For artist Pam Rogers, nature, in all its sensory glory, has always been an inextricable part of her life. A Boulder, Colo., native, Rogers, now a Bethesda resident, grew up surrounded not only by the flora and fauna of the west but also in a family of avid gardeners. Living at other times in various parts of New England and the south, including Savannah and Atlanta, Ga., further expanded and heightened her link with all things natural.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Rogers' deep and lifelong connection to nature is an essential and dominant component of her art.
Delving into the push and pull between man and nature, Rogers’ earthly, intricate, yet ethereal works — fluid abstracts on paper as well as sculptural installations — are now on exhibit at the Greater Reston Arts Center in Reston Town Center through Jan. 5.
Working with an abundance of organic matter, Rogers, 55, makes her own pigments from soil, flowers, fruits, vegetables, herbs, weeds like invasive ivy (a favorite), leaves, grasses and other found vegetation. Sometimes she will use them directly, “smashing” them into her fine paper — which she also notes is a product of nature.
She also uses, when inspired, a variety of readily available household substances, like tobacco, coffee, spices, ammonia, peroxide and even soot (“which makes very nice paint”).
“I’m a junkie for yard waste,” admitted Rogers, also an independent illustrator with the Anthropology Department of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., at the Nov. 16 opening of her show at GRACE.
“I understand plants; I get it. … Home is where you recognize plants.”
For this exhibition, she made a deliberate effort to incorporate plants and other organic material found not only in Virginia but also Reston specifically. Magnolia, for example, is one of her favorites.
Curator Holly Koons McCullough, GRACE’s director of exhibitions, cautioned, however, that Rogers work should not be regarded as a simple “straightforward manipulation of natural materials.”
She suggested, “The more you look at these incredibly intricate works, the more you will find perplexing, perhaps even disturbing things.”
McCullough added that besides addressing the relationship between individuals and nature, Rogers’ work explores “cultural issues related to sustainability and growth.”
Her assemblages, McCullough said, like classic Dutch still lifes, allude to the eventuality of death. She places “a contemporary spin on the concept of beauty within decay, death within life, and the ultimate ephemerality of all existence.”
Rogers’ tightly bound, vegetation-packed and wonderfully smelling sculptural installations, some suspended and others earth-bound, like her works on paper, are both ominous and beautiful.
Rogers explained: “I am always intrigued with presenting beauty with elements that challenge the viewer to question what lurks beneath. In examining the relationship between people, plants and place, I continually try to weave the strings of art and agriculture and myth and magic, healing and hurting into an inquisitive whole that calls us to look at the germination of a sustainable future, individually and collectively.”
She added pensively, “We say we can control nature. I don’t think we ever will.”
Rogers, who works out of a studio at the Arlington Arts Center, likes the description given her work by a viewer at a past exhibition — “botanic magic realism.”
Titled “Cairns: Works by Pam Rogers,” the exhibition is tied together by the concept of markers along the journey of a life. “Cairn” is a Gaelic word for the man-made piles of stones used as landmarks.
“The history of my life is in these works,” Rogers explained. The red circles found in the various works, like cairns, reference certain people and events and symbolize her presence.
Rogers — who studied art history and anthropology at the University of Colorado, has a master’s of fine arts in painting from Savannah College of Art and Design, and a Bachelor of Arts in art history from Wellesley College in Massachusetts — once thought she would teach art history her entire life.
Becoming a working artist in the early 1990s, she told those gathered for the GRACE opening: “It is magical to see this all together, to see my artistic journey and my life before all of you.”