The art starts where cliché stops, and from that perspective to paint in blue need not mean to be in a blue mood, if the reader will forgive me the echo of a cliché in starting out. 

Michael Rogatchi’s collection featuring three main subjects – Florence, Music, and Love – has been prompted by a multi-faceted creative impulse. Some facets of that impulse reflect the desire of the artist to explore the hitherto too often ignored attraction of blue as the background to fluid, sensual canvases; a background which in its depth and volume becomes an active part of the painting itself. The blue of the paintings in The Life of Two of Us collection is shifting, dynamic, and versatile. It is an active ingredient chosen by the artist to fertilise the paintings, to lay down the main thematic message of the collection – a message of thoughtful sensuality. 

Another facet of the impulse to create The Life of Two of Us has more to do with emotion itself. This is a traceable theme in the overall body of Michael Rogatchi’s work throughout his career, a theme that is permanent for the artist. He does not need to think twice about picking up this ‘subject’ again, and again, and bringing it onto canvas. The subject is love. In Michael’s own words, love is “synonymous with life itself”; he “is keen to see life through the prism of love in many of its varying reflections, and to put some of those on canvas”. That approach, perhaps, provides the key to the perception of The Life of Two of Us: it is this particular nourishment that has liberated those deep-blue canvases from any sense of gloom.

Florentine Dimension. 2010.

A third facet reveals another part of the psychology behind the creative process. For Michael, music provides the mood – a particular atmosphere – that is an irreplaceable element of his creativity. The fact that music is very much an organic part of Michael’s world can be seen very clearly in this collection. There is no coincidence in the name given to a six-piece collection of original drawings that forms a coda to The Life of Two of Us; simply, and aptly, it’s Melody for Two.

There is also an intellectual grounding to the work of the artist. Michael has been known as a ‘painting philosopher’ from the very beginning of his artistic career. His solid scientific background may have contributed to that distinctive element. But it would be equally fair to cite Michael’s thorough knowledge of history, arts and literature as one of the pillars of the multi-dimensional personal world that is reflected in his work.

Michael has said about his work on The Life of Two of Us and Melody for Two that “there was never any question” for him “as to where to place ‘the action’ of my paintings – Florence is one of a very few places in the world where I feel completely at home, both consciously and sub-consciously; a place where the environment is so natural to me that my thoughts and my work can flow on, seamlessly”. 

It could even be said that Florence as an intellectual concept has permeated right through the interlocking creative facets alluded to above. And Florence is also there in the colour resolution of the collection, in its sensuality, and in its atmospheric fluctuations. 

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According to the artist, the initial work of the collection, Yet Another Window (2007), “introduced a new way of expression, technically and visually, that was attractive enough to me to become a whole new ground to explore and to develop further”.

Yet Another Window. 2008.

Busy with other work and projects, Michael returned to his Blue theme only about a year later, creating in 2008 Amadeus: Star Rain which depicts his own ‘trademark’ image of Mozart, his favourite composer, sitting with his back to the viewer, absorbed in his own thoughts, in his own unique and extraordinary world. This work became an instant success and has been acclaimed widely. “One gets an instant impression from Amadeus that Mozart’s music, brilliant and uplifting, is pouring out of the canvas, fresh and alive” – was the way one reviewer expressed his reaction to Michael’s work at the time. 

The way in which Mozart, in his own cosmos, somehow took wing on Michael’s canvas encouraged the artist to think further about working more intensively on his Blue paintings. In 2009, work on the Twelve Nudes and Their Stories collection brought him closer to defining the concept for the Blue collection. This can be seen in Black Diamond, built as it is on a paradoxical foundation: the dramatically blue infinite sky provides the right setting for such a rarity as a black diamond; inside those darkly sparkling prismatic lines lies clean and mighty light. This painting is particular technically, too, as it holds a host of additional, unexpected images when viewed from different angles and longer and shorter perspectives.

Amadeus. Star Rain. 2008.

