I was first introduced to Roberta Gordon-Smith at the Acompalia Artística exhibition at the Azucarera in Motril last December. After seeing one of the pieces she was exhibiting, a sofa with a life-size painting of a nude woman sprawled out on it, I knew I wanted to meet the artist behind this wonderfully risqué, yet beautifully tasteful, work. I wasn't disappointed.
The creator of the painted sofa (the sofa she found in an old barn in England) has had an illustrious career, starting at the prestigious Chelsea School of Art and going on to start her business, Artyfacts, in 1981 on the King's Road - associated with London's art scene from the 1960s and the likes of Mary Quant and Vivienne Westwood. Roberta herself has decorated the homes of some of Britain's biggest stars, including Boy George, Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler, Dave Stewart and Alexi Sayle as well as American soul singer, P P Arnold, (the latter two now being neighbours). She has used the trompe l'oeil (trick of the eye in French) technique for many of her clients' homes. Gordon-Smith has published two books about the technique, which together have sold over half a million copies internationally. “The books were a huge success in France,” the artist recognises. She and her work have also appeared regularly in magazines such as Hello and UK newspapers and she has designed plots at the Chelsea Flower Show.
With the profits from the book sales, Roberta came to Spain on holiday in 1998. “I went to Spain and came back with a house,” she exclaims! “I thought it was just like Scotland or the Yorkshire Dales, but more savage and with sun,” she laughs, comparing the Granada landscape with the places of her origins; she is half Scottish, half Yorkshire, but was born in Derby.
Roberta moved to Spain permanently in 2002 and since then has built a mini-empire. She was approached by an elderly Spanish lady from the village she'd bought the house in, to purchase a finca at the bottom of a valley overlooking the nearby Beznar reservoir. “It was love at first sight,” admits Roberta.
The finca has since become La Conca - not only home to the artist but also a private club where members meet regularly for jam sessions and other events.
Roberta and her daughter Georgina have plans to develop La Conca into an 'AgrEcoArt' project, combining the traditional agricultural practices and indigenous plants of the area, such as olives, figs and citrus fruits and their art, with an end to everything they do being sustainable. The plans include using recycled materials and zero-kilometre, or homegrown produce. The project includes running art, cooking and agriculture courses at the finca and bringing back some of the traditional methods of working the land that have been lost over time.
The house is also a tribute to her own trompe l'oeil work, with items of furniture that she brought with her from England and the living room ceiling painted as a blue sky with fluffy white clouds.
Roberta and Georgina bought the gallery, El Casino in Salobreña, 12 years ago and have spent the ensuing years restoring it “funds permitting,” says Roberta. It's been open for three years and is a treasure trove of a gallery-cum-living space in Salobreña. Roberta's theory that art is much better “set in a living environment” rather than as individual pieces in a gallery. El Casino is quirky, inviting and homely with treasures for sale in every nook and cranny. Sculpture, paintings and jewellery sit among pieces of antique furniture that Roberta has picked up - either to sell on as it is or upcycle, selected items of clothes, a giant teddy made by Roberta and Georgina and of course, THAT sofa.
Roberta also organises and gets involved in charity events and a percentage of the profits from sales at the gallery go to three different charities; Acompalia, local children in need and Valle Verde dog sanctuary. She has an international team of friends and other artists who work with her at La Conca and El Casino.
El Casino is open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 11am until 7pm and exhibitions change. The gallery can be opened for groups by appointment and even has living space for artists looking for space for a residency.