Interview: Mark Rodgers
Luca Curci talks with Mark Rodgers during CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2021 – 8TH EDITION, at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
I have been painting for 30 years mainly in the manner of a French impressionist. All of my landscapes and cityscapes were painted outside on location. I have appeared on Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year in 2015 and 2016. I have exhibited my work widely across the UK over the years, in Coventry, Birmingham, London and Manchester. I have been based in Hull for the last 10 years and feel it’s been a successful city to produce art in, with the opportunity to set up a couple of my own pop-up galleries here. For a period between 1993 and 2000, I gave up painting to explore other ways of making art such as live art, performance, radio and short films. In 1997 I had a collection of poetry published and travelled across the USA to promote it, appearing at the world’s largest performance arts festival in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1996 I performed in Berlin, and in 1998 the Toronto Arts Council funded me to perform in Canada. Working on the film “Richard III” in 1995 was a highlight of my career. Since leaving London in 2000, I returned to my roots and a more direct and personal way of expressing myself, painting (my major passion). I undertake commissions, particularly for people’s pets. For these, I do work from photographs.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Mark Rodgers – One of the most emotional experiences I had which made me realize the power of art, was when I first saw Van Gogh when my father took me to Paris in 1992. I remember tears filling my eyes standing in front of the famous Church painting in Auvers in 1890 (I will double-check the year). I had ready decided to become an artist, from leaving school I followed an educational route to college, then Foundation Course. It was in 1990 when I discovered my love of the landscape… through looking at prints of Van Gogh’s work… I looked at the works around me with new eyes. I could interpret colour in terms of what was available on a palette in terms of oil paint. I decided to work in the tradition of a French Impressionist and carry my easel into the landscape and feel a connection with nature, in the sky and trees and fields. I felt it was important to try to forget the 20th Century and found I could escape time by painting… losing myself in an eternal moment.
LC – What are your thoughts while you paint? Do you have any habits or rituals while you work?
MR – I felt free while I was painting… outside the constraints of having to work or conform to anybody’s expectations. I could exist without being judged on what clothes I wear. I could wear old clothes covered in paint. I felt my mind was liberated by studying either the abstract patterns of black and white on cows in a green field under a blue sky. I felt inner peace and harmony. I suppose bringing my work up to date when it comes to the paintings in the exhibition of stirs up a lot of powerful feelings, not abstract – questions of love, lust and seduction, desire and obsession and eroticism. A melting pot of feelings. Rituals? Yes… I tend to arrange my tubes of paint in the sequence of the colours of the rainbow. In English, we have a saying: “Richard of York (Red) Gave (Green) Battle (Blue) In (indigo) Vain (violet)”. As close as possible, with Payne’s Grey and white.. then I throw them all in a bag, and the magic begins. I usually start with blue out like drawing the basic composition, whether it’s a human figure, a cityscape or a landscape – it’s almost like the scaffolding erected to help structure a building. If there is some movement, it doesn’t worry me. The process is as important as the finished product. I like to leave traces of the early stages of the process: the first brush strokes can be the most fluid. When I am happy with the composition, I start to put colours on my palette.
LC – How do you choose your subjects? Is it a reasoned or an instinctive process?
MR – I choose the subject of the female form because it falls within a historic tradition – the female nude has been a subject since Velazquez and Manet through to Lucien Freud. With the pandemic and living in lockdown, I met a German woman online. She became my muse and my lover. She offered to pose for me since I was commissioned to paint a portrait of somebody else at the time. Therefore on her first visit to England, she began to model for me. Painting somebody I had a close intimate and physical connection with was new to me. Your lover can look different in so many ways… 100 paintings could never capture the face you want to see most in the world, each one would be different. People have so many looks and expressions. I wanted to capture everything I felt in oil on canvas (The poem I performed during the exhibition helps elucidate the depth of feeling). The act of painting is quite disciplined and formal.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
MR – Over the last 30 years, my approach to painting hasn’t changed much. I have always adopted a similar style. However, I did give up painting completely between 1992 and 2000. I pursued other ways of expressing ideas. I experimented with video, short films, animation, live art, performance art and poetry. I took part in some international festivals in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, Berlin and Toronto (Canada). I once worked on a feature film “Richard III”. I returned to painting because it is more immediate – all you need is some paint and a canvas and an idea.
