You never know what you can do until you try.
Just ask Belle Roth.
Roth, 50, who works in principal market development for a global corporation in Memphis, decided to take up painting last year. She had never painted before. She bought a few art supplies, painted two abstracts, posted them online, and two weeks later a New York gallery contacted her and soon began representing her. She now has shows booked in Florence, Portugal, Barcelona, Zurich, Miami, and New York. Her paintings sell for up to almost $7,000.
“My mom was telling me earlier, ‘You didn’t even know how to to hold a crayon when you were growing up,’” Roth says.
Born and raised in Manila in the Philippines, Roth played piano, sang, and sewed when she attended an all-girls’ school. “But nothing stood out.”
She was more interested in being in leadership roles. She was the platoon leader in her Girl Scouts troop. She coordinated sports events between her school and a boys’ school. “It’s really about behind-the-scenes organizing,” she says.
After she graduated with an economics degree from the University of St. Tomas, she became project manager for Novartis. Ten years later, she became regional marketing manager for Asia Pacific. She moved to Memphis 10 years ago and began working for Accredo Specialty Pharmacy, where she was product line manager. From there, she moved to her current job in global market development at Medtronic.
“No art at all,” Roth says, adding, “It’s all about work. That’s my life. Work. Family. I have three girls.”
Art came about after her daughters finished school. She told her husband, Jeff, “I need to discover myself.”
She continues, “It’s all about me discovering who I am and who I want to be. What is it I missed over the years? And, lo and behold, this art came.”
So Roth bought some acrylic paints, two small canvases, and a brush. She made “two simple” abstract paintings. “I just needed something to express myself.”
Roth believes a trip she took to Copenhagen after their children graduated inspired her to paint. “Something happened in that place. It just resonated in me. For me, it’s a new beginning. So, I started painting. You will see the color of Copenhagen. So rich. A lot of the gold. You see the richness and the textures. It’s not just a painting, but a lot of texture in between.”
Roth created a website, opened an Instagram account, and posted her first two paintings. Two weeks later, someone from the Agora Gallery in New York sent her a letter. “They reached out to me and they said, ‘Can you show us more paintings?’”
And they said, “We’re very interested in representing you.”
Roth and her husband discovered the gallery was located in Chelsea, a prestigious art area in New York.
Those two paintings “will be presented in Miami in December.”
She donated three of her paintings to the live auction at the Mid-South Heart and Stroke Ball, an American Heart Association fundraiser held last February at The Peabody. “Those are the things that make me happy as a person. As an artist. It resonates with me. How can we help the community.”
And, she says, “We were really happy because we know we have three paintings here in Memphis.”
All her paintings, so far, are based on her travels. “Each of my paintings has a memory behind it. What I’ve seen there. How I felt at that time. So, I have a full series like ‘Paris,’ ‘Copenhagen,’ ‘Manila,’ where I grew up. I have ‘Denver.’ And then I have ‘Germany.’ I have ‘Cairo.’”
As for what she is conveying in her paintings, Roth says, “The message now is advocating for diversity, equality, and positivity.
“Whether it’s race, social standing — everywhere I go it’s the same. The names of my paintings are different places I’ve been, but everywhere I’ve been I saw it. It’s the same. It’s sad, but it’s true. That’s how I reflect every time I put my brushes onto my canvas. That’s what I feel.”
Her work will be included in four upcoming exhibits. “By the end of December I would say I need to come up with a good 60 paintings. I’m almost done. I’ve done 50 plus.”
She originally was going to launch her artwork last April at Agora. “That’s when we had a lockdown.”
The exhibit was moved to September, she says.
Agora Gallery marketing director Sabrina A. Gilbertson says, “Belle’s painting is at once energizing and introspective, and perhaps foremost, filled with hope. Her investigation of light, color and form collide expertly, bringing us in and out of the shimmery surfaces, while also inviting us to join a deeper dialogue that touches on universal narratives, such as equality, adversity, and family.”
Roth, who currently works at her Medtronic job from home, paints every day. But, she says, “I can only paint at 4 in the morning.”
She’s tried to paint at other times of the day. “I just don’t get the results I needed. I tried it at dinner time. I tried at noon on the weekends. It’s so different. I have so much energy in the morning before work.”
After she and her husband take their daily walk around the neighborhood, Roth is at her computer at 8 a.m. for her office job.
“I don’t know anything but work. I’ve been working all my life. [Art] is going to be a hobby, but I would say my goal is to be better at my craft. I’m so excited to be a part of a global contemporary art world, but I know there are a lot of things involved with it.”
And, she says, “It’s going to take a while, but I have the time and I have the energy. And I have time to work for that.”
Something in her drives her, Roth says. “I’ve always done what I’m afraid to do. It’s like taking a risk. I know that in art everybody takes a risk because people are afraid to be judged on what they do.
“I’m just going to do what I’m afraid to do and just celebrate my life right now. Have confidence. At the end of the day I feel my competition is myself. I’m pushing myself all the time. Trying different colors. I’m working on an orange color right now. It’s me and the canvas. It’s a different feeling. For me, I’m alone. It’s my space. I’m not influenced by anybody. There’s no strategy involved. It’s just me and my work.”
So, what else does Roth want to do now that she’s become a painter? “Sing the national anthem in front of a big crowd. Which is so crazy. I don’t think I will ever do that, but it’s kind of surreal. I’ll put it on my bucket list.”