Neil Roberts

Gates, Merryn,

Bouncing Off, catalogue essay, Macquarie City Gallery, 2005.

Merryn Gates

In 2001 Neil Roberts and I were developing a survey exhibition and searching for a title. Work of this kind is typically characterised by the use of the found object, but he rejected the term ‘found’ as being too random. He did not just find used objects, he collected objects of special interest to him: old tools that accumulated in backyard sheds, discarded work clothes and sporting equipment.

Among the paraphernalia of sport, Neil Roberts looked for the residue of human effort. The mark of a boot on the leather of footballs, sweaty footprints on a boxing training mat, the resin grip on a vaulting horse. He valued the accurate, repetitive mark that is the sportsman’s (and the artist’s) reward for long hours of training eye/hand coordination, throwing and bouncing. His work always brought to my mind the strange and powerful mixture of violence and passion that such exertion involves.

“The thread that generally runs through all of my work relates to the capture and release of energy or the transformation of energy. In particular, I’m most interested in forms of energy most often associated with the lives and actions of men. This interest in gender is not necessarily polemical, or even that explicit in a lot of what I do, but it is the undercurrent that draws me into certain subjects to the exclusion of certain others.” NR

Amongst Neil’s papers is a newspaper clipping about Kickstart, a national program to teach kids footy. With great affection he wrote about the humble beginnings of professional sport in suburban backyards, local sports fields and outback paddocks. Bouncing off assembles his tributes to the game: the football unstitched to form an unexpected emblem, the latex bladder aglow with the energy of many kicks, the traces of the bounce captured on a page.

“A worn out football, marked with the name of the club or the school or the signatures of a team on a particular day of significance, holds its story in the surface markings and blemishes of the leather. It is an object rich in associations.” NR, 1999

Merryn Gates Curator, May 2005

Neil Roberts (1954-2002) initially trained as a glass blower, and moved into photography, drawing, sculpture and public art during the 1980s.

Merryn Gates is a freelance curator and arts writer. In May 2001 she curated a survey exhibition, The Collected Works of Neil Roberts at the CSA Gallery, the Australian National University, for metis 2001—wasted, a biennial program of art and science.