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Jamaica, land she loves

JA ART AMBASSADOR: Theresa Roberts

“LET’S do dinner” are the three famous words often echoed by celebrated philanthropist Theresa Roberts. Famed not only for her fashionable soirées and dinner parties that have made her the toast of British high society, she is also one of the world’s fast growing collectors of Jamaican art.

A perfect piece of art herself – 5ft 5, brown eyes, flawless skin, fantastic hair (she prides herself on never wearing hair extensions or fake nails), immaculately groomed with a warm smile – Roberts personifies haute couture and it’s for this reason that she is turning heads in the art world; promoting her pride and joy – Jamaican art.

“I love art,” declares Jamaican-born Roberts – whose life journey is as colourful as some of her grand masterpieces, showcased throughout her various properties both in Jamaica and England.

“Art is one of the greatest expressions of life,” she says.

Speaking exclusively to Life & Style about her passion, the proud great-grandmother who began her business career selling mangoes by the roadside in Sandy Ground, St Elizabeth and went on to buy her first house at the age of 19, continues: “I love to wake up with beautiful things on the wall. The wall is naked if there’s no art. Furniture is great, but art really makes the home feel special.”

Roberts’ love affair with art was born after her best friend’s boyfriend David Begbie gave her a sculpture inspired by a photograph of herself, as a Christmas present.

“I just thought ‘wow,’” Roberts expresses. “The magic David captured influenced me to see art from a different perspective and I fell in love with art right there and then.”

Revealing that her famed collections began as gifts and her first purchase was from the artist Craig Wylie – Roberts’ husband commissioned Wylie to do a portrait of her and he later went on to win the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery – Roberts is determined to promote and develop a level playing field for her compatriots to showcase their creations and raise awareness on the global market.

Proving that artistic licence is not just the preserve of great European names, Roberts is single-handedly creating an elite platform for Jamaican artists via her online gallery Art Jamaica – which aims to expose the work of under-represented artists – along with her virtual gallery space, Black Circle.

“As a Jamaican, I am proud,” she says. “For a country with just 2.7 million people, they have a great art community and the quality of the work is also very high. However, in all the years I have been socialising and moving in the art circles, nobody ever mentions Jamaican art. So I need to showcase and fly the flag for Jamaican artists.”


STRIKING: A portrait by artist Kristina M. Rowe

Celebrated for her tireless efforts in endorsing all things Jamaican amongst the British upper classes and beyond, Roberts explains what it is about Jamaican art that makes it so special.

“It’s the colours. Whenever I have an exhibition, people will always notice the colours. I can remember when I showcased some of my favourite art pieces at the 12 Star Gallery located at Europe House. There were around 27 countries participating but the minute my Jamaican art was displayed, the colours were just so tremendous. It changed the whole ambiance of the gallery to one of vibrancy, liveliness and amazing colour, which is such a reflection of my island.”

A true supporter of the future generation, Roberts says: “Art encourages young people to be creative, allowing them to discover something new about themselves. When their masterpiece is complete, they have something to reflect on and feel proud of.

“It’s vital for young people to have confidence and to pursue their dreams. I tell all my young artists, no matter what they want to achieve in life, confidence is the ultimate tool and they must believe in their work.”

Over emphasising once again the importance of confidence, Roberts advises all aspiring artists to “keep going” and “never give up!”

“It’s so easy to give up because trying to break into the arts world can be so lonely and frustrating, especially because we live in such a closed door society. But you must keep going and keep creating,” she says.


ATHLETIC GLORY: Jamaican athletes Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell are the focus of this portrait by artist Kai Watson

In offering advice and encouragement to artists, she says they should “create their own market, venture out of the box” and “never depend upon the establishment,” Roberts shares three tips for art collectors who want to break into the art world:

“Only buy what you love, buy what you can live with and always support the young and up-and-coming artists. It’s nice to wake up in the morning and see the work of artists that are alive. Picasso is great but he’s dead – there are so many great living artists.”

A regular visitor to Jamaica, scouting for new and up-and-coming talent, Roberts is also known on the island for her home, Hanover Grange. Specifically designed to house a number of pieces from her extensive international art collection, her home is also renowned for its celebrity parties, attracting the likes of Ivana Trump, Chris Eubank, Kanya King, David Haye, Nancy Dell’Olio and Mica Paris.

Seen as one of the most definitive artistic mentors in Jamaica and the UK, Roberts exemplifies the philosophy “do not give up – the beginning is always the hardest,” and has played a pivotal role in the careers of countless artists ranging from painters, sculptors, sketch artists, mixed-media artists, textile artists and illustrators.

However, away from supporting the Jamaican art scene, Roberts is also involved in various British arts projects, such as The New Hall Cambridge Art Collection – the largest collection of women’s art in Europe – and the establishment of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool.

An eminent humanitarian, always lending her name and resources to countless charitable causes, Roberts says: “I love promoting my island’s art. I feel so proud, privileged and special that I am able to help put Jamaican art on the world’s map.”

Giving her distinctive chuckle, she adds: “I am also proud of being Jamaican, first before being black. It’s not about colour or anything; I don’t see my blackness first, I see me, a Jamaican, and I want the world to love my island as much as I do.”

For more information visit www.art-jamaica.org and www.blackcirclegallery.com

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