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ABOUT THE ARTIST
Famous writer Henry Miller once said of his good friend Alfred Rogoway: “He paints as other men must dream.” Sedona’s Lanning Gallery is in a unique position to agree; near the end of Rogoway’s life, the artist made Arizona his home and Lanning his gallery. This after a fruitful career marked by early triumphs in California; making his mark on the New Mexico art scene of the 1940s; acclaim in the 1950s from New York’s Museum of Modern Art as Alfred Rogoway exhibited next to Pollack, de Kooning, Miro, Braque and Picasso; and, notoriety in Europe.
Born in Portland, Oregon to Philip and Dorothy Rogoway, a noted playwright and a painter, respectively, Alfred Rogoway experienced an early life of relative privilege due to his father’s success. This changed dramatically after his father’s suicide and his mother’s retreat into her painting. She did not influence young Rogoway with attention but did put the tools of her practice into his hands, insisting that he paint. As a child he witnessed the therapeutic value painting afforded his distant mother and found for himself a certain solace even as he and his two siblings were moved from an aunt in Portland to grandparents in San Francisco to be raised.
In his teen years Alfred Rogoway repeatedly attempted to join the Navy. Nearing the end of WWI he was accepted, sent to England and assigned to a sub-chaser where the Seaman 2nd Class survived a brutal torpedo attack. The years Rogoway served were marked by additional hardship from his own crew toward this sole Jewish man aboard. The artist’s distinctive broken nose dates from a beating from fellow sailors. After four years diagnosis of tuberculosis ended his naval career and became his saving grace.
Alfred Rogoway was granted a Disability Pension in the remarkable sum of $100 a month and free education to the school of his choice. For a young man with no interest in living a life of luxury this alone spelled freedom. The early deaths of both his siblings also left him quite alone.
Rogoway started down his path as an artist; the vibrant world of creative people, inclusive in their views, was one in which he could feel safety. He studied with significant artists who would bear great influence: At the University of California at Berkeley, at the Oakland College of Arts and Crafts with Hamilton Wolf, at Mills College in Oakland with Lyonel Feininger and Fernand Léger, and with José Clemente Oruzco in Mexico. Expressionism, Cubism, Symbolism and popular art became Rogoway’s foundation as he found his way as an artist. Travel followed, including Europe in the 1930s where he and Picasso became friends and the artist and his work became another important influence.
Always one to follow his heart Alfred Rogoway joined the wave of artists relocating to New Mexico in this era. Rogoway made his home in Taos then Santa Fe where he met his wife, Marjorie Goldberg and her young son; he and Marjorie married within a week and remained married the remainder of their long lives. Rogoway thrived with the support of his dynamic wife. They spent time living in Big Sur, California, where the lively artistic circle they always surrounded themselves with included the writer Henry Miller. Miller wrote of “Rog” in his book Big Sur and the Oranges of Heironymous Bosch. Rogoway loved the whole creative life; he loved to dance and throw parties. He embraced life as he pursued his art. A daughter was born.
By the end of the 1930s, work by Alfred Rogoway began to generate real excitement in the art world especially after his paintings were selected three years in a row, from 1939 to 1941, by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s open competition. The Rogoways stayed on the move, living in France and back in New Mexico before building their first house in Ajijic, Mexico where Alfred Rogoway enjoyed prolific years. And still his love of life and creative people continued; the couple threw legendary parties for fellow artists, intellectuals and state officials.
Knowing that real success in the art world meant more time in New York City where Modern Art was all the rage, the Rogoways relocated there, into a tiny apartment and an esteemed circle of artists. De Koonig became a close friend; Mark Rothko, a childhood friend from Portland, introduced Rogoway to Laura Barone and her Madison Avenue art gallery. Alfred Rogoway became her top selling artist. ARTnews, in October 1956, described Rogoway’s paintings as depicting a “mythology of plain living ... imaginary people doing ordinary things ... with an Afro-Cubist elaboration of faces, a hieratic solidity of color.”
The Museum of Modern Art displayed Rogoway’s work alongside his other famous friends: Pollack, de Kooning, Miro, Braque and Picasso. Reviews were dynamic: The New Yorker has said of the paintings by Alfred Rogoway: “A cheerful mingling of the expressionistic and the naïve.” The New York Times has said: “His people inhabit a dreamy never-never land made very colorful.” World of Art has said: “Compassion plus form are embodied in [Rogoway’s] paintings . . . and convince us again of his stature.”
Alfred Rogoway was truly on his way as an artist but city living made him miserable. The family bought a house on Long Island and lived for several years before the desire to wander reemerged. They headed for the Mediterranean, settling in Mijas, Spain where Rogoway opened a gallery and continued to paint. They would remain in Mijas for over twenty years. Rogoway was accepted as a Lifetime Associate at the prestigious Grosvenor Gallery in London while price of his art grew ten times. He enjoyed exhibitions in Spain, Denmark and England. The Rogoway home continued as a center of life for local artists – until Marjorie became ill and, in 1983, died.
Rogoway could no longer enjoy Mijas and returned to the United States to live with his grown daughter, Esther Rogoway, an artist in her own right, in Tucson, Arizona. He was living there when he and Esther brought his work to Sedona and met Peggy Lanning who would soon open Lanning Gallery specifically to have an outlet to represent Rogoway’s mesmerizing paintings.
“He loved to dance and drink and laugh,” Lanning recalls. “At the shows the gallery held for Rog during his lifetime he was tremendously moved that people could remain so interested in his work.” Alfred Rogoway passed away at age 90. The paintings he leaves the world are testament to an artist for whom the act of painting within a life of joy remained his passion. Nothing at all was as important as what he captured on canvas. “His visions take him back thousands of years of world subconsciousness,” Henry Miller noted. It was a fitting and profound observation.