seems that the titles of your work at times reference the world of hip-hop and the culture surrounding this. What’s your opinion on the new wave of artists such as Bobby Shmurda, Chief Keef and so on?
Chief Keef is the most exciting artist in any field of the last 5 years PERIOD. No one has pushed music sonically, visually, and commercially the way Keef has. Who else would snub Kanye right out of the gate? He's a force of nature, a once in a decade artist, a game changer. I'm a huge fan and can't wait for the next record. Love the Bobby Shmurda track, also Dej Loaf's "Try Me", Rae Sremmurd's "No Flex Zone", the new Jeezy record and the new Migos mixtape. So much good rap now!
How important is the element of absurdity in your art?
Ice cream is always nice on the beach.
Has the term of pop culture become excessive, as it has undergone heavy referencing over the more recent decades?
We are in some strange days, it's be becoming harder and harder to box things in. I'm confused. No labels, No ceilings.
Hippie party: Im'a live like it's my fucking birthday everyday (2012)
Is there any truth to your art?
Do you remember your first encounter with the world of art?
I worked at the public library in Hutchinson for a while in high school , signing people up for the internet and such. All I did was to surf the web. Sandra was this cool lady I worked with who had lived in New York, been a college professor and a mover and shaker in the women's movement in the 60s and 70s. She was into art and culture and introduced me to websites and magazines. It was probably the first time I became aware of an art world.
What’s more important; making people laugh or making people think?
Tough one. I'm not sure. Laughing.
Knife Eyes (2012)
Gucci Mane raps: “I heard you suppose to be a gangsta, yeah supposedly.” Do you think a lot of people today pretend to be into art as well?
The art world has to welcome the fakers and the phonies, anybody who is even sort of thinking about being interested, because most people don't give a shit about contemporary art. More phonies mean more money! Snoop's new paintings are great, George W. Bush's too. Gucci should start making sculptures.
Is coherence a big factor for you when you work?
No. My brain is a mess. Whenever I try to come up with a plan, it turns to shit. I'm jealous of methodical people. Typically, I start some skeletal notion and then begin to pound away at it. 30-40% of what I make gets destroyed. My quality control has gotten better, I hope. The in-between show times can be nasty, sometimes I can go a month of making garbage before I hit on something. Deadlines help. But really you just need a refractory period, to fill up the sacks and ingest new info, before you can produce A/B level stuff again. It's a tricky game.
What’s the most ridiculous thing anyone has ever said about your art?
What would the memoirs of Charlie Roberts be like?
A mess. Part Daryl Strawberry, part Alice Cooper, part Side Effects.
Are there any topics or themes that you’re scared to depict?
I don't think so. Whatever I'm interested in, I'll use. I've never even thought about not using something. That's probably the biggest perk of the job; nobody to say "don't do that". The art world tends to be socially liberal, so I guess if there were an artist who in their heart of hearts was a pro-gun, no tax, anti gay marriage, tea party supporter, they might want to keep that to themselves. The lanes seem to be pretty open. "Diamonds are 4 everyone, go get u one, go get you some" - Ballout.