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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Big Bugs at Botanical Gardens

Imagine a grasshopper taller than a man. Envision experiencing ants that are several feet high, and you have some idea of what is currently transpiring at the Desert Botanical Gardens. No, this is not the result of a genetic experiment gone wrong or a leaking nuclear power plant spewing radiation.  What is taking place now and though January 1, 2012 is intriguing, arresting, educational, artistic and a bit whimsical.

The connection between visual creations and the Botanical Gardens has been a close one. With the glass creations of world-famous artist Dale Chihuly on exhibition not too long ago, and his works are scheduled to appear again at the Gardens, the merger of flora and fauna with fine art makes for an effective merger of the natural world with the constructed realm.  In the case of the appropriately titled “David Rogers’ Bugs, the obvious subject, or subjects rather, are  insects. To be more accurate, spiders, grasshoppers, ants, praying mantises and dragonflies, and this does include the very graceful “Damselflies.”

Superficially, these tiny creatures may not seem like substantial subject matter of serious art. But then again, that never stopped acclaimed sculptor Louise Bourgeois from using them as the thematic foundations for her highly esoteric expressions. Artist David Harry Grodzinsky-Rogers tackles similar subject matter, but in a more whimsical, lighter feel that is nonetheless effective, and visually engaging–and a bit fun.

Ranging in size from seven feet to 25 feet and weighing between 300 and 1,200 pounds, the 11 gigantic insects that comprise this exhibition prove that scale has a power all its own. The act of seeing large-scale ants situated on a hill brings to mind those old science fiction movies where small animals are made large by a nuclear disaster, ready to wreak havoc on humanity.

It also brings to mind just how fascinating these creatures are when examined closely.  Something that we see daily takes on a new dimension when tiny details become easily observable blown up larger than normal. The “wow” factor of seeing something small made large is hypnotic.  But scale alone is not the only element these works have going for them.  Craftsmanship and an adroit handling of materials count, and they matter even more when conceptualized larger than life.

Starting early, Rogers began his creative pursuits with found materials using salvaged car parts and scrap metal to create abstract sculpture.  From there he proceeded to become an apprentice to a builder/restorer of wooden sailboats, who was also a cabinet maker. When Rogers said, “It is a very finished and polished show now,“ in reference to the pieces on display at the Botanical Gardens, the work makes this observation a fact. Every piece is carefully constructed and demonstrates that a facile hand is at work here. “It takes a lot of time to do what I do, “remarked Rogers, and is apparent in the finished pieces on display.

Although he works with crews, the work you see was constructed by the artist. Rogers takes a hands-on approach to the creation of his work. Over time, he has learned to delegate some of the labor involved in putting an exhibition like this together. “I do not drive the trucks, that is the only thing I do not do anymore,” said Rogers. From inception to installation, he is present, but has over time mastered the art of organizing crews.

Having put together more than 60 installations, the refinement evident in this presentation. In some cases the work is so well integrated into the environment they look as if they simply emerged from the landscape on their own accord. The dramatic placement of the pieces adds a theatrical dimension that heightens their impact on the viewer. Considering that Rogers has a background as an actor, the understanding of that discipline provides even more depth to his visual expressions.

Making art is never easy. It demands time and perseverance. It is just as demanding putting it all the pieces together. At the tail end of the Valley’s summer heat, Rogers and his crew faced  daunting  111 degree temperatures. Carrying pieces up hills and working in less-than-ideal circumstances, none of these obstacle prevented everyone involved from making the most of it.  No doubt it helps when you have those around you who are invested in the work.  “We had a great crew,“ remarked Rogers. “We had a great time together.”

When asked what he would like for viewers to take away from the exhibit, Rogers offered a concise answer. “Art on the simplest level should be engaging. It should emote. It should give you a feeling you might not have had,” said Rogers. Clearly with “Bugs” that objective has been fully realized.


Desert Botanical Gardens

David Rogers’ Bugs

Through January 1, 2012

Open Daily 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. for members

1201 North Galvin Parkway Phoenix AZ 85008


Written by Kurt von Behrmann


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