Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Tribute to Greg Rogers

A Tribute to Greg Rogers

19 June,1957 - 1 May, 2013

by Ann James and Ann Haddon

June 19, 2013...Today is Greg's Birthday. We celebrate his life.

Greg Rogers always loved Melbourne! He has been a close friend to Jess and I for many years, visiting with his friend Bart, as trusted dog sitters and house minders, and as an illustrator of extraordinary talent.  Greg is also very much part of Books Illustrated’s history. 

In 1993 he participated in Reading the Pictures, A Seminar on Visual Literacy, a collaboration between the CBCA Victorian Branch and the Society of Book Illustrators. This was a first: 26 illustrators from all around the country came to Melbourne to talk about illustration and the power of images. Though Greg was only 37, he had already illustrated more than 50 book covers – mainly for young adults – and in fact was quite famous for them. 

A few years later he took part in Picture Books for Bolder Readers, a Books Illustrated seminar at Gasworks Arts Park, looking at the new phenomenon of picture books for older readers.  A feature was Mark McLeod interviewing Greg and Gary Crew about their picture book, Lucy’s Bay.

Later, during our exhibition of Way Home,written by Libby Hathorn,  many visitors - kids and adults - celebrated Greg being awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal. Greg was the first Australian illustrator to receive this prestigious award.  His other musical, renaissance self demonstrated how he played the sackbut and then lead school children who visited our gallery for his sessions on The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard, in a merry Elizabethan dance. 

Staying in Melbourne, where the climate was just right, Greg always amazed us with his incredible focus and creative output. He’d mix a lot of play, and relaxing, plenty of pizzas and martinis and cappuccinos, and hours of enthusiastic antique shopping…and then suddenly, it was deadline time – and his head was down, his pencils smoking! 

In 2011 Greg came to Bologna and did his time (very creatively) on  our Illustrators' Table on the APA stand - meeting and greeting visitors, and chatting to fellow Aussies.  The Old City and Piazza Maggiore was a Mecca for Greg and a focus for us in 'off times' - lattes in the mornings and afternoons, dacharis in the evenings! After Bologna, Greg continued on to roam around Europe and we arranged to meet him later in London. We shared a suitably weird time in The Tower of London, a chatty walk over London Bridge,  drifted past The Globe (closed) on our way to the TATE where we spent quite a few hours, and then a freezing walk home. It feels like a week ago. Well, a few months ago. That's life for you - so fast, so full, so precious.

Greg has been very focused since.  Creative and amazingly productive since the three years of the alarming diagnosis in 2010, he's been more positive, optimistic and successful than ever before. Two picture books will be published this year, Omar the Strongman and, with Phillip Gwynne, What’s Wrong with the Wobbegong.  It's impossible to think he will not be here to celebrate them - but we will celebrate! 
Greg gave some simple instructions for his service. He wanted people to be really comfortable, not stiff and formal. In fact, just exactly as the day went, beginning with the service (organised by his family) at Mt. Thompson Memorial Gardens on the side of Tambourine Mountain. Greg's brother Ross talked warmly about their family, Greg's good nature and his particular interests in music, art and collecting, which they shared. Robyn Sheahan-Bright, close friend and colleague, gave a beautiful eulogy, somehow encompassing all of Greg's big, rich, lively life, and spoke for all of us.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and later a gathering at his friend and colleague, Kerry Argent's home, we and other friends spent time in the sunshine chatting about Greg and life and mixed good food with wine and great company.  

We are very grateful that Robyn has allowed us to share her special eulogy for Greg on our Books Illustrated Blog. We have added some photos taken at and after (and before) the service.

EULOGY – GREGORY JOHN ROGERS (19 June 1957–1 May 2013)
by Robyn Sheahan-Bright

We are here today to pay tribute to the late, great, Gregory Rogers. I know he wouldn’t want this to be a sad occasion, but one instead which celebrates his major achievements, and more importantly, the joy he gave to all the many people he encountered while ‘rollicking ’ along that way. Gregory loved to have his friends around him, and whenever you were with him, even if it was just with one or two people, it felt like a party.

Gregory was born in Brisbane on 19 June 1957, and grew up in Coorparoo. The youngest in a large Catholic family, he is survived by two brothers, Ross and Denis. He is also mourned by his partner, Matt McCormick, by his former companion Bart Hosking, and by his many, many friends.

