Paper (Greece): No. 21 — March

Interview — Terry Rodgers

Thanasis Diamantopoulos

Q: Which would be your comment if you hear that you are one of the biggest figurative artists in the U.S.?

Of course, I would be pleased. Though I’m not sure how we would really determine such a thing.

Q: You have been drawing since you were a young child. Your mother gave you a set of old paints. So did you owe the beginning of your career to your mother? 

Yes, in many ways. She opened my eyes to looking.  She would call from the kitchen, saying, “Terry, come look!!” And she would have some wonderful vegetable, sliced open in some way, and have us both marveling at the intricate patterns.  She found wonderful things everywhere.

Q: Your grandfather who is a photographer gave you a huge camera. What is the influence of photography on your art? Do you feel more as a painter or a photographer?

I feel like an artist. Making art is what I do. Painting, drawing photography, videography, sculpture — it’s all about making art.  My grandfather’s camera surely opened my eyes to  new ways of looking.  But then, very shortly, there were a tumult of influences.

Q: Your paintings are representing with every detail images taken from real life. Do you feel painting like photographer?

TR: Not at all.  I’m creating confections of images, things that swirl around in all of our minds.  It’s the integration of the images that interests me, not their likeness to a photograph.  The use I make of similitude is that it has been ignored for some time and I can play with things that everyone can relate to.  I just take it unusual places.

Q: Could you please talk to us about the techniques that you use in order to make a painting? Do you need a model or you use your imagination?

TR: I work from models and I use my imagination.  I photograph hundreds of models, all over the world.  As well as locations.  Then I sit and ponder the images to see how they may interact, or suggest things about how we fail to interact with each other. I try altering the expressions, the gestures, the proportions.  I try many combinations before I find a coherent whole.  Then I draw it on the canvas, and have an assistant block in the rough colors.  Then I redraw the image and begin with oil.  This is the process of finding the true expression that the photograph only hints at. 

Q: Which was your first reaction when you saw a Andy Warhol's painting for the first time?  Are you feeling owing something to the success of pop art(and if yes what)?

TR: I don’t remember the first time I saw an Andy Warhol.  He always seemed familiar – his silk screens and his movies on Fire Island. 

Pop art seemed like an interesting side show to me.  Our whole 1950’s and 60’s USA seemed like one big Pop Art Show – from the supermarket, to the television, to the lunchboxes, to the wonderful cars and Russ Meyer movies.  But it was simply the milieu in which we grew up.

Q: Could you please describe to us how did you develop your own style? Did you need first to create your own culture as a person in order to have your own style?

TR: My paintings, drawings, and photographs are fictions. I don’t live like what you see in the images. They are metaphors to get at bigger isolation, desire and hope. 

It’s hard to say how my style developed.  I was always interested in everything.  Looking came first.  Then, slowly, I began to have a sense of how the culture around me worked and was organized.  And I mean that beyond the economic or political.  It was how every thought came from somewhere – from the families, churches, advertisers, friends, movies, etc.  It became clear how all sorts of things were given value – not inherent value, but created value.  Living in a suburb had a particular value.  Wearing certain shoes, had a certain value.  It was everything.  And it was always an hierarchy of value!  So the question became, how to distinguish between fleeting, superficial values and what might be called more deep-seated, real human values.

Q: You said: “I see a world driven by desire and crushed by pseudo satisfaction...” How is it this world now, in 2010? Did it change? Are your paintings still the “fresco of contemporary America”? 

TR: How about the fresco of the contemporary world?  I see desire everywhere.  The Turkish girl who was recently buried alive probably just wanted to talk to a human being.  That is a pretty simple and universal desire.  The crowds lining up for the new iPhones.  The bars, loud and packed.  People seeking some connection.  It’s just hard to know where to look for satisfaction, especially when everyone is ready to sell you something that they promise will provide satisfaction – whether it is an ideology – communist, capitalist, it doesn’t matter – a car, clothes, the best house or mate.

Q: Could you please mention your sources of inspiration? Did you admire for example the women of Milo Manara?

TR: Never heard of him. Sorry.

My inspiration really comes from looking around me.  My wife makes fun of me because I’m always staring at people.  She says they will think I’m a stalker.  I’m just watching what people do all the time, how they look, how they move and what they say.  It’s all an open book.

Q: Which are the artists that you admire and can you explain us why?

TR: Velasquez – because he could perform magic with paint – real and abstract at the same time.  Toulouse-Lautrec – because of his sensitivity.  Lucien Freud - because he lets us see our mortality.  Gerhard Richter – because he is so amazing at letting us see how we see.

Q: With your paintings you are describing “the private nightlife of America's  privileged youth”. Could you please explain us why are they successful? Is it because they are sexy, chic and glamorous at the same time?

TR: If you mean, why are the paintings successful, I think it is twofold.  One, as you mention, is that many people just see the surface of glamour and sex.  But, what these viewers are missing, is the degree of isolation, awkwardness, loneliness and searching that is present in these opulent settings.  If anything, this is the real reason these works have had some degree of success.  And these two views are exactly what these paintings are about – how hard it is to see beyond our programming for surface satisfaction. 

Q: Could you describe us a scene from a party that it was very inspirational for your art?

TR: My inspiration comes from a multitude of sources. What I see. What I read. Music. It’s funny, but it never comes from a scene at a party.  These are scenes that are in people’s heads.  My greatest inspiration comes from working with a model – watching what their movements and expressions are capable of.  Sometimes it is hopeless, but then other times, I am just blown away.  It’s pure magic to watch closely!

Q: Can you tell us a phrase that guides you?

TR: No phrase. I’m guided by what surprises me.