Instant Gratification

Story by Lauren Knighton

The indiscreet charmlessness of the bourgeoisie is at the heart of Terry Rodgers’ paintings. His characters, captured mid-debauch, stand alone, apart and disconnected, lost in lifestyles that will never transcend mere fantasy.

Terry Rodgers in Studio with "What Shall We Do Now That We Are Happy?"

DESPITE CAMPING OUT ON MALIBU BEACHES, running celebrities off the road, and hanging out of helicopters, there are still scenes of wealth and privilege that today’s rabid paparazzi will never capture. But handful of fine artists have filled this gap, depicting the private gatherings of the upper class, their parties, family functions and rumpled bed sheets. Terry Rodgers has contributed to this social reportage over the years with his hyperrealist paintings. Set inside well-appointed homes, the paintings portray unequivocal debauchery, but, more interestingly, countless displays of disappointment, uncertainty, and introspection. His compositions are always ambitious, but his current crop of paintings has upped the ante with obsessive rendering, saturated color, and seemingly impossible structuring. Rodgers likens the excess of his paintings to the excess of information humans process on a daily basis. “I’ve been paying more attention of late to the profusion of things. There is an infinite amount of information that we can’t quite digest but that we have access to. I’m trying to do something metaphorical with the density, the overload, in the paintings.

It’s not just the dizzying compositions that produce the sensation of overload in Rodgers’ new work. His subjects grapple with the sudden fulfillment of all their fantasies at once, and the viewer ricochets with them between bliss and despair (the old adage “be careful what you wish for: comes to mind).

“Every generation invents its own fantasy culture,” asserts Rodgers, yet he maintains that drawing an inference between his subject matter and today’s hard-partying, over-indulged celebrities is too simplistic. “More than just celebrity or tabloid culture, [fantasy] is a mode of thinking. An enormous number of movies and fashion magazines operate with images conveying that sex, beauty, and glamour are purchasable. Fantasy can take any form, but all fantasy is something that is out of reach for each of us.” Rodgers’ work is exhibited in many different countries, and he says all his audiences react with familiarity to the subject matter. “Many cultures are completely obsessed with money and what it can bring, and what it ought to bring. A lot of people, with the way the world is now, are accustomed to this profusion of materialism, of things and style. Even in the Gaudeamus IgiturMiddle East, in a lot of repressed societies, there’s a certain partying culture that takes place privately, behind walls.”

Rodgers is aware that his viewers will bring their own private perceptions to each finished piece, so part of his process involves developing an ambiguity large enough that viewers feel like both participants in the scenes depicted and privileged observers. Beyond that, he’s content to let viewers come to their own conclusions, but he offered a few hints regarding two newer paintings, Gaudeamus Igitur and The Rhythms of Infinite Grace (both 2007). “In Gaudeamus Igitur, there are two women in the center of the scene who are examples of how people can be so far apart while in the same room. The woman pulling down her tights is very sure of herself. The woman a little closer to us, with the dark hair and the white blouse on, is more delicate. The difference in their psychologies intrigues me. In the world, we are bombarded with all this information, and we are these private, isolated, separated individuals groping our way through it. In The Rhythms of Infinite Grace, there is a huge variety of interactions that we’re privy to and that we The Rhythms of Infinite Gracerecognize in some sense. With the couple in the foreground, you get the degree to which she is withholding and he is wanting. It’s such an archetypal move between two people.”

Rodgers’ creative process always begins with casting his models. “I want a very dense composition, with a profusion of material stuff, but what is key to me is the physicality of my subjects. Whenever I see someone on the street whose expressiveness has an internal and external aspect that’s really legible to me, I’m intrigued. I stop people everywhere and set up a time to shoot them in the studio, where I can really work with them. I set up lighting, dress or undress them, add accoutrements and makeup, and I take hundreds of pictures. I’m as interested in the turn of the arm as I am in the turn of the eye—all of those parts that are integral to a gesture—and how it reads. Then I go to work sketching and on the computer until I have a sense of something magical.”

“I want a very dense composition, with a profusion of material stuff, but what is key to me is the physicality of my subjects. Whenever I see someone on the street whose expressiveness has an internal and external aspect that’s really legible to me, I’m intrigued.”