“Newport Mercury Magazine” Review of Rita Rogers: Selected Paintings



PDF of article with photos.

Aug. 29 to Jan. 3, 2010
Newport Art Museum,
76 Bellevue Ave.,
(401) 848-8200


There is a certain orderliness
to the profusion of brushes
and spill of notebooks that
cover shelves and surfaces in
Rita Rogers’ Newport studio.
Finished paintings hang on
walls that bear the marks of
past projects, and pieces awaiting
meticulous repair occupy a
table in the back. It is evident
that there is constant work
being done; it is a dynamic
environment even when the
artist stands quietly flipping
through one of her many notebooks.

“I have always drawn,”
explained Rogers, 73, whose
solo show of work spanning
three decades opens Saturday
at the Newport Art Museum.
“I’m just at it all the time — filling
notebooks. They’re all over
the place,” she said with a nod
to the crammed shelf above us.

“It’s so absorbing to work on
what’s right in front of you.
Sometimes my drawings,
unlike my paintings, are very

On this note I begin a two hour
tour that starts in Rogers’
studio in the Point neighborhood
where she has lived for
the past 25 years, makes stops
at the enormous printing press
that hulks at one end and the
computer and flat files in the
next room, and eventually
winds its way to a basement
storage space many blocks
away. It is in the jumble of the
storage racks that the shear
volume of work this artist has
created begins to become evident.
Rows of abstract paintings
lean against each other as
Rogers pulls one after another
out and into the weak light.

Rogers, who grew up in New
York City and began painting
in the 1960s, spent the better
part of the 1970s immersed in
printmaking where she
believed she could better distinguish
herself. Many of these
early realistic works, however,
were destroyed in a house fire
in 1977.

“I printed for about eight
years during that time. I
would walk around with little
pieces of metal in my pocket,”
Rogers said with a laugh. “But
primarily what I’ve been
doing is painting.

“I paint directly on the canvas
without even a sketch, but
there will always be something
on my mind,” she continued.
“It will be something spatial or
poetic, not usually visual, but a
sensation — something I have
felt. That’s where I start.”

Her paintings, which Rogers
says are “non-narrative” (to the
point where they are not even
titled), mostly measure about 4′
x 5′.

“I tend to work my body size
… including wing span,”
Rogers added. “It’s what you
can carry. If you don’t have an
assistant, you have to haul
them around yourself.”

Rogers, who also works as a
restorer of fine art, said that
the process of gathering and
repairing the work for the solo
museum exhibit has been a
laborious one.

“Nancy (Whipple Grinnell,
Newport Art Museum curator)
looked through a great deal of
work and has selected almost
30 to fill the room. Some of the
paintings were in very bad
shape. But I’m thrilled to be
having this show. It’s a chance
for communication. As an
artist, you’re really just trying
to get what you’re saying
across to someone else. ”

Rogers’ paintings, though
abstract, portray a sense of
narrative gained through
movement and a finely tuned
sense of color. They are surprisingly
affecting and often
dramatic. She has, it is clear,
been working very hard for
quite some time.

“My parents said I was born
doing this, but I never really
thought about it. I always
thought I wanted to be something
else,” Rogers insisted. “At
Bard (College, where she
received a B.A.) I got a real liberal
arts education and I went
to Columbia University to
study contemporary literature.”

Her paintings, which in addition
to not being titled
(although a numbering system
has been worked out for the
purposes of her exhibit), are
generally not dated either.

“I really don’t seem to have
much of a historical sense. I
never even sign them. When
they’re done, they’re done.
They exist in space not time.”

In “#0336” (oil on canvas,
60”x40”, 2003), which was used
for the exhibit invitation,
Rogers gives us what appears at
first glance to be roses, but
upon closer inspection it’s difficult
to maintain the argument
that the painting is truly a
depiction of our culture’s most
celebrated flower. Lines of
orangey-red, like the veins in
marble, snake through pale
pink and light green, delicate
like the edges of a rose, but
maybe not a rose at all.

“Sometimes I’ll go back and
I’ll see something,” admitted
Rogers as she showed me a painting in which what seems clearly to be a realistic looking heart is buried within the other­wise immutable dashes of oil paint. It was painted, she said, right after someone close to her had a heart attack. “When some thing is subconsciously that important to me, it just comes out.”

Additionally, Rogers said, she “paints a lot of fire paintings … of course, my house burned down years ago. My kids say, ‘You’re painting fire again.’ ” “#805” (oil on canvas, 48”x60”, 2008) has hints of calligraphy hidden within a subtle spring like palette. The painting is only just barely contained by the con fines of the canvas, as Roger has painted full-bore all the way to the very limits. It is a painting that is masterfully complete.

“I’m working an edge,” Rogers said simply.

A preview reception will be held Fri., Aug. 28, from 5-7 p.m.
for “Rita Rogers: Selected Paint ings” along with “ VISTA Redux: Photographs, 1969, Federico San ti” and the Photographer’s Guild Members’ Exhibition. The recep tion is free for museum members and $10 for nonmembers. RSVP at (401) 848-8200, Ext. 104.