Folk Art and Beyond
By Patrick Dolan
Karri Roberts is fine where she stands in Morgantown. She’s pondered life as an artist in a larger market for years, but thinks there is still a lot of untapped raw talent locally to be absorbed.
Her caricatures, which she learned to draw at an early age, remind me of R. Crumb meets “Little House on the Prairie.” She can take something as simple as a house cat or a fox and totally transform it into a creepy symbol of our mixed-up lives. She’s even gone as far as to develop her own ongoing comic book project, which she says acts as the “journal of her life.”
The theme to it is basically this: she puts tiny woodland creatures in very human-like situations, and the rest unfolds on its own.
As art director of the Blue Moose Cafe, what she says goes. She likes the position because it gives her vast insight into the inner workings of the art world and, in many cases, teaches her a thing or two about art.
Her most recent art opening sold out at Wild Zero Studios on Pleasant Street.
I caught up with her to discuss her beginnings as an artist and her various sources of inspiration.
Graffiti: Did you go to art school?
Karri Roberts: Yes, I did. I went to WVU, where I graduated with a BA in printmaking. I had a history minor and I’m working on getting K-12 certified, but I didn’t finish student teaching.
Graffiti: How did you first develop your technique?
Roberts: I’d say I’ve transformed a lot. I used to be a realist. Everything was geared toward realism when I was younger. When I was about 11 or 12, my sister would bring home fully rendered political drawings of JFK, and I would often watch her draw on the kitchen table. I basically try to base my technique on how I’m feeling.
Graffiti: Do you create more from the outside or the inside? From what you see around you or from what’s in your head?
Roberts: I’d say definitely imagination. I don’t rely on photos any longer. It can all come from my mind now. I understand proportion, so it actually doesn’t take me forever to just pull something out and make it look the way I want it to.
Graffiti: How does it feel to sell almost your entire exhibit at Wild Zero? That doesn’t seem to happen very often.
Roberts: The show here at the Moose sold out completely the first time I had it. And then the show at the Mountain People’s Co-op didn’t sell out completely, but some of it sold. I can pretty much rely on the community to help me. There’s enough interest in the community that if I put news out there, I can ensure I’m going to come home with at least one less artwork. It feels really good in that aspect, to know that people really want to own my stuff.
Graffiti: What was with the piece that was scribbled out and labeled “not for sale?”
Roberts: I’m actually using that one as payment for a tarot card reading [laughs].
Graffiti: Was it that good of a tarot card reading?
Roberts: It was on the money. It was creepy and awesome, and it made my whole week a lot different.
Graffiti: Your work seems like it would fit nicely in Juxtapoz magazine. Has this ever been an option?
Roberts: That’s something I’ve thought about a lot. I do little comic panels for fun. Like, if something funny happens at work, or if I see something funny on the street, I’ll go home and draw a comic strip about it.
Graffiti: When describing your work to other people, which key words would you use?
Roberts: Illustration, and probably a little bit of whimsicality. If people ask me what I do, I usually tell them it looks like a storybook for adults, where really messed up stuff is going on. Not really messed up stuff, but like, the darker side. Most of the stuff I draw isn’t that happy. It’s usually images of broke people and foxes dying, and I think that can result in a whole lot of metaphor.
Graffiti: What about furry animals, like the fox, intrigues you?
Roberts: I’m kind of sick of people. It’s not that I don’t like drawing them. I’m very into making things have a character, and I think animals tend to wear their heart on their sleeves. I’ve drawn enough people in my life to where I’m pretty comfortable working with their emotions. I wanted to try something different. It’s almost like expanding your visual vocabulary. I can draw people, houses, cars, trains and now I can draw most animals. And I feel really confident about the majority of them. But I still haven’t mastered a possum.
Contact Patrick at email@example.com