Monday 19 March 2018

What Lies Beneath: Lampedusa by Michelle Rogers

Lampedusa by Michelle Rogers, Oil on canvas, Courtesy Paul Kane Gallery & the OPW

Lampedusa by Michelle Rogers
Lampedusa by Michelle Rogers

Niall MacMonagle

Dundalk, her birthplace, shaped Michelle Rogers into an artist who is a passionate witness.

Going up to Newry for shopping every week, she remembers "seeing buildings that were standing last week, but were now just rubble.

''When the customs post was bombed, all that was left was a toilet in the middle of the road. During internment our car was stopped and searched as we were going on holidays."

So from an early age, Rogers understood that "there was a very dark side to humanity" and "people that looked the same and sounded the same, could hate each other. Maybe from that I learned to want to make people realise the humanity in one another."

Nick Laird, in his novel, Modern Gods, puts it more bluntly: "The North was thesis and antithesis, but no synthesis."

In a powerful, memorable exhibition at Rathfarnham Castle, Rogers explores to stunning effect the European art tradition, injustice, myth, prejudice, conflict, migration and climate change.

One work, Freedom Road, features the hunger strike protesters pitted against gay rights - but Rogers knows too well that gay rights would be "vilified by those protesting". Another is a portrait of Panti Bliss as Caravaggio's St Catherine.

Funeral Sarajevo is a stark, sombre work from the time when Rogers travelled by bus with Amnesty International to Yugoslavia's borders during the Bosnian civil war.

And another room in Rathfarnham is a glorious celebration of men, women and nature in an unspoilt place of sun and shadow - and includes liberating works such as Adam and Adam, Eve and Eve, Setanta, Bacchus.

Rogers is a devout Catholic and has met Pope Francis (she gave him a painting - one in tune with his awareness of climate change), but she still favours change.

"I'd love to see female priests, a female Pope, a pro-gay church. I don't see a future for the church without women.

"I love the Pope, he's a really warm person who loves people, and I enjoyed talking to him. He is dedicated to the environment and refugees."

Men in boats (especially Three Men in a Boat) conjures up a jolly, heigh-ho atmosphere - but in Lampedusa, a large-scale painting from 2005, north African refugees are huddled in a boat, desperately hoping for a better life.

Painted in Rome over four months "during an awful summer as I was very broke and should have got a job but could not leave this painting.

"I wanted to paint every face as well as I could to honour these survivors. It wasn't painted from a place of anger but a dedication to make sure that these people are not ignored or forgotten.

"My own grandmother emigrated by boat to America. I think the act of painting gives a real weight to things. We paint what matters in life and they endure."

Lampedusa has been shown in New York, Sicily, Rome, Venice. And now Dublin. It matters, it will endure.

'Tread Softly' a mid-career look at the work of Michelle Rogers is at Rathfarnham Castle until August 10

Sunday Indo Living

Entertainment Newsletter

Going out? Staying in? From great gigs to film reviews and listings, entertainment has you covered.

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment