Born to a working class family in Brooklyn, New York, Roe LiBretto has been accompanied by the imagery of her allegorical works since childhood. Her artistic proclivity was intermittently encouraged by her family who thought it was a lovely hobby and hoped she would one day set it aside and get a real job. In an effort to satisfy both her inner drive and the expectations of her family, Roe studied at the Brooklyn Museum, the School of Visual Arts, and City College of New York. She thought that, perhaps, there was a middle ground upon which she could construct a sustainable creative life.
Roe did indeed construct a sustainable creative life, with some lengthy gigs at major publishing companies, and a few years customizing motorcycles on the then-not-so-hip lower east side of New York City. Beginning in 1974, she exhibited abstract drawings and sculptures in juried gallery shows in: New York City; Paris, France; Brooklyn, New York; and Pittsfield, Massachusetts. During that time she received commissions, from the New York City Cultural Council, and the Massachusetts State Council on the Arts, to create public kinetic installations. After an exhibit of her minimalist works in 1985, Roe became acutely aware that the path of minimalism led to nothingness, a state in conflict with the obligations of her reality. Thus enlightened, she took a hiatus from exhibiting and became intrigued by the concept of the Fool's Journey.
In 1992, Roe migrated to New Mexico and co-founded an award winning publication design company which she sold after a mind altering/altaring car accident seven years later. Encouraged by her son, queer fantasy writer/illustrator Ywain Penbrydd, Roe began translating her visions for public exhibition in 2015.
Roe LiBretto's work has been internationally exhibited in juried and open gallery exhibitions, and is held in private collections in the United States and Europe. She has received private and public commissions and, in 2018, was designated a Local Treasure by the Albuquerque Art Business Association. Her work can be seen locally at Ghostwolf Gallery in Old Town Albuquerque.
The Fool's Journey is a metaphor, used in the teaching of tarot, depicting key events on the path to enlightenment. Each of us is a Fool* on our journey through life, yet we often fail to recognize the import of smaller life events, or scenarios, that might hasten our spiritual and material growth. In such cases, we're burdened by our ignorance and destined to repeat the scenario til we figure it out.
The work that passes through me becomes visual reminders of these universal scenarios. It bubbles from the cosmic consciousness; that from which Gustave Dore's Inferno illustrations and William Blake's visions flowed. It manifests as movement at the edge of my sight, or as a phrase-spinning hip-hop DJ. The imagery comes in grainy texture, like a poorly received TV broadcast. It's as distorted as our century, as The Scream was in Munch's time, but with a grain of salt. American humorist and film noir screenwriter, Leo Rosten said, “Humor is the affectionate communication of insight.” I think the cosmic consciousness is hip to that.
Each scenario appears to me as if a scrim upon which these characters perform was dropped between me and the physical world. I capture these scenes, as they play before my eyes, with a technique I created that enables me to portray their disruptive texture. In each piece, I paint over the finished watercolor with a topcoat of ink or tempera paint and, after that topcoat is dry, I wash the painting. The act of washing each painting ritualizes my acknowledgment that a painting is the physical manifestation of information found in what Carl Jung referred to as the collective unconscious. It is my way of relinquishing ego attachment. Though the technique is the same for each piece, the final texture varies depending on the underlying painting surface.
I'm not always able to interpret the scenarios when they appear before me, but I recognize the importance of recording and sharing them. I know that each painting contains a story with the ability to transmute lead for someone, bringing them one realization closer to their personal enlightenment. Knowing this makes me one happy little Fool.
(*Each of us begins our life journey as a Fool, and if we reach enlightenment, end a Fool as well. To paraphrase a great teacher, unless we become like a child again we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. To paraphrase my favorite 5 year old, let it go, let it go.)