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  Exhibition Review from 'The Magazine', November 2011

Peter Rogers : A Painter's Progress

Roswell Museum and Art Center
100 West 11th Street, Roswell

Fifty Years is a long time for any artist to pursue a single body of work, but that's how long Peter Rogers has been painting his Quest series. Rogers, who lives and works in the Hondo Valley south and west of Roswell, continues to reconfigure his visions of stylized inner space weighted with such polarities as male and female, darkness and light, youth and old age, mystical clarity and psychological opaqueness. The Quest paintings, begun when the artist was barely out of art school in England, where he was born, were more fully developed after Rogers moved to New Mexico and became part of the celebrated Wyeth-Hurd clan when he married Carol Hurd. Perhaps it was the transcendental New Mexico light - coupled with inspirations fed by the power of landscape and the power of love -- that reinforced Rogers' visionary nature.

However, as this retrospective reveals, Rogers has painterly and graphic skills that are truly noteworthy and veer away from the visual style he uses in his Quest images. The artist's ability to draw is undeniable, and he brings to his portraits an almost uncanny likeness that breathes life into his subjects and rises above mere verisimilitude. On a trip to England in 1989, Rogers visited a nephew and too photographs of his nephew's children, using them later as the basis for the work Portrait of Charlotte, Polly, Hester, William and Alexandra. The children, more than just being beautifully rendered within a somber-looking landscape, represent five haunting portraits of distinct personalities harmonised and spiritually balanced within nature. It is as if the children were from another dimension the sole function of which was to allow individuals to determine their own destiny. This is an odd characteristic of the work - the sense that the children are masters of their own fate and, to be sure, this is not an easy quality for any artist to convey - but it's there in the painting.

Some of the strongest work in A Painter's Progress is Rogers' India ink on panel drawing such as Fallen Branch, Flood Debris, and Arroyo After Rain. Within the exquisite rendering, there seems to be an acknowledgement of the dark side of nature - its destructive power, its pitilessness. Rogers' expert handling of the often difficult medium of ink and wash is made manifest in a work that was reproduced in the catalogue but was not in the show.


Part of a commissioned cycle he did on the development of the North Slope oil fields in Alaska, Roughnecks at Work I, from I970, is a tour de force of darks and lights, and vertical, horizontal and diagonal forms all at the service of a composition that depicts strength, resistance, human struggle, and the menacing power of machinery barely under control. Although the image is full of a dramatic realism, the work is essentially an abstraction and the more wonderful for slipping the bonds of perfect detail. Part of Rogers' renown as an artist with multiple commissions to his name is his ability to combine technical skill with a strong emotional component.

"The seeing of the eyes and the breathing of the nose bring messages to the heart. It is the heart which causes all decisions to be made, but it is the tongue which reports what the heart has thought out … This determines the peculiar nature of everything." This quote is from an ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolI, and the text was part of the printed material in the gallery that Rogers provided for the viewing of his Quest cycle. And here the artist's work takes a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn from the world of sublime technique and into the artist's realm of personal myth. For decades, Rogers has been reworking his vocabulary of visionary symbols: crescent moons, lightning bolts, flying horses, muses, wise men, hermits, lovers, dreamers, doves, bodies of water. His painting style is one of idealized, streamlined figures, and his palette is limited to browns, burnt sienna, creamy whites, moody blues, and sometimes a bright yellow. Given that all the material of the Quest paintings comes from the artist's inner visions, curiously the figures all lack the evidence of an inner life; these symbolic beings, along with the animals and the landscapes, are mere schematic pieces of a mystical puzzle with which the artist has invested his spiritual longings.


The revealing of personal visions takes a special kind of courage; in today's art world, such material often gets a sideways skeptical glance. Within a climate of elevated ironic posturing, spiritual sincerity often doesn't pay and yet Rogers continues to ponder his own depths and, in often huge works such as images of the Way, the artist steadfastly engages with his cinematic mythology in which individuals rise up into the sky, hide out in caves, dive into deep waters, pray to the moon, or hold onto their golden apples of the sun. Rogers' Quest paintings seem to me to be the work of a man who loved too much, and we, the uninitiated viewers, are merely spies in the house of love.

- Diane Armitage

Diane Armitage