Barbara Rogers | Garden of the Imagination

Spice Garden, oil, 66 x 132
Spice Garden, oil, 66 x 132

By Virginia Campbell

Barbara Rogers is not a landscape painter in any conventional sense. But inasmuch as her work contains sky, water, horizons, leaves, flowers, rock, vines, clouds, and reflections, the landscape is her concern. Her relationship with nature has largely been with a narrowed, but in many ways microcosmic, aspect of it—the garden. Having grown up in rural Ohio, Rogers has been passionately interested in the up-close world of plants, earth, and weather all her life. It has always been the curve of a leaf rather than the slope of a mountainside that captured her eye.
What Rogers discovered in farmlands and gardens was what every landscape painter prizes: the ability of the natural world to offer metaphorical support for almost any contemplation of life. “Gardens are about hope and humility,” says Rogers, providing a perfect example of the philosophical terseness you can achieve while talking about the mundane vagaries of growing peonies or collecting seed pods.
Spice Garden, oil, 66 x 132
Up From the Deep #17, monotype with hand-work, 30 x 22

“I’m fascinated by the packaging in nature,” says Rogers. “The way plants attract the insects and animals that pollinate them, and the arbitrariness of which ones succeed and which ones don’t. You can tell in the morning which plants have had their pollen disturbed. It’s like a big singles scene, and I always feel sorry for the ones no one bought a drink for or asked to dance.”

With her imagination riveted on micro-landscapes, Rogers is free to pursue contemporary versions of the great landscape themes. In her 2006 painting a clear day in the valley, there is, at first glance, hilly earth winding in and around itself under an ethereal sky. The spaciousness and beauty of a conventional landscape painting can be clearly read. But except for the plant in the lower right corner, no recognizable element of traditional landscape is present. But there are shapes—stems, petals, gourds, pods, buds, thorns, lichens, eggs, roots, and clouds stenciled over the surface of the canvas in shifts of scale that allow buds to seem like trees. Rogers’ compositional skill keeps the ambiguity of all this simultaneously seductive and unsettling. A a clear day in the valley is basically a landscape seen simultaneously from both ends of a magnifying lens…

Featured in May 2007

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