publication of the International Sculpture Center
and the Rhythm of Life
by Ken Scarlett
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of Life, 2001. Limestone, 6.5 x 29 x 20 meters. Geoglyph in
the Arava Desert, Israel.
Andrew Rogers is to be immediately aware of his vitality and optimismqualities
that, combined with his drive and commitment, have led him to produce
some 300 works in bronze since 1988. In addition, he possesses an admirable
flexibility that has enabled him to move into parallel areas of sculptural
practice: his oeuvre includes not only small- and large-scale bronzes,
but also significant memorials and vast geoglyphs in the desert landscape.
large number of sculpture students who graduate from Australian art schools
each year, swelling the considerable number of practicing sculptors, are
optimistically hopeful of earning a living from sculpture, though in Australia,
this is still extremely difficult. Rogers, who didnt attend an art
school and is essentially self-taught, has proven, however, that it is
possible to earn a very good living from the profession. And whereas most
Australian sculptors exhibit in their home cities and seek commissions
within the country, Rogers has vigorously shown his work worldwide and
secured commissions in Europe, Asia, the U.S., and South America. In addition,
during the brief 16 years since he has devoted himself to sculpture, he
has placed more of his bronzes in his home city of Melbourne than has
any other local artist.
of Life, 1996. Bronze, 2.6 meters high.
had concentrated primarily on a very successful business career, while
producing a limited number of paintings in his spare time, until the late
80s when he seriously turned his attention to sculpture. Having
been a great admirer of Rodin, his earliest works were similar in style
to those of the great French artist, with realist/ impressionist depictions
of both male and female nudes. Within a brief period his works became
extremely ambitious in scale, theatrical in content, and Baroque in style.
The culmination was City Living (1995), an assemblage of five over-life-sized
nude figures. Then, feeling that he had proven his ability to work realistically,
and regardless of current fashion which has seen a return to figuration
in both painting and sculpture, he made a dramatic switch in 1995 to working
in a completely abstract style.
of his earliest abstract works, the bronze Rhythms of Life (1996), has
all the linear freedom (and control) of Japanese calligraphy. One line,
which cascades downward, is held up by a sweeping, curving diagonal on
which a sphere balances precariously. The immaculate finish, the rich
black patina, and the clarity of the forms make it all appear effortless,
though, of course, the foundry workers would know the degree of difficulty
in casting. It is an elegant, joyous work. It is also traditional in that
it is a single sculptural object sitting on a plinth; yet interestingly,
three years later, it was to form the basis of a vast environmental work
that explored new territory.
Rogers was artist-in-residence at the Technion Institute of Technology
in Haifa, Israel, in 1998, the possibility of a work in the nearby Avara
Desert was first discussed. On checking the site, Rogers was immediately
aware that in order to cope with the vastness of the desert, the arid,
tree-less hills, and the all-encompassing dome of the sky, the sculpture
needed to be a huge environmental work. He returned to the desert the
following year and, with the help of an Israeli construction contractor,
a Bedouin foreman, many Arab stonemasons, three architecture students,
innumerable truckloads of water-washed stones, and a bulldozer, supervised
the construction of his first geoglyph. At 4.5 meters high, 38 meters
wide, and 38 meters long, it was far larger and more ambitious than anything
he had previously attempted. The motif of this work, Chai, was both strikingly
simple and appropriate; it was based on two letters from the Torah, the
Hebrew characters for life. To life is a salutation frequently
used to celebrate events in Jewish life, so its symbolism was immediately
appreciated and understood by the local population.
1999. Bronze, 4 meters tall.
was so successful that in 2001 Rogers returned to an adjoining area of
desert and began the construction of another equally large geoglyph, this
time based on his early abstract sculpture Rhythms of Life. The pattern
was marked out in the sand with steel stakes, massive rocks that had been
dynamited from the desert were brought in by the truckload, and dry stone
walls were constructed then back-filled with sand until the desired forms
were obtained. In the same year, the original bronze of Rhythms of Life
was enlarged and installed at Southbank, outside the Concert Hall of the
Arts Centre on the bank of the Yarra River, Melbourne. The locations for
the two versions of this work could not be more differentone in
an inhospitable desert, the other in the center of a thriving modern city.
At night, one is surrounded by glittering lights and hurrying urban crowds,
the other completely deserted and illuminated only by the stars. Rogers
is immensely gratified that his Rhythms of Life are meaningful to farm
settlers in Israel and office workers in Australia. This, surely, is one
of the reasons for his extraordinary success. His works are accessible
and life-affirming, conveying a sense of optimisma wonderful antidote
when the media overwhelms us daily with news of disasters.
third geoglyph, Slice (2003), is literally just thata slice through
a sea shell, a fascinating and easily recognizable pattern on a gigantic
scale. Again, the imagery is readily understood, as the Avara Desert was
once the sea bed of an ocean.