By the middle of 2010, Michael had developed his three-fold concept for his Blue collection – Florence, Music, Love – and from that time on he started to work with complete focus on The Life of Two of Us. The work had been completed by the spring of 2011, comprising an impressive body of 17 oil paintings and 6 original drawings.

Observing the result as a whole, one gets the impression that the collection of 23 works has been prompted by the idea of creating some blue world of subtle feelings where there is a fluid line between the real and imaginable – and indeed this is a characteristic pattern for Michael’s distinctive style of metaphorical expressionism. The colour itself is versatile. The artist himself says that he “wanted very deliberately to try to explore the widest spectrum of nuances of the world of blue”. 

The collection as a whole is full of semi-tones and subtlety – and one can see that the work is following the established line, indeed the guiding fundamental principle, for the artist, which says that “the art starts where the obvious ends”.

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There is another particular feature that helps to give the collection its integrity: some of the paintings somehow interweave two or even three of Michael’s core themes at the same time. Arno Blues works on all three dimensions, and there is a larger number of works in which music and love are simply inseparable – C’est FiniBlack Trombone, the diptych Concert for Cello & Violin, Him & Her, and Blue Night Ballad. Some other works, such as Cappuccino for Two, are dominated by the telling of a dramatic story of love, but still bear distinctive Florentine details – in this case the woman’s portrait is achieved in the typical Florentine cameo style.

There is also a number of paintings featuring women – Yet Another WindowLongingSpring Awakening. The artist sees all of these as belonging to the ‘Love group’. “Undoubtedly,” Michael confirms. “Sometimes, the story of two people is more expressive when it is told through one of them, and for me a female is the more complex – and attractive – part of any couple”.

Spring Awakening. 2011.

There is one particular work – Insomnia – featuring a magical, intensely lyrical horse that does not fit into the other drawn categories of the collection. But there is an answer to that exception: painting horses is a well known hallmark for Michael, and the equine theme reappears in his work with a touching and faithful constancy. “I was thinking of a beautiful mare while working on the painting; and Italy (where I was working) is truly a special place for horses”. There is an outpouring of Italian beauty and poetry from the turn of the head and dynamic flow of the mane of that alluring horse. This ‘donna cavallo’ has a remarkable expression in its eyes, an expression that borders on the human. It is an image that operates at the confluence of dream and reality; one often finds that Michael’s horses bear such memorable and distinctive features. 

Florence is distinctively present in The Florentine DimensionArno BluesMy Night Guest, and Tuscan Wind, but with subtle strokes that produce a fleeting glimpse of images of that unique and evidently inspirational setting. The artist has said that “by no means” was he “intending to do straightforward Florence pictures.”

The idea of these images inspired by Florence is a very long way from the idea in tourist guide illustrations. We see, rather, Florentine reminiscences flickering throughout the collection, giving a strong underpinning sense of place to that abiding story of two – no matter exactly where in time and in space that place may have been.

Insomnia ( Crepuscular). 2011.

Music is featured in almost half of the collection’s paintings. Following the classical line from Mozart, the original inspiration, there is the strong diptych Concert for Cello & Violin, picturing Him and Her as protagonists in a love story wholly intertwined with their music. Violinist and Cellist alike are artfully dual characters – modern in depiction, but classical in attitude. Devotion is the main message in the diptych – devotion to music, to arts, to each other. The contrast of the dynamic modernity of the images with their classical emotional characteristics produces a fresh and powerful impression. 

There is another duetto in the collection – C’est FiniBlack Trombone, after Serge Gainsbourg’s renowned composition. This is Michael’s loving homage to the French musician who remains a special personality for him. Indeed the artist sees C’est Fini as a signature work for the collection. “Many of us working in the arts are trying to tell very much the same story, the truths I’m striving for in The Life of Two of Us; but rarely did somebody do it so comprehensively and with such classy and effortless chic as Gainsbourg. His complex world, burdened with talent, was not necessarily the happiest one, but even for all his very human shortcomings he had a unique heart, which still makes each of us listening to Gainsbourg’s pieces feel in tune with his warm, magnetic world”.

