The Imperative of Beauty: Barbara Rogers
Monsoon Magic #2 by Barbara Rogers
The Power of Beauty, in all forms, is that beauty brings together opposing forces
and presents them in a resolved way that resonates within the beholder.”
~ Barbara Rogers
Throughout history, the concept of beauty has been an ever-changing lens through which we both view and mirror our evolution as a species. Humankind has adorned, embellished and decorated our environments from dwellings, clothing, modes of transportation and our bodies since the beginning of recorded time. Reflecting upon and researching the concept of beauty reveals the evolution of cultural mores worldwide.
Philosophies, spirituality and even consciousness itself can be explored through beauty as a portal into the history of ideas and beliefs. And yet, “beauty” has been marginalized as trivial or superficial at varying times in history; even today.
For artist Barbara Rogers, beauty has been the pivotal driving force behind her lifelong commitment to an internationally recognized career as a painter and a teacher. For the over five decades, she has created stunning, nature-saturated imagery with “The Imperative of Beauty” as the central, unifying theme.
Born and raised in the farmlands of central Ohio, Rogers was surrounded by the lush greens of the verdant natural world. Early, formative childhood influences included her mother, an accomplished seamstress and clothing designer; her young aunts, who included her in their love of the worlds of glamour and fashion; her father, an inventor and a “fix-it-all” kind of man; and her great uncle, who crafted furniture that he then decorated using stencils. Influenced by her industrious and creative family members, she filled a proverbial tool box with techniques and materials. But more importantly, she learned the value of a dedicated creative practice supported by a committed work ethic.
In 2012, Rogers’s work was exhibited at The Tucson Museum of Art as a retrospective spanning 50 years of her painting career. The exhibit awas accompanied by the publication of a monograph entitled, “The Imperative of Beauty”. The book, a compendium of gorgeous, color-saturated photographs, also includes threein-depth essays exploring the evolution of her work and life. A professor emeritus from the University of Arizona, Rogers has taught art all around the world. Her teaching work spanned over 20 years at The San Francisco Art Institute prior to arriving at the U. of A. in 1990.
On a hot, monsoon afternoon in August, I had the pleasure and privilege of visiting Rogers in her Tucson foothills home. Bursting with her overwhelmingly beauty-filled canvases, the house is surrounded by an exotic desert garden she has designed and cared for herself throughout the years she has lived in Tucson. Although our conversation never included the topic of aging, per se, Rogers is a true testament to the time-tested adage invoking us to follow our hearts. Having recently celebrated a milestone birthday, she is a woman bursting with health, elegance, vitality, wisdom and beauty. In addition to an amazing life, she still paints brilliantly every day.
Of the many questions posed throughout the afternoon, four key answers struck me as being most important to share with readers.
You went through art school as a young woman in the 1950s and ‘60s, during an era dominated by Abstract Expressionism and a male-dominated art world. How important do you feel it is for young women art students today to be mentored by women teachers?
Actually, I feel art students today, regardless of gender, need to be mentored by those who can give them solid instruction in the formal aspects of creative practice. Over the past several decades, the emphasis in visual arts programs has shifted away from technical and formal concerns in favor of content as the primary focus. Art students absolutely need the formal elements of visual arts as well as guidance and training in “the business of art”.
You lived in the Bay Area in the 1960s and ‘70s. Can you talk about how your life and work were shaped and influenced by being in Berkeley and San Francisco at such a turning point in our cultural history?
The major political issues of our current times were emerging back then in my Bay Area days. Racism, ecology, shifts in sexual roles and more, and even present-day focus on the “food revolution” influenced me in those years. The Bay Area was also a major focal point in the country for the re-emergence of Gaia or Mother Earth awareness. War protests and all of these other concerns affected my outlook as an emerging artist. But, there was actually an incident in the 1960s that shifted my perspective and changed my life forever.
Can you share the essence of that particular experience?
At one point, I was hired to teach art though a synagogue program, despite the fact that I was raised a Protestant. I met a Rabbi early on in the job who gave me a 15-minute overview of the Jewish faith. He explained that in Judaism, people believed, among other things, that there was no such thing as heaven or hell that existed out there or in the great beyond. He told me that one of the core beliefs in Judaism is that the choices we make in life create our experience of either heaven or hell on earth. This concept hit me like a bolt of lightning and changed my perspective on everything. From that day on, I decided to dedicate my energy and attention to creating and sharing beauty.
Can you talk about how your pursuit of beauty through studio practice has served as a path of healing for both you and others?
The act of painting is a form of meditation. I feel we all seek and crave harmony, meaning and balance to feel whole. Being engaged in the act of painting is to bring together a unity of opposites. To perceive a painting that has successfully reached a place of harmony and balance allows the viewer to feel alignment and resonance with these eternal qualities. The healing for the viewer takes place in this sense of alignment.
To learn more about Barbara Rogers and see her imagery, visit BarbaraRogersArt.com.
Carolyn King, M.A. in Arts & Consciousness, is a local practicing artist who has worked as a teaching-artist in the U.S. and Mexico for over 30 years. Here in Tucson, she offers classes and workshops for children, teens and adults at Heart to Hand Studio. Connect at CKing72@cox.net.