APPROACH TO A SACRED PLACE: THE ART OF DONALD ROGERS
Produced by Clark Donnelly; directed by Tom Davidson
Volume 21 Number 4
Otto Donald Rogers is an internationally known artist who was born and raised, and studied and taught in Saskatchewan. He is very much a prairie painter. His minimal, almost cold architectonic paintings are abstractions of the prairie landscape and "something" beyond that. That "something" is an expression of the Baha'i faith and the teachings of Baha'u'llah.
Rogers' work and history are discussed knowledgeably and without excessive "art speak" by critics and curators Robert Enright, Douglas MacLean, Mira Godard, Dr. Ross Woodman, his former teacher and well-known painter Wynona Mulcaster, a hometown friend, and Rogers himself.
An enlightening segment is Rogers' discussion of his work with a group of students. The work has a horizontal line acting as a horizon (interpreted by Woodman as a metaphor for God, being the vanishing point which is ever unreachable) dividing the ground from the sky. A diagonal pulls the eye in and down, setting up a spiralling effect with other triangularly placed elements, and all is contained within the grid of the frame. Both the frame and the strong verticals countered by strong horizontals create stasis and rest.
Rogers speaks of his childhood on a farm near Kerrobert, where he played whimsical games, sending letters to trees, and constantly rearranging objects in his play store, only feeling at ease in his own world. It was at teacher's college in Saskatoon, when he was eighteen, that Noni Mulcaster introduced him to art and he was able to fuse the exterior world with his interior one.
He felt an immediate affinity with the abstract art movements of the early twentieth century - to Klee, Cezanne, Picasso. According to Rogers, his painting, while not spiritualism, is a sacred process, and comes about on its own. Mulcaster reiterates this concept by saying Rogers let art teach him; he didn't study techniques but developed them on his own as needed to solve artistic problems. Woodman has a particularly pithy analysis of Rogers' work in the context of the connection of spiritualism, abstractionism, and Baha'i prayer.
In 1989, after twenty-eight years as a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and at the peak of his career as an artist, Otto Rogers was appointed to serve with the Baha'i International Teaching Center in Haifa. He and Barbara, his wife, who had originally introduced him to the Baha'i faith, have created a new life in Israel.
Beyond the specifics of Rogers, his work and the Baha'i faith, the video can be used to explore art, the prairies, religion, and growing up differently from others. It is a strong and well-done statement, shot on location in both Saskatchewan and Israel. The cinematography is very good and is heightened by some wonderful photographs from Courtney Milne's books, Prairie Light (Western Producer Prairie Books, 1985; Fifth House, 1992) and Prairie Dreams (Western Producer Prairie Books, 1989).
Frances Daw Bergles is a librarian in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
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