‘A Textured Life’ highlights vibrant works spanning the avid world traveler’s artistic career.
Perusing the paintings included in “A Textured Life,” an exhibition of the diverse work of the late Dee Ropers, one gets a sense of Ropers’ openness to change and experimentation – both as an artist and in general.
“She kept reinventing herself,” Ropers’ daughter Kelyn Dewar said at the celebration marking the exhibition’s opening at the Los Altos Hills Town Hall in early October. “She was always interested in life and always growing.”
A longtime resident of the Los Altos area, where she sometimes displayed and sold work at Gallery 9 in downtown, Ropers continually displayed a creative spirit and artistic talent, Dewar said, which she nurtured throughout her life as a student and practitioner, not just through painting and collage but sculpture, furniture design and more.
Spread throughout the town hall’s rooms, “A Textured Life” includes vibrant works from throughout Ropers’ artistic career, in a variety of media and styles.
Early oil paintings in representational and impressionistic styles were followed by an abstract, modern “white phase,” exploring neutrals, ink, acrylic paint and the art of collage. An avid world traveler, Ropers spent time in the Caribbean in the 1980s, which inspired an explosion of vivid color and bold graphics. A summer spent in Florence, Italy, in the 1990s allowed her to study classical art, including sculpture and frescoes, adding new dimensions to her work and palette.
She had a longtime love and respect for Mexican culture, Dewar said, and it was in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, that Ropers was to find her ultimate artistic home, settling there for the last two decades of her life. She opened a popular gallery there, in the Fabrica La Aurora art complex, and taught mixed-media workshops until her sudden death in 2015.
“I love looking at all the different phases of the art,” said her son Mark Ropers at the exhibition opening. “Since we grew up in Los Altos, it’s nice to bring her back to our hometown.”
The title of the exhibition – “A Textured Life” – refers not only to Ropers’ personal and artistic journey but also to her love of mixed media, literally creating texture by layering materials such as newsprint, photographs, paint, handwriting, sand and found objects in her work.
“She’d pull all the different things she knew in her life and she’d just make something beautiful,” Dewar said.
The “Emerging From the Rubble” diptych, for example, created during Ropers’ time in Florence, depicts a female sculpture struggling away from the embrace of the male figure next to her, standing atop a mound of rubble. The words of Virgil’s ancient epic “The Aeneid” are written in Sharpie ink under the images. The piece represents Ropers’ feminist themes and her own efforts toward artistic and personal freedom.
“She had to break free of being married, of being in a traditional life, to be able to invent her own life,” Dewar said.
Ropers was “so curious, so fearless, and ageless,” said Tracy King, an artist who was mentored by Ropers and became a close friend and colleague. King emphasized how Ropers was not only a prolific artist but also a beloved teacher to many in the San Miguel de Allende community and beyond. Her work and her spirit especially touched folks who were going through – or were interested in making – big changes in their lives.
“She believed that a person could always reinvent themselves and transform,” King said of her late mentor, whom she met when she left a long corporate career in search of a more creative life and signed up for one of Ropers’ workshops. “She really wanted to keep transforming and move through life in a different way … For me that was a huge inspiration. Dee lived her life so differently and she was that example,” she said.
Before dedicating herself fully to making and teaching art, and in addition to raising three kids, Ropers earned a teaching degree, worked in advertising and had a career in tech, Dewar said. And while she’s remembered as a free spirit who made bold fashion choices, sported colorfully streaked hair and was fiercely passionate about encouraging others to be playful and experimental in their work, she also had a keen mathematical and scientific mind, family members and friends agreed. She took pleasure in organization and working with patterns and geometry – a left-brain side of her that also shows in the exhibition, such as in the trio of intricate gold-and- silver leaf works that contain precisely wrought rectangles within squares.
With eight years having passed since Ropers’ death, the exhibition is a chance for loved ones to celebrate and reflect on her legacy and introduce her work to new viewers.
“We’ve healed. We’re all saying it’s so great that she worked so hard and we’re able to see it,” Dewar said. “To be able to share it with everyone.”
“A Textured Life” is available for free public viewing during the town hall’s open hours (26379 Fremont Road, Los Altos Hills; Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m.) and will be on display through March 2024. On Friday, Jan. 26, at 1 p.m., Dewar will offer a guided tour of the exhibition. More information is available at deeropersgallery.wordpress.com.