NEW YORK – The siren song of Hellas has been enchanting artists, scholars, and writers for hundreds of years. Among them were Henry Miller,was drawn from Brooklynto Marousi, and Lawrence Durrell, raised in British India, who fell in love withCorfu. In 1962 Jack Martin Rogers, who was born in Warwiskshire, England found himself pulled into the magical island of Crete, and this winter some of his paintings – mainly with Greek themes – were lovingly exhibited by his daughter at her Anita Rogers Gallery in Manhattan.
The first thing on the minds of visitors is determiningwhich of the paintings filling the four walls belonged to Rogers. They appeared to reflect a variety of styles and artistic visions, with items ranging from fully figurative to abstract – but they are all by Rogers.
“He spanned over 55 years” Anita Rogers said by way of explanation – but the works appear to have been created by distinct artistic personalities. She acknowledged that, and pointed out that was also the case with Picasso– “you would not know his works were bythe same artist.” She added Bob Dylanwas also like that musically, and Rogers admired both.
Rogerswas an avid reader and thus explorer of different worlds. “He stuck with a genre and created within it, then he stopped, Anita said. “He would travel, go to Chania, think about a new style, and he would change. He never copied – everything dad did was original.”
Another thing that strikes people is the humaneness to his paintings that comes out even in his animals – especially the birds. “My dad was a photographer of big cats – tigers and lions. In any good photographer’s workyou would see a thought or feeling behind the face of the animal.”
His paintings of girls and priests on Crete, dancers on Rhodes and others are not photographic, but they seize the gazes of guests and pull them across the room like charismatic individuals who insist that you meet them.
History was also very important to Rogers, and some of his paintings expressed his passion and concerns.
Guests are almost hypnotized by a dual-image painting inspired by the timeless encounter with Knossos. The foreground – which is slightly detached from the rest of the painting – consists of a restoration of a palace gateway depicting stylized flowers alternating with emblems. Through the opening the viewer sees abstract and symbolic images, like a minotaur, evoking the history of Crete.
Following the images, viewers are walking through history. Rogers was very conscious of the present asanever-moving moment, but he was also concerned that historical memories – and their vital lessons – fade, “so dad wants to make history as prominent as possible – the painting is about people passing through time…and it illustrates the enormous span of time of this fabulous Cretan civilization – it was dad’s favorite,” Anita said.
“As a very philosophical man, and as someone fascinated by time and change, he uses history and is bringing it to the forefront to create change. He would say “just because something it new doesn’t mean it is better…he did not like the Athenian mentality of knocking down old buildings to build polikatikies.” – apartment blocks.
Unlike some artists and thinkers, his artistic sense and social consciousness did not overwhelm his love and concern for his family. His dedication to Anita and her brother Demetrios which is reflected in Anita’s devotion to him as a parent and a fellow artist. She is a musician whose cultural sense was also enriched both her parents’ heritage.
“He was an incredible dad. My father was Irish and my mother was Jewish from Czechoslovakia. They met in the 1960s when my dad was playing Irish traditional music in Dorsett.”
He was fascinated by the great Ancient Greek writings – especially Aristotle and Plato, as is Anita. He found a teacher and learned to speak Modern Greek before he left the UK, and Rogers cemented his adopted identity by becoming and accomplished bouzouki player. “The Irish bouzouxi played in Chania with Ross Daly, the famous Irish lyra player,” Anita said, who is now studying ancient Greek and expresses her Hellenism as a singer of traditional songs and rebetika.
“Homer’s Odyssey drew him to Crete. He went back and forth for a while, sometimes living there for more than a year…and when he couldn’t stand that anymore in 1982 he went to Germany, bought a VW camper, picked my mom up, sold the house to my uncle and they came to Greece.”
“Whether we lived in Greece or Turkey” – the Greek bureaucracy required them to leave for a few months –“he always chose remote areas and lived in Venetian or neoclassical houses that cost us a few drachmas a month. Some had maybe 15 rooms but with no electricity or running water.”
There was plenty of light for painting, however.
“We rented a house in Chalki, near Rhodes –We had an amazing time there – but it wasn’t on the tourist map then.”
When Anita reached high school age, they moved to Kifissia and attended the American Community Schools (ACS) Athens. She now divides her time between New York and California. “There are a lot of collectors in LA who want to buy Dad’s art.”
“There is a land called Crete, in the midst of the wine-dark sea, a fair, rich land, begirt
with water, and therein are many men, past counting, and ninety cities,” quoth Homer, but the ancient murals also depicted young girls
– Homer, The Odyssey