On The Work of Rita Rogers
by Gary Zebrun
Painted mostly in the artist’s second-floor studio in The
Point neighborhood of Newport,
these works by Rita Rogers had their genesis in less cramped quarters: the
physical world of the water and sky and thickets of her seaside city and the
metaphysical space of her prodigious mind and heart.
style is decidedly abstract expressionist, but her execution is never
imitative, even though it’s clear she’s paid attention to American painters who
came directly before her, men such as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Robert
No doubt she would agree with Motherwell who opposed the
anti-intellectualism of much American art and believed in the artistic creed that
“ideas modify feelings.” While many painters from the ’60s onward were moving
in the direction of minimalism, pop and postmodern art, and commercialism,
Rogers was drawn to other sources: the darker realms of Francisco Goya; the
rich symbolic associations in Russian icons and the relief etchings of William
Blake; the meditative frescoes of Fra Angelico whose use of color, like
Rogers’, was at once humble and arresting; and Paul Cezanne’s fierce attention
to form and the interaction between an object and the eyes of the artist.
In her work are echoes of three of the Old Masters: Titian,
Peter Paul Rubens and Diego Velasquez. She doesn’t eschew the spiritual nor
does she indulge tortured trajectories of emotions. Feelings matter in her
paintings, but she always tries to transcend the personal and find something other in the texture, color, light and
movement of the abstract forms.
Some of her paintings are derived directly
from Church lore, sometimes in argument with it: drawings of the crucifixion; six
stunning oil panels inspired by “The Garden of Love” — one of William Blake’s Songs of
Innocence; and others filled with circles, triangles, rectangles,
chrysalises, wishbone-like appendages, tendrils shooting and slashing,
tentacles swirling, as well as less identifiable forms that occupy a space
every bit as mystical as the figures depicted in Russian icons.
work, however, is not religious art. Her paintings never lose sight of the
physicality of the objects she’s envisioning, nor of the natural world they
spring from. In her paintings are the shifting sky, horizon, clouds and light;
the expanse of the Atlantic as it meets a shoreline and the ever changing
aspect of the sea; the scrub, fauna and wildlife of Brenton Point where she
spends mornings walking and hours drawing; and human forms, usually less
identifiable, can occasionally appear among the shapes that sometimes float,
sometimes get pinned down, on a canvas.
John Updike wrote, in his book of essays on American art,
STILL LOOKING, that “when a painter acts upon a flat surface, harmonies and
balances, congruences and semblances flock into being out of thin air.” Here in
this exhibit are testaments to that mysterious sense of order that only a
gifted artist leaves for others to see — after the arduous struggle in the
storm of her mind and heart and the chaotic world of people and things and
forces without which no canvas would be filled.