Robert Amos
NOVEMBER 1, 2013 03:41 PM

Roberta Pyx Sutherland is well known for her long-running series of crusty abstractions. Her Earth Birthing exhibition at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in 1987 was all about her cosmic view. For a long time she has followed the idea that the macrocosm — the satellite view of the Earth, for instance — is identical to the microcosm — the lichens that grow on ancient rocks. She expresses this idea in many media, in projects from tiny to rather large. That's about all I knew of her, until my recent visit to her James Bay studio. I had a lot to learn. Sutherland was born and raised in Vancouver, a student of the Vancouver School of Art in the early 1960s. Her earliest landscape abstractions owed something to Gordon Smith and she spoke fondly of the inspiration of Jack Shadbolt. She mentioned that she watched Toni Onley creating his huge abstract mural for the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and I began to understand the origin of her passion for tearing and folding and collaging her paintings.

The young artist went off to Africa on a CUSO project with the intention to save the world, but in three years there she found her big dreams were puny compared to the challenges of that world. In the face of famine, practice with her paintbrush every morning kept her sane. On another chapter of her travels, she had a revelation. While riding on a train in India, she noticed the heavily veined hand of a fellow traveller, and then looked out the window at the Ganges River. It suddenly became clear — these were the same patterns.

Returning to Canada, she enrolled in the art program at the University of Victoria, commuting from Pender Island. As a mature student among a flock of young men, she found herself adrift, but the presence of Jack Wise as a visiting artist set her firmly on her path. Wise had spent time with the Tibetans and brought back the calligraphic impulse by which the energies of the cosmos and the human soul meet at the tip of the brush. He also understood that the ancient religious texts and modern science agree on the composition of the universe — we are atoms in vibration.

Sutherland practiced Zen meditation and painting in Hawaii, California and Japan, and trained as a print maker in England. There she horrified her fellow students and teachers by running all manner of things through the press, such as grape stalks and folded paper. This technique, called collograph, results in single unique prints. A residency at the Banff School of the Arts, while Tak Tanabe was head of the program, led her further into the exploration of brush and ink.

So she painted on paper, folded it, pasted it, printed it and basted it with ink and colour and metallic powders. She tore up the results, and recombined them, laid them on canvas and wrapped them around the edges. All the while she viewed the world from high above — sometimes with a hint of a curved horizon to anchor us to the Earth — and also the microscopic sense of the grit beneath her fingernails. This has resulted in a host of varied paintings all of which sing the same song.

And now … the dots. In a magic moment, her brush hesitated and a dot of ink seeped into the absorbent paper in a perfect haloed point of punctuation. And she did it again. And again. Each unique dot holds the trace of breath and muscle and will and chance. The dots form patterns in which the larger forces of the universe are manifest. The ink-play reveals a pervasive understanding of philosophy and physics.

After all, our world is made up of atoms, infinite in number and constantly recombining. The forces that bring them together and pull them apart result in the illusionary tapestry of existence which we call reality. Some of Sutherland's dots ring with a crystalline clarity; others seem to map the world in perspective systems; inevitably some (which she calls Game Plans) represent the strategies we concoct to get us through the day. Each dot is freely brushed, positioned with love and radiates with a stellar intensity. Makes one wonder …

Game Plans: Paintings by Roberta Pyx Sutherland, at Martin Batchelor Gallery, 712 Cormorant St., 250-385-7919.


Nicolas Tuele, Victoria art consultant; former deputy director and chief curator at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

"Roberta Pyx Sutherland's virtuoso use of materials and colour are nothing short of breathtaking, as she makes important work that is at once personal and universal.

"Sutherland's work evokes the beautiful space between the microcosm and macrocosm. A space to which contemplation and meditation provides access.

"I first learned of her distinctive work when we featured her in a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in 1987. Her series of stunning works, entitled "Earth Birthing," was highly resolved, demonstrating her distinctive vocabulary wherein she provides the viewer with timely meditations.

"The series was critically acclaimed, and judging from her vigorous exhibition record and most recent work, she has continued to grow as an artist and guide."

Danielle Hogan, MFA

Pyx Sutherland: New Works from Italy

For nearly fifty years Pyx Sutherland has been paying homage to the land in her paintings and drawings. Very much a global citizen, Sutherland cares deeply about current events and her artwork reads– at times – as warnings of environmental degradation, and often as refined meditations on the effects of time and humanity on the landscape.

As a direct result of a breakthrough achieved during an intense residency with a master printmaker in Spain this summer, Sutherland's drawings have shifted to an alternate interpretation of physical space and time.

The drawings are images of the facts of landscape – movement, stillness, flux.

They are simultaneously modern and long-established.