He was always an artist and musician, and after schooling at Villanova College, and training at the Queensland College of Art, he worked for thirteen years as a graphic designer before becoming a freelance artist in 1987. His cover art and design for University of Queensland Press, and later other publishers, and his signature style of photo realism, distinguished many books for adults and children. He became one of Australia’s most highly regarded cover artists and one of our most revered picture book illustrators.

As is the case for many artists, Greg’s home was generally also his studio and when I first met him in around 1989 he had returned to live in Kelsey Street, Coorparoo, in his family home. His studio there was a light-filled room at the front of an old Queenslander which was full of the things he’d collected and loved. He has since had a number of studios where much-loved pieces sat in comfortable proximity to his drawing board, and later computer; where teddy bears jostled for space with prized pieces of antique pottery; where art deco furniture treasures fought for the attention of his many visitors.

Since his first picture book was published more than twenty years ago, he has distinguished himself as one of Australia’s foremost illustrators. He pioneered the picture book for older readers with several award-winning texts, including Lucy’s Bay by Gary Crew, and created more than forty picture books and illustrated works, with some of Australia’s other most distinguished writers – including Margaret Wild, Victor Kelleher and Nigel Gray. 

Many of us remember the emotion of the moment when he became the first Australian winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal (UK) for Libby Hathorn’s Way Home in 1995. He also won the Parent’s Choice Award (US) and was highly commended in the ABPA Awards that year. It was an enormous boost to Gregory, who always felt the need to do a great deal of design work to supplement the time taken on his illustrated works. That didn’t really change, but I think that how he viewed his own work did, so that he was able to really embrace a career as a picture book artist after that time, albeit with some disappointments along the way.

His support for his peers was evinced during the 1990s when Gregory established the Brisbane- based Book Illustrators Group, which was affiliated with the Society for Book Illustrators (SOBI) and met at the Queensland Writers Centre. It encouraged several new illustrators, and spawned a range of projects. 

Gregory’s passion for mentoring others was a hallmark of his approach to all his creative work. When I first met and worked with him, I had no idea how much he had already contributed to early music in Queensland, and that this contribution to illustrators was therefore typical of him, given those earlier commitments.

For Gregory had another life, too, as a talented musician, and played the recorder, cornetto, dulcian, crumhorn, percussion, baroque guitar, and other early music instruments. He was a founding participant in groups including the Well-Tempered Consort, Diapaison and many other ensembles. When I checked with musical friends I discovered a wealth of details about roles Greg had played in the 80s before I met him, and which deserve full record in future coverage of his career.

He was involved in early dance, and was a holder of senior offices in many seminal groups including being leader of the Early Music Society Big Band and President of the Early Music Society of Queensland. He was instrumental in setting up the Theatre of Craft and Harmony and had a phenomenal knowledge of music from the Renaissance period. He typically never really revealed the extent of these involvements to his later publishing friends, and wasn’t a person who felt he had to parade or even speak about past triumphs. The ‘now’ was always the thing with Gregory, despite his penchant for things from the past. His interest in music was eclectic too, as he also developed a taste for contemporary pop. His extensive CD collection is legendary.

Every artist suffers doubts, and although his illustrated work continued to garner many accolades with two awards in 2001 (for a non-fiction text The Platypus: What is It? by Jo Brice – the Wilderness Society Environment Award for Children’s Literature and the Royal Zoological Society of NSW Whitley Award, and in 2002, the Australian Family Therapists’ Award for Children’s Literature for Princess Max by Laurie Stiller) Greg I think, felt something of a ‘lull’ in his work for a time, perhaps because he had always been commissioned to respond to texts, and had a desire to express his own ideas in a new way. He was always an innovator and never rested on past achievements.

So the next critical and exciting development in his illustration practice occurred when he was inspired to write his own texts, in the series of superlative wordless picture books which began with The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard (2004). They were immediately acclaimed both in Australia and internationally. ‘BBBB’ as we affectionately termed it, was named as one of the Ten Best Illustrated Picture Books of 2005 by the New York Times and was included as a Notable Children’s Book of the Year by the American Library Association. It received the Australian and NZ Illustration Award 2004 from Illustrators Australia, and was shortlisted in the 2005 APA Book Design Awards. 

