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  Exhibition Review from the Sunday Journal, Albuquerque, August 7, 2011

Scenes along the road to self-realization

Visionary British/American artist Peter Rogers is exhibiting an exciting cross section of paintings and drawings in "A Painter's Progress," a retrospective at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. The ambitious 159-piece installation was curated by sculptor/curator Andrew Cecil, who assembled the collection and produced a beautiful catalog in a breathtaking nine-month period.

Due to interior construction in the gallery, the complexity of moving and installing several large murals, fundraising and extensive academic research and writing, most museum projects of this caliber would normally require between two and five years to complete.

The bipolar exhibition features imagery from Rogers' lifelong search for a personal identity and universal understanding through art making. The show includes early and late realistic drawings, portraits and landscape murals in juxtaposition with his intensive and highly stylised "Quest" series.

The show opens with "Man Crossing a Bridge, 1949," a painstakingly detailed and skillfully rendered ink drawing that Rogers completed at age 16.

METAMORPHOSIS, 1980

The red meat of the show covers the artist's visionary paintings like "Metamorphosis" from 1980 through "Ascension" from 2002, when Rogers was between 47 and 69 years old. The childlike abstract style of these figurative works is an attempt by the artist to strip away pretense and ego in order to approach each vision with an innocent eye and hand.

What is missing from the show are selections from Rogers' long foray into purely abstract painting along with early figurative works that shared a kinship with Bay Area abstract expressionist painters David Park and Elmer Bischoff.

The show is divided in half by a large wall complex that creates small open-faced rooms, within which on one side of the wall are displayed portraits, landscapes in oils and large format ink and wash drawings.

On the other side of the wall complex one finds the stylised visionary figurative works broadly inspired by 1930s social realism by Diego Rivera, Orozco and to some extent Picasso from his Great Depression-era return to the classical figure.

Rogers, now an energetic and surprisingly youthful 78 (he looks more like 48), was accepted for membership in the Royal Society of British Artists in 1957 at the tender age of 24. After participating in many exhibitions and holding several positions within the Royal Society through 1960, Rogers eschewed the seduction of the establishment in order to explore the hermetic notion of a painter's quest for enlightenment.

In 1963, after travel and studio work in Europe, Rogers pulled stakes and moved to San Patricio, N.M., where he married Carol Hurd of the Wyeth/Hurd family of artists.

Despite the promise of relatively easy living in the sunny and lucrative realist art realm of portraits, landscapes and public commissions in which he did bask from time to time, Rogers chose instead to embark on a complex and often murky and always mysterious inner journey. It searched for the interconnectedness of spirit and matter, soul and body, and sought to marry the mystical "Real World" with the material World of illusion that most of us call reality.

Since Rogers also is a poet who wrote and published an autobiography titled "A Painter's Quest" in 1987, comparisons to philosopher, poet and painter William Blake are easily made. Blake also eked out his living as an illustrator in order to support the mystical aspect of his creativity for which he later gained international fame.

RUIDOSO VALLEY / LOOKING WEST, 1967

But I see a stronger parallel between Rogers and New Mexico transcendentalist Raymond Jonson, who gave up fame and a fair bit of lucre in Chicago as a nationally recognized theater set and lighting designer to explore his own spiritual path through painting and teaching in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Though Jonson expressed his spiritually inspired stylization through landscape and pure abstraction, his career in the shadows strongly parallels Rogers' far from the mainstream figurative style and choice of studio location.

The fulfilment of Rogers' quest for understanding and self-realization is the true reward sought by many artists ranging from Marc Chagall to Mark Rothko, but few are as articulate both visually and verbally as Rogers.

For the true seeker, the journey never ends. But in Rogers' case his travels have helped clear the fog from Alice's looking glass and allowed the rest of us a holistic glimpse of the "Real World," overflowing with heavenly myths and carnal dreams.

heavenly myths and carnal dreams.