Bright felted portraits pack the walls of a spacious downtown Victoria heritage brick building. Fibre work by artist Dale Roberts fills the centre space, ringed by rooms packed with a variety of objects and art.
But the portraits – felt pieces done by his own hand and autographed photos – take pride of place.
The black and white of Doris Day is a good example. Roberts created an 8×10 felt portrait of Rock Hudson and sent it to the late famed actress who responded that she loved the work, and included an autographed portrait of herself.
“I push it into the realm of art because that’s a great way of connecting with people,” Roberts said.
Mail, art and the dame lead the drive to be Canada’s portrait and autograph queen.
An inkling began back in 2000 when Roberts first arrived in Victoria. On the recommendation of a friend, the artist headed for the Moss Street Paint-in. Once there, he felt a need to connect the artists to each other, and enhance the performance value of the popular paint-in.
One year he photographed each artist and created postcards he later mailed to them.
But by far, the longest performance piece is an entire persona – Dame Mailarta – as predictably obsessed with various forms of mail art as Roberts is himself.
Already a bit of a queen – Dame Mailarta has a flair for fashion, makeup and ever-changing hair – has attended conferences in Seattle, San Francisco and even live-streamed to a forum in Italy.
Roberts and the Dame have a collection of more than 2,700 autographed self-portraits that run the gamut in the entertainment, sports, local culture, and even layman realm. Most are filed away alphabetically in binders, others in boxes sorted and awaiting their filing. The best hang on the walls of the studio in the Duck Building.
As an aside, the building is up for redevelopment and Roberts is on the lookout for a new studio space (email firstname.lastname@example.org with leads).
The coup would be an autographed portrait of another queen – that of England. After all, they’ve corresponded for years.
“The Queen and I are like taffy,” he says with a laugh. Though more accurately it may be her majesty’s lady-in-waiting. Roberts has two double-sided portraits of Queen Elizabeth (they come with one current image and one from her early years on the throne) signed by her lady-in-waiting. He expects that’s as good as it’ll get, but enjoys the back-and-forth.
Anyone is welcome to send their autographed self-portrait to Mailarta’s Portrait Palace, 1324 Broad St., Victoria, B.C., Canada V8W 2A9.
Don’t be surprised if there’s a little return mail.
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