This and the two other titles in the trilogy – Midsummer Knight (2006) and The Hero of Little Street (2009) – are published in Australia by Allen and Unwin, in the USA by Roaring Brook Press, in Germany by Mauritz Verlag, in France by Dargaud and in The Netherlands by Lemniscaat. In them he developed a style of drawing which identified his latest books in quite a different medium to what we’d seen before. He also experimented with visual narrative form, in a manner which was both playful and expressive. 

Greg’s love for the music of the 16th and 17th centuries was an influence which flowed into The Hero of Little Street. That book won both the Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year award in 2010, and was listed as an Honour Book by the International Board on Books for Young People. His interest in all things medieval and theatrical imbued these wordless books, and also the gorgeous line drawings he did for Frances Watts’ Sword Girl and Tony Davis’s Roland Wright series and for countless works of junior fiction.

These books harnessed many of Greg’s creative interests and passions – for art, music, theatre, film, costume and fashion, and most of all for the joy of creating stories which were full of fun, laughter and mayhem. They were ‘wild romps’, and I think came closest to expressing how Gregory felt about his art, about his music, and particularly evinced his joy in life.

Catching up with Gregory was always a ‘wild romp’ at any time! Despite his successes, he never courted those who frequented the ‘corridors of fame’. He genuinely enjoyed the company of his huge fan-base of friends, who were friends first and fans second, because he relished the time with each and every one of them. He made each friend feel that ‘they’, not ‘he’, was special. But he, of course, was very special indeed.

His recent publishing successes led to his attendance at the Bologna Book Fair and to several overseas trips which inspired him to further explore his love of European culture in his books. Frequent trips to the US also gave him the opportunity to meet with his American editor and publisher and to further develop an international network he relished. The first public notice of his death was in the US Publishers Weekly posted by his publisher online as an evidence of his respect there. Those visits also happily allowed him to form a friendship with Matt which gave him much joy and support in these last few years. His friends in Denver, Colorado clearly felt the way his Australian ones do; they shared art, music, antique markets and fun with him, as we Australian friends always did as well.

He worked on many collaborative projects which combined his artistic interests. His artwork was represented by his dear friends at Books Illustrated and other galleries, and was exhibited nationally and internationally. In the early 1990s we had a lot of fun when we put together several touring exhibitions of cover art and conducted workshops around regional Queensland. He would sometimes recall those times, raise a wicked eyebrow at me, sigh, and say, ‘Oh Robyn – Gympie – the memories!’

His interest in portraiture led to his 2002 entry in the Archibald Prize – a portrait of Leigh Matthews – which assumed a commanding position in his studio. He lectured at QCA for some years, and is widely regarded all over Australia, as a speaker who combined humour, skill and passion in any performance.

He had entered an extremely creative period recently, and two new books will be published in the next two months: What’s Wrong with the Wobbegong? by Phillip Gwynne and Greg’s own text Omar the Strongman, both evincing inventive and spirited changes in his work, yet again. He conceived both storyboards incredibly quickly and even changed the design of the former quite radically after some deliberation. The beautifully written text of Omar was yet another development in Greg’s work. Happily, advance copies arrived and were on display in his hospital room in those last few weeks. He was also working on a picture book about his much loved cat ‘Miss Sybil’ who was ‘allowing’ him to be her biographer ... the draft of the book was extremely well- received at Bologna this year and hopefully will be published. 

He’d also long been developing a book project about the composer and pianist Eric Satie.
Gregory was an avid collector, a pastime we shared. He was the greatest of company when trawling antique markets and never tired of the art of collecting ‘just for collecting’s sake’. We had some great times pottering around at Aladdin’s at Newmarket, the Paddington and Annerley Antique Markets, and at other places dotted all over Brisbane and surrounds. During his last few days, he was waiting anxiously for a piece of pottery he had purchased to arrive, and it gave him much joy to unwrap it, and see it on his hospital room windowsill. He also loved the delicate art of mixing a martini. And he was very partial to sticky date pudding, too.

