There’s a direct, almost child-like appeal in Dawn Rodger’s paintings, what you might describe as a sort of unaffected innocence. As I gaze at a photo of her painting “A Light Beyond These Woods,” I see an eye that has captured a simplicity of perspective, belied by a certain muted infusion that speaks to something deeper than what we perceive on the surface.
Rodger’s art might be classified as part of a school known as Naïve. This style often comes across as flat with a basic, uncomplicated approach. There has been some controversy over Naïve art’s fusion with folk or primitive art, and whether it adheres to acceptable parameters of classically established guidelines. Typically, these artists are not schooled traditionally, if at all. Often with little formal training, they were viewed as outsiders. Historically, their art was sometimes disparaged as skirting the customary techniques and rules of what was acceptable in the art world. But those attitudes have changed, and the art form is now fully recognized and represented in galleries around the world. In fact, the current incarnation of the genre is referred to as “pseudo-naïve.” However, there are finer distinctions to be drawn among these terms. While there are some crossovers, we want to avoid strict classification at the expense of appreciating an artist in his or her own right and for their individual and particular contributions.
All artists are influenced by their precursors to one degree or another. To give the Naïve form its due, early proponents of the style have been quite influential such as French artist Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), discovered by Picasso, and part of the Post-Impressionists. The art of another renowned painter, Paul Gauguin, is referred to as Naïve or primitive with distinct native influences from his years living in French Polynesia. He moved beyond the impressionist approach and stressed more definitive use of line and color into what he termed “synthetism,” another offshoot from previous influences. Many of Rodger’s paintings resemble these elements, especially those of human and animal figures. To a greater extent, her landscapes employ more perspective and depth and impressionist aspects. This may be attributed to the nature of the subject, with figures being more intimate in some ways and the vistas more expansive.
While complaints of awkward perspective and inaccuracy are often cited about similar styles, these neglect to allow for the artist’s unique interpretation as part of the work’s expression. If we take Rodger’s painting, “A Light beyond These Woods,” as an example, it defies some of the more stringent, historical rules in exhibiting characteristics other than strictly “Naïve.” For instance, traditional consensus about what is acceptable regarding perspective of objects and distance is actually maintained in this piece. Muting of colors with distance is uniform throughout. While Rodger’s art exhibits an affinity with Naïve technique, it is not wholly aligned with it. Representational and figurative can also be applied to her style. There is no real abstraction in the translation of her vision. It’s true the work exhibits simplicity rather than intricacy, but her painting also incorporates subtlety. There’s much to be said for distilling things down in a more condensed context–an impetus to parse the complex and mysterious into the accessible and comprehensible. There’s a realistic simplicity that presents her subjects in a way that allows an observer ample opportunity to interpret the paintings through the prism of their own experience. In many ways, there’s less imposition of the artist’s position as she presents a more expansive invitation to either accept the painting at face value or participate more fully in our own perception of it.
Some other examples of Rodger’s work in this category include “Silver Linings,” “No Distant Traffic,” and “Morning Mizzle,” the latter containing definitive elements of impressionism, and one of my favorites. And the stark, sometimes sparse depictions of figures, whether human or other species, invite us to imagine what lies behind our initial and, sometimes, superficial understanding of the world around us.
Rodger was raised in West London, but her family emigrated to Australia when she was fifteen. While her parents and teachers had always encouraged her artistic inclinations, her new environment established a love of color and light. Later, she returned to London to attend university. Several years ago, she became gravely ill with encephalitis, an inflammation in the brain. She had to re-learn many basic functions in life that affected everything from talking, walking, eating—even breathing. Her art gave her the impetus to move forward and heal, as art and creativity so often do. Painting became a distraction and balm from the demands of her working life and duties as a wife and mother. Perhaps these challenges infused her art with an appreciation for a more direct, uncomplicated approach in her vision. She now resides in North Devon where she’s inspired by “big skies and coastal waters,” as she describes it.
Rodger’s work projects an aesthetic that transmits an ideal of simplicity, offering a sense of peace, reconciliation, and light beyond the woods of a complicated, often inexplicable world.
You can view more of Dawn’s work here https://artsartistsartwork.com/vendor/dawnrodgerart
Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, reviews and essays. Her latest book is Out From Calaboose by Nirala Publications (2017). She lives in France.