LC – How do you feel when you see your work completed?
MR – When a painting is completed, I feel a sense of euphoria, that nothing else can match on earth. However, if I am not happy with it, it can send me to the depths of despair.. lime my life is ruined. Whilst the painting is still on the easel in front of the subject: it can be hard to be more beautiful than the real thing, but then the painting can become more real than the real thing. It takes on a life of its own. They say a boxer is only as good as his last fight.. a painter may only be as this as his last painting. The best paintings happen when there is a greater risk of failing, when I set myself a difficult subject – like a complex building -; I suppose I am always trying to capture beauty essentially, to immortalize it for eternity.
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the exhibition?
MR – The theme of the exhibition… First of all, I think the name ‘ITSLIQUID’ is an ingenious concept: Luca explained to me that the organization is organic, that it has no shape or no limitations or boundaries. Almost like an anarchist concept of liberty. Or as I mentioned like a Zen Buddhist idea that water is like time: at the same time, it is a raindrop on a mountain becoming a river finding its way to the sea, it becomes a cloud and is then the cycle begins (or it could freeze for centuries in an iceberg). The variety of works in the exhibition is very good, there is a good juxtaposition of themes, styles, and techniques. The works fit very well together – my work looks great beside the abstract kisses of the lady from Lebanon. The human condition is a theme that underpins each work, our cultural revolution values, and religious and political systems. The work offers a challenging view of the traditional viewpoint. There are some interesting points made, especially about the lockdown, when human freedom and liberty were nearly erased by the state.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this exhibition? How is it connected to the theme of the entire exhibition?
MR – I suppose I was trying to create a piece of work that explored the nature of beauty and the relationship between artist and model. A relationship that has existed for hundreds of years. I try to make the ordinary seems extra-ordinary.. the banality of an empty room or an empty chair suddenly becomes alive with a human figure. The tension between the artist and the model becomes palpable, tangible, like a power struggle. There was one great moment during the painting of “This Feeling Called Love” when the sitter and I were listening to the Pulp (a rock band), the song playing is called T.H.I.S.F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. and there is a lyric that Jarvis Cocker songs… “Why me? / why you? / Why here ? / Why now? / It doesn’t make no sense / Its not convenient / It doesn’t fit my plans / I got that taste in my mouth again”. My muse and I sang that chorus together, we were in perfect harmony: I wanted the painting to capture that, but it kind of fails on one level. As one viewer suggested, there is more ‘pain’ in the expression than ‘joy’; maybe the painting penetrated the moment deeper, beneath the surface.
LC – What is your idea about ITSLIQUID GROUP? What do you think about the organization of our event?
MR – I would have to revise the theme of the show in terms of how the human body exists within a confined space, whether it’s on a canvas or in a room, like a box. I think the location of the gallery is excellent – San Marco Square is one of the greatest places on Earth and to be in the shadow of the Basilica is tremendous. You can slip into the gallery and be transported into lots of different worlds and narratives from a regular Venetian alley. The services of the gallery are great. My only suggestion is that perhaps it would be good to open on the weekend when maybe some locals have the day off or tourists are looking for somewhere to go. However, it is not a place to determine opening hours. The flyers and catalogues are well-produced, and the selection of work is great. The celebration of all the hard work and effort put into creating this exhibition went nicely with the popping of the Prosecco corks.
LC – Would you suggest a collaboration with us? What do you think about our services?
MR – As far as the future goes, it would be great to collaborate on a future show maybe, especially a solo show. I would have to consider the expense of shipping 20 paintings and costs of THE ROOM Gallery, etc. If I have some sales, it could all be worthwhile. It’s certainly something to think about. Thanks once again for including me in such a great project.