1999. Bronze, 3 meters tall.
early bronze, Flora Exemplar (1996), also proved to be extremely popular,
and it has been issued in two larger editions, examples of which have
been placed in various collections: in Vienna; in Kobe; in the Avara Desert;
in the U.S. at Grounds for Sculpture, a Napa Valley vineyard, and Stonebriar
Office Park; in the garden of a residential development in Melbourne;
and in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. The director of this
major Australian gallery, Edmund Capon, said of this work: Flora
Exemplar is, arguably, Andrew Rogerss most distinctive and characteristic
work. In its elegant and attenuated form, which reaches up then twists
and peers down, it does vaguely resemble a stem and a bud. But it is,
I believe, much more than mere imitation of a natural feature, for its
sheer expressiveness evokes in us emotions of human striving and introspection.1
recent works, while retaining the feeling of organic growth, become tougher,
less obviously decorative, and more aggressive. A one-person exhibition
in 2000 displayed a range of works that, while still mainly linear and
retaining a sense of organic structure, are more reminiscent of geometric
and mechanical forms. Living and Growth (both 1999), for instance, look
as though they were assembled from industrial off-cuts, even including
the pins and rods holding the various parts together. The feeling of graceful
serenity that imbues many of Rogerss earlier sculptures is frequently
supplanted by short staccato forms, irregular compositions, and a more
precarious sense of balance. There is also a much greater freedom in these
structures, even a feeling of intuitive improvisationBalanced (1999)
is just balanced, with an extra piece pinned on top and a wedge placed
under the base. And Organic (1999), in spite of its impressive size, retains
the feeling of the artists direct involvement in twisting, folding,
and compressing the original material before it was cast in bronze. Again,
one has only to look at Coil (1999) to realize that Rogers also has the
ability to convey his fascination with the manipulation of materials.
It is very easy to envisage him in his studio exploratively tying knots
with a flexible piece of rubber or styrene which, when enlarged and cast
in rigid bronze, will present a visual conundrum.
Earth, 2003. Bronze, 81 cm. high.
later bronzes also show a more adventurous approach to the use of color.
The early works tended to be treated with a uniform patina of golden brown
or lustrous black, but more recent works, particularly when enlarged,
lend themselves to a range of patinas. The artist uses blue, green, brown,
and even off-white to unify or, alternatively, to isolate forms. Rogers
believes that his lack of formal training has given him a freedom to experiment,
since he is not restricted by what is known to be possible or impossible;
he certainly has presented the foundry with some challenges while achieving
a very high level of craftsmanship.
group of small-scale works produced in 2002, Rogers experimented with
the idea of combining bronze and found rocks. Leaf-like shapes are burst
apart by penetrating rock; other enfolding bronzes hold rocks within their
cloak-like forms; and, in some cases, thin protruding strips of bronze
hold the rocks protectively. These works present a strange and unexpected
combination of fragility and strength. In Mother Earth (2003), a large
version of one of these curious works, the fertile earth mother is represented
by the organic symbol of the leaf and the rocks appear as her progeny.
One large rock (now cast in bronze) is clutched protectively to her body,
while smaller rocks appear to be growing within the skin of the leaf.
In contradiction to the general elegance of his sculpture, these and some
other works have an underlying Surrealist quality. Growing (1996), in
spite of its obviously organic title and lily-like shape, can also be
read as a strange detached ear, a listening device not only sensitive
to sound but also visually watchful.
Memorial, 2000. Bronze, 3.6 meters high. Work installed at the
Springvale Cemetery, Victoria, Australia.
Rogers wishes to establish a positive and open relationship with viewers,
but if the occasion demands he is willing to confront them with unpalatable
facts. His very moving Pillars of Witness (1999) for the façade
of the Holocaust Research Centre in Melbourne is a combination of documentary
panels realistically depicting the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps
and symbolic pillars representing the imprisonment of Jews and the eventual
birth of the new Jewish nation. Likewise, his Buchenwald Memorial (2000)
is a disturbing structure, a fractured, floating, falling forma
contrast to the perpendicular, solidly embedded gravestones that surround
it.2 It reads as a massive brick chimney, while the incised shapes
on the sides appear as smoke from the incinerators of Auschwitz.
has frequently used the phrase rhythms of lifeit serves
as the title of several sculptures, the title of two exhibitions, and
the title of a recently published book. It is an apt choice, for his work
encompasses life and death, growth and destruction, love and hate. In
this age of globalization, the rhythms of life are no longer limited to
our own small circle of friends and relatives, no longer restricted to
our own town or countrywe are all part of a complex global pattern.
the first convict settlement in Sydney in 1788, Australians have been
very much aware of the tyranny of distance. In the 19th century, sailing
ships took three months to arrive from Europe; by the 1950s, the trip
by sea was still six long weeks; and even now Europe is a boring 24 hours
flying time away, and New York 22 hours. Australian sculptors in particular
have suffered because of the distance and the cost of transporting their
work to exhibition centers in Europe and America. In most cases they are
not known outside Australia or even outside their home cities. It is noteworthy,
then, that Rogers has broken this pattern of isolation and is helping
to make Australian sculpture known throughout the world.
time of writing he was finalizing an agreement to construct a huge geoglyph
in the Atacama Desert in Chile, based on the outline of a rock petroglyph
found in the desert. This is one of the driest areas in the world (it
hasnt rained for 200 years), and the ancient rock carving has survived
since approximately 800 BCE. As he has done in the Avara Desert, Rogers
will build a stone structure related to the environment and capable of
surviving the harshness of the weather. His work will be known in yet
another country outside Australia.
Scarletts extensive writing on contemporary sculpture includes the
book Australian Sculptors.
Rogers's Web site: <www.andewrogers.org>
1 Edmund Capon, Andrew Rogers: Flora Exemplar, in Rhythms
of Life: The Art of Andrew Rogers (Melbourne: Macmillan, 2003), p. 49.
2 Andrew Rogers, 26 November 2000, quoted in ibid., p. 210.
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