BY DOUG NORRIS
In 1977, Newport artist Rita Rogers lost most of her paintings in a house fire. The images on display in this thirty-year retrospective give a sense of her artistic journey in the aftermath of ashes when Rogers began anew, working in the tradition of abstract expressionism.
Collectively, the works convey a formal concentration on color, texture, light, and movement in studies that predominantly capture sensations and discoveries in nature but sometimes allude to poets, painters, or religious themes. Individually, many of the paintings effectively reveal tension between sensory, kinetic imagery bursting from moody, more cerebral color fields.
Rogers employs a wide-ranging, eye-pleasing palette, producing evocative abstractions that retain the force of feeling — sometimes in wild, overlapping layers of paint, sometimes more subtly, in almost imperceptible shadings and gradations of hues. Repeated motifs include common geometrical shapes such as circles, triangles, and rectangles, along with more organic objects, including tendrils and tentacles, chrysalises and wishbones.
Eighteen paintings inhabit the main gallery. One, identified as 0, Living Flame from a Poem by St. John of the Cross, presents a simple but haunting scene of a spiraling flame with wisps of smoke swallowed in darkness. On its own, outside of the main gallery and just off the corridor, is a predominantly orange painting (untitled, but numbered 351) with three ghost-white wishbone shapes suspended, an ethereal but vivid depiction that gives an impression of autumnal gothic.
Four paintings in the corridor represent the artist’s most recent work. Painted as part of her Thicket series, the canvases erupt in the elemental interplay of wind and sea, sky and scrub, as Rogers experienced in pockets of wilderness found around her seaside city home. They are, like all of the artist’s work, alternatively bold and meditative, both representations of a dynamic moment of sensation and reflections of feelings simultaneously stirred. And yet, in the hidden way of thickets themselves, they also retain a sense of mystery and impenetrability, qualities embraced by an artist who finds solace and purpose in a place of “dense growth shot through by glimpses of light.”