Canvas and comedy coalesce in Allison Roberts’ life and work
As though dipped in a fiery sunrise palette, each brushstroke forges a blaze of orange and amber, encircling a raven occupying the heart of the canvas. Aptly named “Big Daddy,” the bird sports an ebony plume and an austere gaze. In another canvas, “Bright and Happy,” a medley of colors encircles an ivory bird perched on a winding branch — you’re tempted to trace your fingers along the bird’s marbled feathers. This is Allison Roberts’ art, uniquely resonating with anyone who sees it.
Hailing from Rochester, N.Y., Roberts was immersed in an artistic environment since conception. Raised by a trailblazing mother who broke barriers as the first female illustrator for a clothing company, and a father who was a freelance artist while working for a local newspaper, Roberts was destined for the arts. What she didn’t know as a child, however, was that comedy and performing would be integral to her work.
In her short essay, “Cats, Ink, and Charcoal,” Roberts recalls when she was a young girl, watching her mom and dad illustrate animals and surroundings: “Her drawing is coming alive before my eyes — a combination of flowers, vines, and animals … His sketch, though done rather quickly, captures just what I see when I look across the room.” I found myself smiling while I read this, knowing that Roberts has since captured and honed the best of her parents’ abilities. Producing pieces like “Cherry Blossom,” where a panda is composed of meticulous, minuscule lines, with a willow tree brimming with flowers, and “Adulting Is Hard,” where a seagull (I’d swear one I’ve met before) presents a sideways stare, Roberts incorporates her mom’s distinct intricacy in ink, as well as her dad’s realism and authenticity in sketching — the best of both worlds.
Having majored in English and fine arts and minored in technical writing at Rochester Institute of Technology, Roberts has written for various publications, ranging from Rochester Magazine to here at The Martha’s Vineyard Times. However, she only considered comedy writing and performing in her late 20s, when she saw her first improv troupe. She was terrified of being on stage for the first time but too intrigued not to audition. After a couple of years, Roberts noticed a lack of comedic roles for women, and decided to found her own all-female comedy troupe: EstroFest. Derived from being women (estrogen) and a celebration of that fact (fest), EstroFest has been and continues to be a sensation, consisting of videos, performances, and sketches for the past 20 years. Visit estrofestlaughs.com to learn about past performances, upcoming showtimes, and more.
Roberts finds humor essential for surviving and thriving in the world. She knows that not everything is funny, but, as she puts it, “most things are.” She often infuses artwork with laughter-inducing inspiration from things that strike her as funny, and enjoys the process of bringing silly moments to life on a canvas or a scrap of driftwood, as she did with works like “Bonjour” or “Adulting Is Hard.” As for writing, Roberts considers articles to have more of a systematic approach, compared with sketch writing. The language in scriptwriting or comedic essays tends to be more fluid and organic. She loves to create characters and watch as they evolve. For comedy writing, Roberts advises that “you trust yourself and go for it.” Roberts adds that humor, writing, drawing, and painting all share a common thread of being therapeutic.
COVID was a significant source of inspiration for Roberts. In her artistic journey, she’s predominantly concentrated on two-dimensional pieces. However, confinement sparked an unexpected obsession with three-dimensional craftwork. She and her husband transformed their home into a creative battleground. Their artistic challenge: Craft compelling pieces of art using anything they could find within the confines of their home: “I would wake up and barely do anything else,” Roberts admitted; “I would just run upstairs and start making stuff.” As the pandemic unfolded, she explained, women’s workforce participation — which had just surpassed men’s in January 2020 — experienced a rapid decline, with millions of American mothers forced to leave their jobs. The repercussions of this disruption continue, with a significant number of women still unemployed, and overall female workforce participation at its lowest level in decades. As if transported to the ’60s, women were once again expected to stay home and provide education and entertainment for their children. This era influenced her first official 3D project: “Women’s Work.”
Roberts moved to Martha’s Vineyard last October after her husband was offered a job here. Most artists flock to the Vineyard seeking landscapes, seascapes, lighthouses, or dunes, but Roberts gravitated toward the Island’s animals. Though she has created her fair share of landscape paintings, Roberts attests that animals have always seized her attention; replete with a cornucopia of turkeys and seagulls, the Vineyard has been the perfect place for her to draw new inspiration.
When asked if she had advice for future artists, Roberts advised, “Stay flexible and try not to take yourself too seriously. Though hard, try not to listen to naysayers. Often people will warn you off the creative path simply because they are too afraid to do it.” She noted how artists must be courageous: “You really do have to be brave to live a creative life, in many ways. It does require you to put yourself out there. If you are a person who likes to hustle, then pursuing a creative life is for you.” Above all, Roberts advises artists to trust in themselves, have fun, and be authentic.