Bottari, Megan, "Neil Roberts" in Tour de Force: in case of emergency break glass catalogue essay, Artisan, Brisbane, 2010|
Neil Roberts (sadly missed since his untimely death in 2002) was the first Australian studio glass artist to break away from the confines of the contemporary guild. Having originally trained as a glass-blower at the Jam Factory in Adelaide he was soon increasingly drawn to mixed media and, more particularly, to found objects and general detritus. Roberts' abiding interest was the social history of objects; the vestiges of use, of stoic dignity and gritty diligence. In many ways his practice is a continuing series of masculine still life; constructs of the universal man's working life, glued together by the smell of leather and the sweat of blokie emotion. He had genuine veneration for the very exertion that material and objects represented, and the narratives ran deep. He also worked with neon; sometimes as a lyrical accent to a piece, other times as poetic notations writ large across the urban-scape. In the BA na na BA na na MAN go series, made during a residency at the Noosa Regional Gallery in 1998, he used fluorescent light for the first (and only) time. These works are a direct response to the sum of the parts of the object itself — the vintage banana lounge — and regardless of the obvious iconic and pop interpretations they will inevitably attract, the artist's primary interest was the woven patterning and formal minimalism of this classic ready-made. BA na na BA na na MAN go is a composition of rhythm and light; from the cool fluoro to the title of the piece, which references folk drum rhythms picked up by Roberts during a residency at ART-LAB, Manila, in the Philippines some seven years before.