Magical Mystery Lure
By Michael J. Solender | Photography by Gayle Shomer
Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 04, 2013
It doesnt take long after studying Davidson artist Nathaniel Rogers paintings to notice that in between their striking detail, especially in the portraiture, the scenes depicted feature situations and actions that are a little off, and even somewhat unsettling.
Trapped, for example (on p. 56), depicts a docile baby, sitting in a locked birdcage, gazing at his seemingly exhausted mother, who is hunched over a table, beer in hand, and contemplatively staring into the distance. The viewer cant help but wonder what the woman is thinking about in the off-kilter domestic scene.
Everyday still life portraits and landscapes dont interest Rogers. Intriguing situations between people, emotional tension, and dependent relationships are much more likely to capture his attention and make their way onto his wood panel paintings.
I want my work to reference real situations, says Rogers, 33, almost magically real in that they capture a moment or emotion where everything else may seem normal, but one element is out of place or just not right. Im inviting theviewer into the work either through dark humor or something askew and asking them to interpret the situation and bring their own meaning to the work.
Father Knows Best, (shown on p. 58), shows a stereotypically schlubby suburban dad and a small boy, presumably his son. The boy has a mischievous look of delight on his face and is wearing a strange animal-like hat. The dad is holding both a fishing pole and a large butcher knife, with a pair of red devil horns on his head. Behind them on the wall is an image of a Gothic church engulfed in flames. Rogers says he wanted to use the painting to explore a manufactured crisis based on the power discrepancy between an adult and child.
As a relatively young artist, Rogers has enjoyed a fair amount of success, showing his work at galleries in D.C., Philadelphia, Miami, and Baltimore. And while hes also had shows at a few places in Charlotte and Davidson Colleges Van Every Gallery, he says the local market is a challenge.
There seems to be less of a market here for contemporary and untraditional artists compared to places like New York or D.C., where that kind of work is in greater demand, he says. Not helping matters is the fact that many of the areas smaller art galleries that featured emerging artists closed after the Great Recession, and that void is still being felt, he says.
Rogers is a Charlottesville, Va., native who attended Davidson College initially as a math major. He fell in love with painting after taking some elective courses and found he couldnt stay away from the art labs. He ended up switching majors and got his undergraduate fine arts degree in studio art. I love the process of working with paint and the way it feels against the wood, he says.
Rogers went on to get a masters of fine arts from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. He returned to Davidson as a visiting assistant professor at the college in 2010 and taught drawing and painting as well as art theory. Today, when hes not creating his own works of art at his home studio, he teaches art at Cannon School in Concord.
Rogers fills his paintings only with people he knows well. Friends, family, and now his newborn son are all prominent characters. I do that because the feelings and emotions I want to capture and examine are so intimate, he says. I hope my work says something about the human condition.
Nathaniel Rogers is available to show his work by appointment. For details go to www.nathanielrogers.com
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