Paola Iacucci,  Director of BAU Institute   

Roberta Pyx Sutherland has entered a new stage of her work, and also of life, a stage that exercises a light touch which resonates both with human understanding and depth of awareness. Her work is rooted in the concrete; in a poetic way it addresses the 'becoming' of things. Her new paintings are dots, and yet it is the spaces between these dots where the paintings are most alive; where everything is possible and everything happens. So many of the most important things in life happen in the gaps – the in-between spaces – and her new paintings address these themes of connection and disconnect within their patterns.

It might seem as though nothing in her being is linear, but Sutherland acts and speaks in strands of consequential ways. Her ideas are like a Russian Matryoshka doll, opening one inside the other, with multiple possibilities. This is true of the poetic depth of her paintings and of her approach and seemingly her understanding of life. Roberta Pyx is at once concrete and poetic.

In June 2012 in Otranto, Salento, Puglia, Roberta Pyx traveled to a residency in Otranto, Salento, Puglia Italy.. There her work went back to its roots. Very powerful images began to surface for her, images of ancient paintings in prehistoric caves which she had seen many years earlier at Peche Merle in the Dordogne region of France.  Perhaps brought on by the presence of the ancient strata of Otranto, she was very conscious ofthe physical presence of " Grotte dei Cervi " and their paleolithic paintings in Porto Badisco, just a few miles south of Otranto. Sutherland knew that there, in Porto Badisco, prehistoric men- painters and shamans- had painted abstract marks, secret marks even. These, the very roots of painting, were within range of her studio, underground but still very present in their energy in Otranto.

Their presence struck Sutherland and manifested itself as a need in her to go back to the beginning of her conscience; a need to seek out a primal mark on her paper. The primordial mark of a dot appeared. Each of these points assembling other points, in an endless series, as a mass. The hand with this physical gesture, dotting, when it encountered the imperfections and changes on the surface of the handmade paper which Sutherland has used for years in her practice, it was reacting with total flexibility and response to the air: the heat and humidity, the liquidity of the media - water .

Painting is an instrument of registration of the changes of life: changes in mood, in desire, in the inspiration and expiration of breathing. It is a way of breathing and capturing parts of life. It is a way to interpret the moments, movements and slight changes of life: it is a way to express the necessity to live. Sutherland is doing this seemingly by 'stringing' a necklace like series of points or dots together., a density of points, which compress and expand their distances on the wet surface of the paper.

The paintings of Roberta Pyx Sutherland since June 2012 possess and discover an ancient, prehistoric need of clarity and truth. They express -with the infinite and changing patterns of elemental points- the primordial need to express life and to capture it, with the simple  movement of her hand; doting. Her primordial- like marks are ever changing as she imprints them on different papers, in different ways, registering any change or subtle event from their material presence, going back to the beginning of time and human expression.

Pyx Sutherland has found a way to seemingly capture the essence of life with her new work by limiting herself to the essence, the dot, with her desire for the physical presence of the mark. She is expressing with clear simplicity and uniqueness, the infinite complexity of life - existence.

It was not an easy road to this work, nor was it a quick one.

The dots, her marks, seem somehow unintentional. They are not born of conscious intention, but from a subconscious need for expression. The points, dots, acquire density or disperse, creating moving patterns that expand and contract, in the liquidity of the surface of the paper, and of the water,
which is the medium.

Sutherlands new paintings become fields of infinite events - ever changing and exerting their definitive presence.. The depth, the intensity, the tone, the density, the smearing, the colors, the thickness, the dimensions of the marks - the points - change continuously, revealing the appearance of an ever-changing pattern. The pattern is never recognizable but always present: this work reads as the need to express life, physical behavior, and our understanding of it. There is no over-structure, no image, no decoration, and no desire to exert a control over the medium in this work. Roberta Pyx Sutherland is only controlling the deep passage from the essence of being to the need to be as paint, the most primal of journeys that of life into light.

Anne Hansen - James Bay Beacon

Art Walk artist profile


When I visited Roberta Pyx Sutherland in her James Bay home, she was getting ready for a trip to Algonquin Park in Ontario, stomping ground of the legendary Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven artists. She was also preparing to be part of an annual exhibition at the Nouveau Vallon in Geneva, Switzerland, in September 2012. In this show, she is collaborating with Sylviane Dupuis, a poet and playwright.

Roberta Pyx Sutherland grew up on the west coast and studied art in Canada and England. She is captivated by satellite photography, the grandeur of landform and its evolution. For her, "The exploration into sustainability which began many years ago continues, recycled materials are still incorporated. The subject, all of nature, including ourselves, as a unified whole remains the focus."

She has shown her nature-inspired art in numerous galleries in Canada, the USA, Mexico and Switzerland. She lives and works in Victoria, and on Hornby Island.

