Citizen K International: Number XXXIV Spring 2005
The painter, Terry Rodgers, has pin-pointed the disenchantment of wealthy America. A country whose desires are granted is melancholy.
by Pierre Doze
Translated from French by Margaret Brown
The group portraits really hit first. In spite of the crowds on the canvases, their dimension draws you in right away. Fascination for this lascivious society, this ambience of parvenus in the background, doubles as pornography in ambush. Against the bait of excitement and desire is juxtaposed against a depiction of the boredom that is broughtforward. The true power of the work resides in this magnificent conflict. Contrary to what the splendid flesh seems to announce, these canvases could be vain self-worship. They recall the futility of life on earth. The absurdity and uselessness of theseenvironments from the flesh to the sofa, from the candelabra to the clothes is always very near. Neither the scenes themselves nor their inhabitants show anything other than emptiness. But this empheralness that the pieces convey wouldn't be so unpleasant if they didn't suggest that pleasures were so fleeting. But they don't visibly know it. They can't. You who enter here, forget all hope of ineffable pleasure. This is one of the motifs that make us like them. Want, mixed with compassion.
In these relatively complex compositions where there are a multitude of characters, the sequences bring a dimension of already viewed yet never seen that is one of the keys to pop success. The melody heard only once, but you can hum it right away. For these images, Rodgers chose men and women from 20-35 years old. Rather glorious, well groomed, well dressed, and weary. Standing, stretched out, bent down, but emptiness is always the first readable characteristic. In the immobility of the poses, of silence and of empty looks. The boredom is breathtaking. A curious sort of obscenity is found in the seriousness of the work. The song is not less known, but it's about a suggested orgy.A post-coitum sadness that was always there and won't go away. A perfectly idle expectation - an ashram, a bomb, a revelation, Rael? , an idleness filled with lassitude. No tension takes its place. The lips are closed, the looks empty. Nowhere is a trace of elation, of passion. No muscle taut, jawbone nor genital. Not even the sweating or the half open mouths of the models on billboards. In the nudes - no one is dressed except for fragments - very little of sex is apparent. Only the breast occupies an important place, a sign of melancholy. There are no elements which display drugs. Nothing more than a cigarette. Several glasses, a little wine throughout. A canvas, innocently names Beaujolais Nouveau. No disorder either, no furniture knocked over, no carpets creased in these interiors designed for a display window. In his erotic latencies, peaceful strangeness, the lonely crowd is one of desire without object. The quote by Hegel - "Desire has no object" - read year after year, finds illustration in his work. If it is necessary to take out the aspect of social critique in Rodgers' paintings, one is left only with the existential question. He doesn't want to be a sociologist but he wishes "to look, all the time, and attempt to see what hides under the surface. It's an America of icons and ideals that is fed by ambition, to be where the grass is greener. To judge oneself by unattainable standards. I want to show the things that bring them life. The desire that comes from them and these absolute forms that are the bodies, the faces, and the physical environment. They are there, where they want to be, but it's always an illusion, not where they need to be. They want to bring their attention to their body, their clothes, the objects around them but nothing can compensate for the absence of relations with others. Nothing can substitute the beauty of that experience." Sexuality doesn't belong in the flow of questioning.
To a notable degree the norm seems to be one of heterosexuality. "They can ask themselves what they do, what they are, and where they're going but in my sense sexuality and its orientation is nothing more than an element of decoration." The clear absence of relation between these subjects is employed by Rodgers, who creates the climate of a collage echo and projection, juxtaposition material and sensible that is posed on the canvas. If they're all in the same space, become cramped or trample one another, they stay nonetheless strangers to each other. Rodgers builds a group in a painting by pulling together elements from an array of photographs, sometimes using faces crossed in the street. Without a preconceived idea of the composition where they will be, and also without exploiting their character traits. "I work obsessively, sometimes fast, often with six or ten canvases building simultaneously. The growth is uncertain. The conceptual part can last six days to two months. Once posed the work can accomplish itself in two weeks." He calls what's happening here "compression, strengthening of the knot" in his dream worlds of solitude. It's a veritable sympathy that Rodgers has for his subjects, and at the same time a fascination. The upper middle class that he has represented constitutes a subject of uninterrupted passion. An American ideal that he completes from other ingredients. For a decade he has vacationed in St. Tropez, where he seems to find new inspirations."The bodies, the faces, the attitudes: a perfect place. Families on vacation also, these beachfront reunions last into the night. I just can't put my camera down."
The child thoughtlessly bent toward the scale model of a Ferrari originates
from St. Tropez His Collection. It's without a doubt the
strongest of Rodgers' canvases. The woman mother to the child?
holds herself in a boastful posture, without provocation but without
abandon either. The presence of a Budweiser can in her hand adds to her
attitude of challenged tranquility. The child is standing behind her,
turned toward the pool and the car. Their skin shows tan lines, this is
interesting and also the shape of the stomach and the relaxed breast reveal
Rodgers' preoccupations. The skin is like a piece of clothing. The white
traces left by the bathing suit are clearly shown. The breast says it
also "The faces of the women are mostly perfect. Their make-up
and their hairstyle, the glossiness of their hair. But the naked breast
strangely says, when it falls a bit, comes to say, more surely than all
the rest, the age of the person. I hung this canvas in mybedroom. I find
the flesh of this woman miraculous, the tints of ivory, white, and blue-green."The
human Rodgers depicts is rarely one who has undergone plastic surgery-
only an overly perfect breast could invalidate it. On the contrary this
manifested fragility of the skin is interesting. Questioned on his choice
to paint instead of photography, Rodgers guesses the material itself stretched
on the canvas is a form of flesh for him. "I didn't consistently
take any art courses. It's in the museums, looking, that I learned. With
Degas, Vélasquez or Beckmann. A painting by Manet that portrays
asparagus on a plate can explain my interest in painting. It translates
many aspects at once. The depth of the painting- an abstract machine
and the object being represented asparagus. Painting has a physical
dimension that photography can't have. This duality is the same as that
of the body, at one time a sexual object and a covering for something."
Cloaked in ambiguity. His interest in flesh combines with the one he has
for gesture, in the same logic of significance conscious will is overtaken.
"It's effectively rare to show sex in my work. It's more the gesture
that discovers it or invalidates it that excites me. I painted a couple
on a bed. She is on him. This is where I focus my concentration, not on
the genitals and what they are attempting to do with them in an awkward
moment, but rather in the gesture and expression of the couple. Sex itself
is always the least interesting."