Robert Czibi: Art in an hour

by Andrew Wilson

It’s not unusual to find Park Theatre staff up a ladder. Lights need to be hung, sets adjusted, ceilings repaired. Could be two minutes, could be half a day – as long as the job takes. But for Robert Czibi, the multi-talented artist whose chalk drawings adorn the blackboard in the theatre lobby, the time spent up a ladder is very precise: one hour per show, no more and usually not much less.

Trixie, Daisy and Robert

It’s not unusual to find Park Theatre staff up a ladder. Lights need to be hung, sets adjusted, ceilings repaired. Could be two minutes, could be half a day – as long as the job takes.

But for Robert Czibi, the multi-talented artist whose chalk drawings adorn the blackboard in the theatre lobby, the time spent up a ladder is very precise: one hour per show, no more and usually not much less.

“If I can’t get it done in an hour, then I’ve taken a wrong direction,” he says. Fortunately that hasn’t happened often since he began doing the chalk drawings in June 2015.

Born in Hungary, Robert trained at the Városliget Open Studio Art Foundation in Budapest. He worked and exhibited in Hungary and Greece before moving to London ten years ago.

In 2013, he joined Park Theatre as a Café Bar chef, having worked in catering (and other jobs) to support his art. But it was after an exhibition of his paintings in the theatre that Robert was asked to take responsibility for the lobby blackboard, starting off with An Audience with Jimmy Savile. Until then, the blackboard was a kind of “open mic” affair. Different people with different levels of talent, often from visiting theatre companies, took up coloured chalk and produced graphics to publicize current shows.

Working in Reverse

Accomplished in many different media, it took Robert a while to get the measure of chalk and blackboard. “For instance, you have to work in reverse – instead of a white canvas, the background is black.” That means lighter patches draw the eye and have most visual weight, he explains. “And you get completely different textures if the board is wet or dry.”

We watch him at work illustrating Daisy Pulls It Off. He starts out climbing the ladder with the play’s poster in his hand, sketching out the basic shapes in white chalk. “The hair will need to be figured out,” he says, settling on blue for Daisy’s dark curls.”

Roma heritage

In his professional work as an artist, Robert current concentrates on watercolours. “I love the interaction of paper and watercolour inks,” he says. His website showcases stunning examples of his work, ranging from haunting faces to whimsical animal graphics.

Robert’s Roma heritage figures prominently in many of the paintings, and is a source of quiet pride. Recently he provided the cover illustration for the cover of calendar for the Roma Support Group, a charity dedicated to improving the quality of life for Roma refugees and migrants in the UK. Once a client of the group, he is now both a volunteer and a member of its board of trustees.

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