Pyx feels most at home with charcoal and ink, handmade papers and natural earth pigments. "The closer to the earth, the better," she says. One of her biggest challenges is finding enough time to deal with contemporary technology, which demands that the artist navigate digital media, which can be very time-consuming. Pyx always knew she was an artist, it was never a matter of "deciding" to become one.

King Anderson, Canadian archivist and artist

"In Sutherland's paintings a meditative silence, a vulnerability and a stillness allows one to enter and explore visual meaning. Besides reflecting the landscape and the world outside, they are about the reality that lies within human beings. Hers is an art that doesn't stop at the retina, but enters the mind.

"Sutherland works with the power and forces of nature when certain collage materials are left to weather and age outdoors. These are integrated into sensuous colour schemes so that deep abstract and richly textured forms are realized as meaningful.

"The evolution of Sutherland's paintings, as well as her personal journey, have been in response to her travels around the world and to encounters with a wealth of images and ideas. Many points of view contribute to the finished mixed-media paint-scapes: Buddhism, aerial views of the land, the symbology of mapmaking, satellite images of the planet, archetypal symbols out of human history, and subtle depictions of the underlying mystery.

"This has created much depth, and a realization of the spirit pervading all things everywhere."

Brian Grison, Critic, Historian and artist

"Some of the specific and almost secret things that one might see in Roberta Pyx Sutherland's work, such as tiny or faint drawings of natural objects, texts, horizon lines or mapping lines, are visible at only inches from the surface. Other elements, like faint or implied grid systems, or the contours of unknown landmasses, are visible only from more than five feet away.

"She employs materials and techniques that are difficult to identify, and therefore intriguing and mysterious… Almost all her art includes both drawing and painting, as well as collage, printmaking, tearing, creasing, fine realistic rendering, meditative doodling, patterns and randomness, careful design and free association, oil-like opacity and watercolour transparency, smooth flatness and rough bas relief, pristine newness to weathering decay.

"These surfaces suggest art and craft from all history throughout the world; Medieval book decoration, Pompeiian fresco surfaces, Tibetan ceremonial sand drawing, raku ceramics, Zen calligraphy, shimmering Byzantine mosaics, to a few secret ones that she has invented.

"Her art is like the slow, gentle and deep breathing of a patient planet. To read and appreciate her art fully, the viewer might need all the knowledge and wisdom of Earth. Then, finally, holding this consciousness in their eye and mind, the viewer can relax and calm their own breath to the rhythm of the endless pattern of matter and energy that creates the universe."

Anne Gilroyed, Executive Director - Nanaimo Art Gallery

Review: Roberta Pyx Sutherland's Internal Landscapes

"Pyx's sojourn on the west coast has been both kind and influential to her extensive talents. Her work grows and expands in ways that a true talent is always compelled to do. Using ragged remnants of rich hues, across colored fields, and painterly abstractions with allusions to nature, she expresses her radical sense of space, talks to us about where she fits into the scheme of things and expresses her inner direction.

The need for positive emotion in the world has never been greater than today. Positive emotional force emanates from these recent paintings and can be absorbed directly by the receptive viewer. If you are capable of suspending disbelief you can see aging skin mingled with slabs of rock, earth and sky. Pyx's works could, and hope to spotlight what is pivotal in the evolution of important contemporary art and the current milieu. The thoughtful viewer observes in this art a plethora of visual information and an articulated language of space, color, composition, and painterliness. In a typical work of this period she paints asymmetrical, emotionally intense abstractions that combine several styles and expressions in one picture; hard edge borders, hard edge lines, stacks of brushed smears, on a deep red field or dark layer of weathered material.

The viewer is quickly connected to these works. The theme of rough landscape, the technique of staining, smearing, calligraphy and articulate use of color have been streams of consistent interest in Pyx's work. These paintings create a dialogue resonating with meaning and power which, if nothing else, delve into and illuminate the mysteries of current styles, thought, abstraction, and spirit.

J. Whistler said of William Turner that he "ought not to have painted. He should have written." Pyx's treatment of her media has so much depth of character I want to say please continue to paint! . . . . but perhaps write as well."

Lance Olsen, artist

"I have known Roberta Pyx since the late '70s and have always been intrigued by her work. I used to love the way she would bury things in the earth and leave the planet to work on them for a while.

"The move to mapping as a way of grasping her thoughts and giving them to us has been very successful, and during this mature period, her own inner glow has inhabited her works. They have taken on a transcendent quality."

Bernard Vischer, President of Cercle des Amies

We are once again busy organizing our annual exhibition at the Nouveau Vallon in Geneva, Switzerland, scheduled for 11 - 30 September, 2012. We hope to be able to welcome you here at the opening on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 and urge you to reserve this date. You will receive the invitation ahead of time.