Pictured, from left (see below for more information on each): from the Botanical series, c.2005
Materials: Digitally scanned and manipulated print on paper, 20 x 14.5” each.
Location at Summa Health: Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, fourth floor waiting room.
Layers of Time in the Garden IV
Materials: Archival pigment inkjet print
These striking prints are among the last works of Phyllis J. (P.J.) Rogers’ long and productive career as an artist; she signed the print “Lily” while in nursing care not long before she died. Rogers came to the digital processes she used in order to create these botanical images when she was forced to abandon the chemical-intensive processes of aquatint and etching, media that she had used for decades. She had loved the effects possible with these media, so she worked to improvise and then develop photo, digitizing, and scanning techniques to re-create similar effects but in a less toxic environment. And these explorations were accomplished after reaching an age when many people think of retiring.
Rogers said her earlier prints presented landscape as still-life. In the botanical series, the still-life — traditionally made up of inanimate objects, cut flowers, or hunting trophies in some combination — has become a portrait. Each flower is posed, like the sitter in a painting, against a deep black ground which throws not only color but also texture and details of form into sharp contrast. Thinking about these images as portraits allows the beholder to engage with them more deeply than as “just flowers”.
The 11th of an edition of 25 prints, this work reinforces the sense of intimacy in the way that the frame cuts off some of stem and leaves, as though we were so close that not all of the flower is in our visual field. Rogers said “I usually select a fragment … and expand this to suggest something more or different, to make the fragment.” This close-up allows us to appreciate the creamy color of the veins of the petals and their slightly scalloped contours.
This is the 10th of an edition of 25 that Rogers printed and emphasizes the long elegant stems and leaves of the tulips to contrast with the graceful nod of the heavy red flowers. While the red petals are smooth, the bright green (on the color wheel, the complement of red) on the stem varies in intensity, becoming white in places. This image, too, is a profile portrait of the flowers, which the artist saw as dancing against the deep black ground.
Again we get a close-up, this time of four zinnias in differing colors. Their typically irregularly curved stems and coarse, drooping leaves, when abstracted, suggest that these are figures interacting with one another: bowing, retreating, standing to one side. The creamy white and colored petals create visual drama in the upper half of the composition. Notice how the two zinnias at right present us with a strong profile, while the red and pink ones at left, which are shown frontally, suggest deep space behind this foregrounded group portrait.
Layers of Time in the Garden, IV, 2010
Materials: digitally scanned and manipulated print on archival paper, 41" x 50.5”
Location at Summa: Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion
About the art:
This busy composition is an image that P.J. Rogers imagined rather than photographed as a whole. She usually began with flowers in her garden, but here the flowers represented - purslane (Portulaca oleracea) and primrose (Primula vulgaris) -- were photographed separately and then imported digitally, integrated into another image of a lichenous, rocky background. The bright yellow, cup-shaped blossoms of portulaca and the red-purple, daisy-like primula are not necessarily found in nature as companions, so we are witnessing the artist making choices. But this is what the artist does: A world, formed by experiences all around us, remade or re-visioned to express an idea or vision.
In this particular case, the result of this composing and imagining is a very large (more than 3' by 4'!) digital image, one of several printed for Rogers by Akron photographer and gallerist Paul Duda, so that, in her own words, she "could see what they look like" at such scale.
Toward the end of Rogers’ life, having had to abandon the materials of traditional print media that had grown toxic to her, she set about to learn newly available digital tools that enabled her to keep realizing the kinds of images that she had long had in her head. This print was one of only two made in this size and one of four in a series that the artist entitled "Layers of Time in the Garden", which may have, in part, referred to the layering function of digital tools. Her earlier works P.J. Rogers described as landscapes presented as still-lifes, while her botanical series, created as she experimented with new digital tools such as the scanner (and represented in the Summa Collection by five glorious prints), feel more like portraits. But this image engulfs us with a dizzying array of textures and with color both subtle and vibrant: For all its intimacy of viewpoint, this work has become a landscape.
The Summa Collection was fortunate in acquiring this print from the artist's estate thanks to her daughter, Sarah Rogers.
P.J. Rogers completed an undergraduate degree at Wells College and then studied at the University of Buffalo, during which time she also had painting lessons with sculptor Lazlo Szabo and then studied at the Vienna Fine Arts Academy with painter and printer Victor Hammer. She began her artistic career as a painter and then, captivated by the processes of printmaking, taught herself what she needed to know to become an artist noted for her aquatints. These she exhibited widely, winning acclaim and becoming a full member of the Society of American Graphic Artists. In 2011, she was honored with a 30-year retrospective as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Akron Arts Alliance.
To continue the idea of these flower images as portraits, here Rogers has arranged her three “sitters” in frontal, ¾, and profile views as the foremost petals of each flower advance toward us in bright white-pink highlights. The large, multi-petalled heads interest us with their richly complex forms and shades of the pink-purple hue. There is something almost ghostly about this triple portrait, as the blooms float against the deep shadows of the ground, where their stems have all but disappeared.
Rogers began her career as an artist by working in etching and aquatint, “attracted to the … process because of its textural qualities, its qualities of transparency and its possibilities for great contrasts.” In this digitally-recorded and -printed image, we can appreciate the subtleties of transparency since the artist limited her palette to the whites of the blooms -- some of which have very fine yellow and pink features — and the unmodulated green of the stems and leaves. The mum fans out its petals in triumphant profile, their dense regularity emphasized when a couple of them deviate from that regularity. This strong, white, repetitive form dominates the composition and contrasts with the stem of freesias at right: This latter seems to float up from the inky depths and open out to us as the bright stamens in the center of each bloom uncurl, framed by pink-veined petals. And note that the unopened buds deep in the picture at the top advance to opening and opened blossoms in its midst, while the lowest blossoms on the stem are already collapsing and desiccating — a tiny life-cycle depicted on a single stalk.
Where you can see more of this artist’s work:
Rogers’ work is held in galleries in Akron and Cleveland and in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Print Club of Philadelphia, and multiple corporate and educational institutions in northeast Ohio, many of which commissioned work directly from the artist. She exhibited widely in solo shows in Akron, Cleveland, and Columbus, and in group shows in Boston, New York, and across the U.S. Rogers received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Akron Area Arts Alliance in 2011 and multiple grants from the Ohio Arts Council, as well as purchase and merit awards wherever she showed work, including the top graphic arts award in the May Show of 1976.