“Humor is valid content,” says Strasburg, Pennsylvania, artist Fred Rodger. “Sometimes people overlook that. But even though my paintings look whimsical, I?m very conscious of the elements of art, things like balance and emphasis, line, shape and color.”
Rodger?s painting Lord George and Spanky (below) is typical of the artist?s playful style and is one of about 20 paintings from his Guys Doing Dangerous Stuff on Bicycles series. “I tend to do things that are a little bit off-center,” he says. “I like using my imagination.” Once Rodger decides on a theme, he sticks with it for a few months or until he gets bored, and then moves on to something else. He often goes back to a more realistic approach, working from live models or still life setups to keep his drawing skills in top form. “If you work too much from your imagination, you begin to lose your edge as far as being able to see and render things,” he says. “I think it?s important to be able to render things accurately, to have that ability and then use that to work toward abstraction.”
Working almost exclusively in acrylic, and some encaustic, Rodger first sketches things out in charcoal, then jumps right into the painting process. He?s not afraid to take chances or make mistakes with his art. “I don?t think I?ve ever done a painting and picked the right color the first time. I keep changing them,” he says. “I like to play around with different additives, particularly sand. And I always work on panels because you can get real physical with them. If you don?t like what you?ve done, you can fire up the belt sander. Sometimes when I?m half way through sanding, I?ll discover something I didn?t realize was there and I?ll start painting on top of that. You?ve always got to be open to discovery.”
After 25 years of teaching anatomy and physiology, it was his openness and the encouragement of his dying friend that prompted him to trade in his dissecting tools for a paintbrush. “In 1992, my best friend, who was an artist, passed away. Before he died, he told me I had talent I didn?t use. It shook me up. People aren?t supposed to die when they?re 40. It made me think about my own mortality and I decided to take David?s advice,” says Rodger. “I enrolled in college and really got hooked on art.” Now his passion for teaching and painting are unstoppable, and he credits his work in the classroom with keeping his work in the studio alive. He says, “It keeps me fresh because I?m in the classroom teaching what I?m doing at home.”
Joanne Moore is managing editor for The Artist’s Magazine.