C’est Fini has a special quality – the painting tends to bring the viewer inside it, almost physically. One may partially explain this by way of its technical virtuosity (the painting’s smoothness, its depth, the voluminous play of its colours), but it is the work’s inner energy that makes this work truly exceptional and a fitting cornerstone of The Life of Two of Us.

There are two more music-themed canvases in the collection – A Blue Sound and Blue Night Ballad. While the first one through its original composition portrays the process of playing music as multi-dimensional, and scans it under a philosophical light, the second is a gentle story of expectation, with many fragments of detail that will stick in one’s memory for years to come. 

There are some more explicit statements in the ‘gallery of emotions’ created by the artist – for example Crystal of Love. There is nothing unusual in the painting’s motif of a kissing couple; but the tenderness of it, the living dynamic of the figures, the palpable emotional wave coming out of the painting, transports the viewer into his or her own emotional world. Due to its youthful sensuality, this is one of the most affecting works of the collection.

Of the female subjects, for me Longing in particular speaks to one’s heart from no distance at all. The composition of the work reveals a woman’s figure, sitting with her back to the viewer – a perspective that Michael Rogatchi often explores. The artist explains: ” It is always more intriguing to imagine the front of figures which we are seeing from their back. It allows a certain ‘electricity’ to spark in one’s mind”. Longing is a fine work both in its concept and in its technique. But its most surprising side is the unusual effect it achieves – a deeply moving painting laid out in dark, cold colours. When passion speaks with such a dignified voice, one starts to understand the true meaning of understatement, and see its allure and beauty.

Longing. 2011.

Spring Awakening, also known as Woman in the Red Hat, makes a slightly ‘unconventional’ entry into the collection. The lady of the portrait wears a big, expressionist hat – almost half the size of the painting – in deep red, which clearly breaks the otherwise strict rule of the domination of blue in the collection. The artist, however, feels quite comfortable about it: “A well judged strong colouristic decision can be quite productive and effective; it can play a role like a light switch that triggers a different perception of the rest of the work”. Certainly the work itself has an unusual visual effect: when one is looking at the self-absorbed woman, waiting in her own way for the first rays of sun after a long, long winter, one may see from one side that she is smiling; but when one changes side to observe her, she is almost crying. One can feel the harsh winters of Michael’s own experience in his words of hope and anticipation: “The idea behind it was to pick up that fine emotional equilibrium of awaiting spring, both directly and metaphorically. It is never quite for sure that it will come next morning. It is a slightly nervous, uncertain, exciting time; and there is a very fine balance between one’s emotions at such a period”.

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Regarding the artist’s means of expression, light is absolutely key in making those 17 deep blue paintings into the opposite of a manifest of gloom. The light shines in its most celebratory way in The Florentine Dimension, where the scene is bathed entirely in the light of a full moon. Intriguingly, Michael’s light has many shades: the open light of A Blue Sound and Black Diamond, the semi-transparent luminescence of Arno Blues and Tuscan Wind; fine strokes of an illusion of light which are characteristic of Longing and C’est Fini – all those various interpretations and manifestations of light switch the paintings on, making them living and human. 

The art starts where banality ends. In the most promising cases, the end of banality can also mark the start of a road towards magic. It is a challenge for an artist to be able to recognise the magic in the tissue of life. But a far bigger challenge is to create something genuinely magical, and utterly without banality. There are few more powerful instruments for depicting the magical world that can make us sigh in amazement, and forget about things mundane, than blue in all its rich and wonderful variations. Seeing The Life of Two of Us and Melody for Two by Michael Rogatchi is to allow oneself to be transported by a deeper sense of that power. 

Inna Rogatchi was curator of ROGATCHI’s BLUES special art project, and of the inaugural exhibition of The Life of Two of Us and Melody for Two in Florence, Italy (May – December 2011).