You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.
Painter Mike Rogers has his talented hands in several things, and one of his most unexpected endeavors is the annual snowplow art project he does with high school students. It's essentially a daylong field trip when Adams City High School students compete for a chance to paint a mural on a snowplow; at homecoming, the football players and young artists – ten are selected every year –ride the plows before the big game.
The program was set up by the school’s former art teacher, and when Rogers came on the scene in 2009 – fresh out of Metropolitan State University of Denver – he was “going to blow it off,” he admits. “It sounded weird, and it was my first year teaching.” But Rogers’s students pushed for the project so hard that the new art teacher finally conceded. Six years later, he’s glad he did. “Each fall, we paint five plows in one day; the Commerce City Police Department provides transportation to the snowplow area, selected students team up, and they spend the whole day painting,” Rogers says.
He teaches drawing, photography and AP art at a school that’s gotten some negative attention from local news outlets. But Rogers knows that mainstream media rarely tells the whole story: “I think we have some of the most talented students, and I think we have one of the best art programs around,” he says.
Art wasn't Rogers's first subject. The Colorado native had been doing Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) since he was six, and at seventeen he started teaching it. “I decided I really liked teaching, but I was better at art than at fighting, so, yeah, I decided to go to school for art,” he explains. In the beginning his own art was more like “a glorified hobby,” as Rogers puts it, but soon he wasn’t content just teaching art — he was ready to create some, too.
So Rogers enrolled in a masters program at Regis University, where he specialized in painting and photography and reconnected with Metro State buddy and fellow masters student Scott Zbryk, an Evergreen artist and teacher with a knack for three-dimensional drawings.
Now, with summers off from teaching and some extra training, Rogers has found ample time to help his students and also work on his own art, which has appeared in a variety of venues around town including the VFW Post I gallery, My Hair Trip Salon, Funky Buddha Lounge and Epernay Lounge. His work has also been juried into shows at CORE New Art Space and Gallery at Studio J. Beyond the physical world, Rogers shows his work on Facebook and YouTube, where he posts time-lapse videos that capture the artist in action.
“The time-lapses are my favorite thing,” Rogers says. “They’re the thing that sets me apart from other artists.” They started when Rogers and his roommates began hiking really late at night to take pictures of stars. They were using old iPhones, and they’d rubber band the devices to tripods and work in the time-lapse app. Nothing’s come of the star videos yet, but that project inspired Rogers to shoot his own artistic process to share on social media.
It was on social media that Rogers discovered one of his most unlikely sources of inspiration: a young Kentucky artist named Ariana Jordon.
Jordon had posted a selfie online, and one of Rogers’s buddies asked Rogers to paint a picture from it. That was in 2011, and the stunning result was Rogers’s premiere attempt at fine art and a real confidence booster. “When I painted Ariana,” Rogers says, “that’s when I started thinking about making my art into something more.”
Rogers eventually found tracked down his muse on Facebook, and sent her a message about the painting. “I didn’t hear back, so I assumed she thought I was a creep,” Rogers says. Months later, though, Jordon responded, and told Rogers she loved the painting and had shown it to her entire family. Rogers was so moved that he ended up sending a canvas to Jordon’s mom. “This person I’d never have met otherwise — now I have this connection to her,” he says.
Since launching his fine art career, Jordon has sent Rogers other selfies; she’s one of the few people Rogers accepts photography from. “Everybody else I take my own photos of,” he says. “It’s a pride thing; I got good at photography so I could make my own paintings.”
Rogers typically starts a painting by finding a model – usually a friend – and doing a photo shoot. “I pick the best picture from the shoot, and I paint it,” he explains.
Look at a few of his paintings, and you’ll instantly know what stimulates Rogers: “I like people with tattoos or dyed hair,” he says. “I think they’re more interesting because they’ve made themselves into a work on art in a way, but they can be unapproachable....I like the idea of painting them because I’m taking one work of art and turning it into another.”
If you go into the Denver Art Museum or a mainstream gallery, you’ll notice that the fine artists who specialize in portraiture typically focus on material that might be deemed “wholesome.” That’s changing, Rogers says, but tattooed figures certainly aren’t the norm yet.
Graffiti also inspires Rogers, and pretty soon you might see some of that art on T-shirts. A contract with Bravo Sportswear is in the works; if it goes through, Rogers’s painting of the Colorado flag – a piece hanging in his basement that he “made one day when he was bored” – will be used on local apparel.
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