Another Dyslexic Artist

Internationally renowned mosaic artists are lending a hand to help Newport celebrate Big Splash 2014.

Travelling across Ireland, Wales, the Bahamas, and Chile, Newport mosaic artist Stephanie Roberts has been on quite a journey with her creative skills. Reporter SOPHIE BROWNSON finds out more.

I was born in Londonderry, Ireland on July 11, 1972, and lived there for three and a half weeks with my Welsh parents Jill and Terry Roberts and older brother, Adrian.

My father was in the oil business so that was why we lived in Ireland, but we left because of the Northern Ireland fighting.

After a brief stop-off in Milford Haven, we moved to Freeport in the Bahamas in 1974 when I was aged two, for my father’s work.

It was in the Bahamas that I discovered clay, aged seven, when my best friend and I dug it up, mixed it with water and made sculptures with it in our den.

I attended Sunland Lutheran primary school, but the Bahamas provided little formal education.

However I learned a great deal about the enjoyment of a simple life- raft building, play, water and people.

I love the people of the Bahamas- their culture and laid back approach to life – they have the energy to have a good time with dance and music.

I feel like this period in my life influenced me and formed my character and spirit for life.

I miss it terribly, although I used to visit my father – who stayed on there – until recently, as he has since moved to Florida after 40 years there and our direct connection has gone.

In 1982 my mum and I moved back to Newport when my parents split.

My mum took a job at BHS and I went to Our Lady’s Conference School from aged 10 to 11.

Then I went to St Johns on the Hill Prep School from ages 11 to 13 before being sent to boarding school at St Brandon’s Celvedon Aron in 1982.

Boarding school was the worst period of my life- I just didn’t understand being there.

I became really shy and introverted but slowly grew strength after a constant battle with dyslexia which drew me to the art department in school.

Dyslexia is my nemesis. It has made me a slow learner- I couldn’t read until I was 12 and then very poorly.

But it has not stopped me and dyslexia has made me extremely strong and determined.

My art teacher Mr Lyons saved me; became a father figure and rebuilt the confidence lost in me because of my academic struggles. He gave me direction. These people in our lives are so incredibly important.

Because of this I am delighted with the Welsh Government’s focus on the importance of art as an integral part of education and its ability to educate though the spectrum of subjects.

After leaving school I attended Crosskeys College in 1989 and did a BTEC in art and design before going on to do a Ceramics BA honours degree at the Cardiff Institute of higher education from 1991 to 1994 .

Art had always been my hobby but it was at this point I realised it was my life and my passion.

My ceramics degree was a continuation into my exploration of the creative process, material form and technique.

I realised that I had found my true self and being surrounded by a bunch of creative individuals was very liberating.

I was just free, with no boundaries, and made lots of friends.

I was living in Cardiff at that time and a few years after I left uni I had a year where I was deciding what to do before I got a job in 1995 working for company PIONEERS .

They were a good company but disheartened my interest for mosaics as I didn’t really resonate with mosaic art. It was a laborious process of complicated shapes and direction-confusing and messy.

The company engaged children in mosaics, but to me it was just cutting tiles and sticking them down with children-there was no creative element.

So in 1997 I left and founded my own company OZAIC along with partner Matt Staton when we did commissions for businesses.

But after one year we decided to go our separate ways and I set up my sole trader business –Stephanie Roberts Art, also known as Stephanie Roberts Mosaic Artist, in 1998.

I was living in Newport and still doing commissions for businesses as well as doing artist in residence portions in schools, engaging in public art and community projects.

Then in 1999 I had my son Vaughn Fox -Roberts, who is now 14, and then in 2002 I had my daughter Esi Fox -Roberts, who is now 12.

During this time I had a studio in my house in Newport and I was doing a mix of stud including council projects.

Then in 2008 I bought a horse box and made it into a work vehicle, but after six months it was stolen and torched by thieves- just a few weeks before Christmas.

That was a turning point and I decided I wanted to exhibit my work after it was suggested by Arts Development Newport.

So in 2008 I took my children travelling around Thailand, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Dubai, for two months, then within six months I had put an exhibition together and showed it at The Riverfront and I now exhibit every year.

Living in Newport in 1989 really brought out my sense of fun and energy. Great friendships were created that I cherish now and always will. But I did have my struggles with Newport as I used to feel very trapped and disappointed with the industrial landscape it presented. So one day I decided to approach it head on and explore the relationship between my love of nature and the angular industry.

So this led me to start my ‘metal’ period in 2008. As lead gave me my form, something missing form mosaic art –a defined pencil line which has become my trademark signature.

Community involvement has always been immensely important to me as it forms the connectivity from a self focused artist to the roots of society.

This is still active in projects I structure today including the art and literacy projects and regeneration projects such as the Newport Whale.

Earlier this year I was given the opportunity to travel to Chile and work in the First International Urban Mosaic Intervention.

I was sponsored by the Wales Arts International and was able to collaborate with international mosaic artists and showcase my work to the world of mosaics.

My piece ‘made in Chile’ will now feature in the publicity for the 2016 intervention in Germany.

Last year I became the co-founder of NIA the Newport International Airspace which is all about artists creatively connecting.

At the moment my studio is based at The Welsh Salvage company and I am currently working on a project on the Newport South Lock Centenary, part of the Docks Heritage Project 2014.

Newport has provided me with an abundance of the most influential and talented professional friends. They are my extended family, my strength, my inspiration, my entertainment, and have provided a hub of artist, creative and health and social care professionals who I collaborate with in projects in the city. These encapsulate Women’s Aid, St David’s Hospice, The Riverfront, The Upmarket Galleries, The Project Space and Arts collective – Newport International Airspace.

I have a great deal of respect for this city and the support from the community and local industries is my continuous inspiration. It forms a large element of my drive to watch Newport prosper.