Terry Rodgers is one of those artists whose work you see for the first time and say, "WOW!" His contemporary, human figures are so bold, passion filled and vivid. In fact, his work would make a perfect billboard above New York's Times Square www.terryrodgers.com. What's it all about? Read on and find out from Rodgers himself.
MICHAEL: Hey Terry. First of all ... your work! It's a visual feast. To me, it's like looking at these decadent, hedonistic, almost photorealist still-lifes of human beings, full of lust and yearning. Then I realize that that is MY interpretation because every single figurative element is really separate unto itself. It's how you've put these elements together that really creates the overall impression. I don't know. Am I sounding pompous?
TERRY: Hi Michael. No. This sounds like a sensible first response to the paintings. We see yearning, but there is very little lust in the work. They, the paintings, might be a strange imagining of a collective cultural fantasy colliding with a more realistic take on our personal emotional experience; that of struggling with isolation and longing in the midst of the strange "feast" that living today is. We may not all have easy access to the luxuries presented to us in every media source on the planet, but something related to these paintings resides at least in the background of most 21st century minds - every ad, every movie, every catwalk, every TV show, every store window, every medical center, every auto plant, every new internet/phone device, every perfect body - they all are replete with the perfect possibilities that might be available to us. The very "muchness" that surrounds us ... but none of this perfection and plenitude addresses the longing we have to connect to one another.
MICHAEL: Yes, I couldn't agree more. We have more avenues to truly connect than at any time in human history AND the world population is huge, yet there's so much aloneness and loneliness out there despite the clutter. On the surface, your paintings look like parties. Who wouldn't want to be in one of those paintings?
TERRY: Yes, that's the whole dilemma. What do we want? What do we really want? What do we mean when we say "want"? Who decided what we might want? And this runs down the whole slippery slope of inner/outer confusion (how's that for a slope?) The surface is way more important than what's going on inside. Our notion of what's possible is so variously pre-determined that it's like a hall of mirrors. And not only are we experts at every technical apparatus and tele-visual experience, but we have advanced degrees in all of them. We can become experts in driving, reconstructive surgery, or manipulating other peoples' money to our advantage, but we're basically in the dark when it comes to relating to another individual. We'd rather talk about how upset we are with what someone did or the latest TV thing.
MICHAEL: Totally. How do you capture this in your work? I notice that while many of your figures are together in the picture, they're also separate and could actually be single paintings on their own.
TERRY: Don't know if I do capture it. I try. I attempt to find gestures that seem real to the kind of situation that I invent, so the figures seem genuine. And then I attempt to have their faces, while seeming "real", express a sense of ambiguity or uncertainty - so the expression may be about someone near them or may be entirely about something else in their head. So they seem both present and absent and their thoughts somehow become the subject. Interestingly, I just finished several paintings of solo individuals. So, questions, fire away! I'm just forgetful and busy and easily distracted. Getting ready to go shoot for a week in New York and am organizing. Can't you just sense my infinite sense of organization?
MICHAEL: I've also seen the solo figures on your website. Do you approach them the same way? Also, I would think they're less labor intensive than your elaborate works.
TERRY: So much for thinking! I still have acres of canvas to cover. The designing is a bit less complex to say the least.
MICHAEL: Hmm. That's interesting. Do you design or map out your works before actually beginning the painting process?
TERRY: Yikes! If I start a canvas, with seven figures, each six feet tall, and decide in the development of the painting, that I want one of the figures a couple of inches to the left or all the way on the other side and another bending down, etc., I'd be working forever on a single piece. I really have to plan them out because of the complexity, the related rhythms, and the multi-faceted balance.
MICHAEL: Do you care whether or not collectors understand your technique or is it more important that they feel a connection to it and buy it?
TERRY: If they understand the technique, but don't "feel" a connection to the work, it can't work for them. And I certainly don't expect everyone to understand the technique. The real question is the nature of their "felt" connection. There are many viewers who "see" the work and fail to "see" what might be in the eyes or "heads" of the figures. It's the same way they fail to see what's in the heads of those around them. And amusingly, that is very much part of the subject of the work - the difficulty of connecting, the difficulty of relating, the resulting isolation. So if the viewers get the meaning, the tension, and "feel" a connection to this in relation to our world, and they make some sense of the technique, then I have the best of all collectors!
MICHAEL: Do you come from an artistic family? What influenced your decision to become an artist?
TERRY: My dad was an engineer and didn't much understand what I was doing. But my mother had a great sense of experiencing what she saw and was very influential in that way. She would marvel at what she saw. The decision to become an artist sort of made itself. I had broad interests, but this is where I found myself spending time, exploring, ruminating. I suppose to others, it would have been evident in high school. But I was still exploring all sorts of other fields at the time and didn't really get what I was up to until a couple of years out of college.
MICHAEL: And then what happened?
TERRY: I spent years experimenting with various ways of representing our lives, gradually developing a broader sense of the visual tools at hand. Little etchings, house paint with four and five inch brushes, black and white photos, adornments freely applied, pure nudity, lavish apartments and events, solos and groups, fairy tale rendering, careful "realism," harsh expressionism, delicate colors, scratching through mud-like paint, just about everything. Somewhere in the eighties, I think, I began constructing larger scenes in an attempt to capture some of the underlying moods in our culture.
MICHAEL: Something just crossed my mind. Your work is so visually decadent, but you seem to be fairly light. At least that's what I'm sensing from you. Do you have to go to a dark, psychological place when you paint? You don't strike me as a "tortured" soul.
TERRY: That's a good question. I think there is a big "artist's myth" about feeling tortured to get at dark subjects. Like the actors who have to "feel" the anguish of the characters they play. As a great British actor once said to a middling American actor, "You don't have to wrap yourself in knots of pain and stab your palms with pins and starve yourself. You just act." What I'm doing is observing. I don't think of my work as so decadent, but I do think of it as complex and congested. It's a representation of the innumerable things that inhabit our limited minds. I'm exaggerating or compressing a lot of the visual input we receive, the "ideals" that are thrown at us and by the intersecting vectors of the visual space, attempting to imply the interconnected complexity that surpasses our comprehension, but which is itself, rather amazing.
I could be depressed by it. But, it could be that every era is confronted by constructs that are delivered gratis. Just like the rain. I don't think we can construct human relations without languages that give undue or imaginary weight, to certain ideas. A witch doctor pushes his or her ideas ... a priest pushes his ... a girlfriend pushes hers and a government pushes its ideas. This can be depressing or amazing or amusing or just plain nuts or all of the above!
MICHAEL: Finally Terry, what's your ultimate goal as an artist? Greater fame, fortune or what?
TERRY: It always comes down to discovering more magic. The goal is to keep discovering. I've really enjoyed this "interview". Never done one like this and it is a great way to do it. Thanks so much for making it wonderful.
MICHAEL: Thanks Terry. I don't think we could be two figures in your paintings. We connected. Cheers.
Terry Rodgers has a really cool website. Check him out at www.terryrodgers.com