The Reality of Inner Worlds with Roe LiBretto


“For many years, I hid the work that you see here...”

Roe LiBretto

I’ve always been struck by how beautiful she is. I think I would have been too shy to talk to her on my own. It’s always a relief to encounter someone so comfortable and familiar with the socially awkward.

Meeting Roe LiBretto is one of those life events from which everything begins to transform afterward. A conversation with her has that effect as much as her artwork does. There was life as I had experienced it before that first conversation with Roe and then life anew after we encountered.

You’ve got to brace yourself to really see her work. When your conscious mind begins to trespass in her terrain of dream crawling with archetypes  it’s like taking a step off that high board and plummeting down, down, down, splashing into the subconscious.  You learn something new about yourself after stepping off.

“For many years, I hid the work that you see here...” LiBretto felt more comfortable with works she considered impersonal, abstract, and geometric; things she could intellectualize about from a place of disassociation, “but these kind of characters have been following me around for many years. I always felt self conscious about it. I saw things that other people don’t see...In 2014, my son said to me, ‘Mom when are you gonna do what you were born to do? When are you gonna come out of the closet yourself?’.” She found herself inspired by words of encouragement from her son and from the courage of another artist’s work, Jennifer Lynn Johnson, “As soon as I saw [her paintings] I knew that they were personal pieces and to me that was very courageous and that gave me something to look forward to for myself.”

Having succeeded in her responsibilities as a mother, LiBretto took her son’s question to heart and finally did something that was for her self. She quit her job and dedicated herself to the artwork she once resisted the urge to create; the stuff that seemed too personal and that was both too unique and too real in her experience. She let herself hear the voices and see the creatures that had been lingering in her peripheral view and all too loud in her mind now for so many years. A voice tells her what the paintings mean and the creatures come to visit her, lurking where only she can see them and waiting for her to make them visible to us.

ManifestingHer characters and visions come forth from the unconscious and resonate with the kind of experiences that we all share before inventing language to talk about them.

Many of us know the sour feeling of inadequacy that comes from toxic criticism. It comes after we create something from inside ourselves and someone whose opinion matters to us says something like, “Why can’t you just paint something beautiful?” or “Why don’t you make normal art like other artists?” They look at your art and tell you what it should look like. It hurts when the work is deeply personal, mysterious, and significant to us and the person telling us these things is valuable in our lives. This is the kind of toxic criticism that is widely acceptable in the current traditions of our alleged art schools.


Dead Don't Mean RightInstead of exploring that imaginary terrain with us to discover the mystery of inner communication from the psyche, we are instructed to adhere to an aesthetic idealism that lacks genuine vision. LiBretto also shared this experience, “When I was in art school I had a teacher call me out because I painted a nude green and to me, the nude sitting on that chair, was green! And the one before that was orange with a little purple in it, but because the other students didn’t see that I was made to feel that it was wrong.” It’s a fact that not everyone perceives color in the same way but in a traditional art school facts do not trump the opinion of narcissistic art instructors. Most art schools, at this time, teach students what their art should look like instead of sticking to the pure techniques that can be used to produce imagery and leaving the imagery to the artist.

Artists like Roe LiBretto inspire me not only by sharing those ethereal visions from the metaphysical realm of the human psyche but for what is possible in the transformation of how art is taught to those who wish to wield the brush. There's no telling what wonders will leap from the minds of up and coming artists onto the surfaces, as they learn with a clear understanding that is absent of opinion, those techniques necessary to produce imagery. What fascinating journeys lie ahead only waiting for access! It's not to say that the traditional work we are so accustomed to isn't beautiful or isn't art, only that it isn't any less the art that is possible from exploring the depths of the subconscious. LiBretto has a unique and wonderful, though fleeting, access to these depths and we are lucky to glimpse them through her art. 

“My inspiration comes from these characters who actually visit me in real life. They appear to me out of the corner of my eye as animated three dimensional beings and if I look directly at them they disappear. It’s hard to capture them in a drawing because they hop around and they move so it does take that side glance and I’ll start a drawing and then they’re gone and a couple more days pass and they’ll come back in another place in the house and I’ll work on a drawing like that... so the drawings take a long time for me because of that ... I don’t know what they want or who they are. I have to wait for them to come around”

After LiBretto makes a painting she often puts her work through a ritualistic process that frees her mind from the confines of her traditional art education. LiBretto daringly covers her work in a chocolate brown tempera, completely coating the entire painting and she sprays it all off again, essentially removing her ability to control what happens on the page, and creates the final image from the remnants. 

“This is my act of letting go. I’m accepting the images that come to me without knowing what they are ...and I’m going to trust that when I wash that paper off, those images, if they are of value to myself and to others, they’ll still be there when I’m done. it’s a deep act of trust .”
-Roe LiBretto

The Seeker and the Grail
'The Seeker and the Grail'
by Roe LiBretto

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