Approximations of the Sublime extends the reflection begun by Terry Rodgers during his first solo exhibition at Aeroplastics Contemporary in 2010. The artist continues to develop an iconography of muscled young men and slender young women, all more-or-less (un)dressed, adopting lascivious poses in a luxurious décor, ostentatious and baroque. Beyond one’s first impression, that of a contemplative voyeur snatching a glance of an orgiastic fest, what then suddenly hits you is the absence of rapport amongst the protagonists, the eerie sense of detachment. The characters seem isolated in their own bubbles, gazes never cross. “My paintings describe imaginary worlds born out of ‘offers’ peddled by the media – luxury, riches, as well as a ‘validated’ version of beauty and desire – but then always with a dose of reality running through it. Just how difficult is it for the participants to get out of themselves and to ‘connect’ with one another?” Each composition is realized starting from individual portraits, portraits of persons crossed in the street and asked by the artist to pose for him. These anonymous figures, who had never previously met, are then brought together at the heart of vast compositions. More rarely, they appear alone, but their attitude always suggests the presence of others outside our view.
In this process, photography plays a preponderant role – the models are photographed before being painted – but Rogers’ approach is decidedly painterly. His technique is perfectly mastered, but has nothing to do with photorealism. It goes right to the essential to better emphasize the play of artificial light on the skin, or to highlight the éclat of a piece of jewellery or a fabric. It is also particularly interesting to see him mutate into a veritable photographer, because these images are fundamental to understanding the thinking that underlies his work. Contrary to his paintings, the photographs have no special set or setting: the models emerge against a black background, plain, and appear as still more fragile and solitary. Beautiful as they may be (and indeed are), the bodies do not have the perfection that the brush provides them. And what is more, they do not benefit from the eternity that painting brings: they again become mortal.
A third level of entry into Rodgers’ work is provided by the video that gives this exhibition its title, Approximations of the Sublime. From the fixed image, painted or photographed, we pass to the moving image. And what is suggested in the photography is confirmed in the video: under the projectors’ heat, bodies suffer and sweat, simply become human again. Beneath the superficial outsides, the œuvre of Terry Rodgers consistently testifies to what it is – deeply humanist. And the sublime is inevitably only approximate, given that we’re talking human beings here.
The lightboxes comprise a synthesis of these different approaches. “Here, I’m playing with several techniques to render perceptible, simultaneously, our rapport with the world. And I make this distinction between the different languages clear – the cut-outs are intentionally approximate, visible.” For the artist, this procedure is a metaphor for a word composed of a multitude of fragments, that we wrongly perceive as a uniform whole: “We have the tendency to forget that everything we see, or bear, is ‘invented’. Our experience of life is like a multidimensional game where the pieces are constantly in motion.” And these models, constantly in motion as well, are like pieces in this grand game.