Do you still remember: falling stars,
how they leapt slantwise through the sky
like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles
Of our wishes – did we have so many? –
for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;
almost every gaze upward became
wedded to the swift hazard of their play,
and our heart felt like a single thing
beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance –
and was whole, as if it would survive them!
(Do you still remember: falling stars
by Rainer Maria Rilke)
On June 24th, 1999 artist Bill Rodgers visited the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua where he saw the renowned frescoes of Giotto di Bondone. According to historic weather data it was a beautiful day, the sun in Cancer, the moon waxing gibbous in Scorpio. Over seven centuries old the chapel has stood the test of time weathering allied bombings, earthquakes, neglect, humidity and more. By the early 2000s a major conservation effort was underway which would see the chapel closed for several years and new conditions put in place to safeguard the frescoes ensuring their longevity. As part of these efforts’ visitors are required to quarantine in an acclimatized chamber for 15 minutes before setting foot inside the chapel at which point they are allotted 10 minutes for their visit.
Much art historical scholarship has been dedicated to Giotto’s frescoes, in particular the depictions of the life of Christ and Mary. For Rodgers it was the starry ceiling above the religious themed frescoes that was the true brilliance of the space, and the experience left a powerful impression on him. Recalling that day the artist spoke of how he was struck by the eloquent yet simple field of stars stretching the length and breadth of the chapel’s ceiling.
Rodgers has been drawn to long term, endurance-based projects throughout his artistic career using that framework to structure his practice. Within each project he finds method and pattern through ritual in order to process a specific artwork or experience. In the case of the current exhibition at Norberg Hall it was Rodgers’ visit to the Scrovegni Chapel particularly the moment his eyes met the starry twilight above. Numbers and geometry figure largely in Rodgers artistic methodology for the precision and meditative qualities they offer. The artist formulated a way to recreate the chapel ceiling within the confines of his studio through mapping and calculations based on precise dimensions and source images. He identified 699 eight-pointed gold stars arranged in a diamond grid pattern across the entirety of the chapel ceiling. Of these he has determined that 93 are no longer visible, rendered lost due to damage. To transpose the enormity of the chapel ceiling to his Calgary studio Rodgers essentially fragmented the fresco. The artist meticulously painted each 8-pointed star onto a round substrate using a deep cerulean blue and glimmering rich gold. The stars proliferated in his studio across the walls and gathering on the floor as if falling directly from the Scrovegni Chapel or even the night sky above.
The exhibition Galaxy after Giotto: The Lost 93 at Norberg Hall presents a version of the artist’s transposing of Giotto’s star-studded ceiling. The exhibition as a whole acts as a celestial homage to the extensive and immense creativity visible at the chapel. 250 of the 699 stars Rodgers created are installed at Norberg Hall as well as a selection of mixed media and works on paper reflecting on the project. The exhibition imbues the gallery space with an ancient creative energy akin to that within the walls of the Scrovegni in Padua. At once empyrean yet didactic, Galaxy after Giotto: The Lost 93 is a contemporary study of a historical masterwork, a close meditation on one aspect – all the glittering 8 pointed stars set in a blue sea, an ancient representation of infinity above.
Bill Rodgers is a senior Canadian artist, based in Mohkinstsis/Calgary, Alberta. For nearly 50 years, he has contributed to this city’ and nation’s art scene; both as a painter and instructor at the Alberta University of the Arts (formerly ACAD). Rodgers is known for his craftsmanship utilizing diverse materials and has a multifaceted approach to storytelling. Representationally, his work powerfully speaks of time and travels, history, and the personal or shared experience of the past.
Bill’s work can be found in the collections of the Department of Foreign Affairs (Ottawa), Royal Bank of Canada (Toronto), Alberta Foundation for the Arts (Edmonton), Nickle Galleries (Calgary), MacKenzie Art Gallery (Regina), and many more.