He had a legion of friends from many walks of life. He was always casually mentioning some people he had just met at some gathering with whom he would quickly become fast friends, and with whom he would develop ritual meeting places. His publishers, as was typical of Gregory, became his firm friends, as did his much-loved agent, his solicitor, a horde of writers, illustrators, musicians, and actors, a cohort of teachers, librarians, booksellers, and of course the thousands of kids who learned from him their love of art, and always had a laugh with him while they did it.

His grace in facing his diagnosis was typical, and was fuelled by how fully he lived his life ... his creative focus and his ‘joie de vivre’ made him eternally optimistic, and he wanted friends to be confident with him, to look forward to things, just as he did until the very end.

I am sure he would want to thank those who did so much for him in his last few weeks and months. Your love for Gregory was evident in the many tasks you handled, and in the many acts of kindness you offered him. I picture him surrounded by the ripples which emanated from the many overlapping circles of friends who formed a network of support and love which will always hold him very dear. And I know you, his family and friends, are gathered here wishing I would say something about him which was particular to your friendship with him. But the one thing I can say, which we all share, is how much we revered and loved Gregory.

He was the very, very best of friends, a loving son and brother, a kind and devoted partner, always the most excellent of company, a brilliant artist, a gifted musician, the greatest of storytellers, a wicked lover of gossip, a witty and stylish raconteur, and an immensely creative man who respected the wisdom and intelligence of children, and did his utmost to afford them the same respect in his art and words.

Gregory, you are in our hearts, always. And in this poem are our loving words for you: 
‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ by Shel Silverstein
There is a place where the sidewalk ends 
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white, 
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight 
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black 
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow, 
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow, 
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know 
The place where the sidewalk ends.
Some photos taken at and after the service and gathering on May 9th 2013

Ross Rogers, Greg's brother gave a heartwarming talk of family memories

Greg's friends, a trio, played a special selection of early music
Robyn Sheahan-Bright gave a beautiful eulogy, so all-encompassing
of Greg, his life, passions and achievements

A standing ovation for Greg

A lovely, lively gathering of family, friends and colleagues  chatted outside after the service

Here are some photos of some special moments with Greg...
 If you have others you'd like to share, we'd love to see them.
Please email us and we will add them to this photographic tribute.

Brisbane, 2010
Greg at home
The Boy and the Bear
Greg with us at the Ron Mueck exhibition, 2010

Greg at our 'Hello! from Australia' Exhibition on the APA stand,
Bologna Children's Book Fair, 2011
Ann Haddon and Greg enjoying the sun in Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, 2011
Greg in London... outside The Globe! 2011
Walking across the Tower Bridge
Taking a spell in The Tower of London, 2011
Wide awake (beside a schnorer) in the court outside Tower of London, 2011
Greg at the 'Way Home' exhibition at Books Illustrated, 2004
Celebrating his Kate Greenaway Medal with admirers
 at Books Illustrated, 2004
Greg and Mark Macleod at Picture Books for Bolder Readers
 seminar at Gasworks Park - 1998
Greg, curly-haired, amongst his peers, at Books Illustrated, 1992
Gathered for Reading the Pictures Seminar at Trinity Grammar

Erica Wagner from Allen & Unwin has also sent through some photographs of her time with Greg that she would like to share with us...

And Josie Montano...
Mark Svendsen, Josie Montano and Greg
The Martini night - Queensland Get-together in Greg's honour, 2010

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Books Illustrated 'Woodend it be Fabulous' exhibition at Woodend Winter Arts Festival

Woodend Winter Arts Festival 

June - Sat 7 to Tue 10

Come and visit the Books Illustrated exhibition of prints and original illustrations Woodend it be Fabulous at the St Mary's Church hall as part of the Woodend Winter Arts Festival on this weekend. The feature artists for this exhibition will be Jane Tanner and Ann James

On Sunday 8, both artists will be demonstrating in the exhibition, and at 12.30 to 1.30 we will run a session Woodend it be fabulous to be an illustrator! for budding or would-be illustrators.

This festival is held over the Queen's birthday long weekend every two years and offers a wide ranging arts program. The town of Woodend, is an easy one hour drive up the Calder freeway , is set in a lovely part of Victoria ... well worth a visit to celebrate the start of winter, it also an easy train ride from Southern Cross Station, Melbourne .... we'd love to see you there! Click on the image below to view the full program. 

And here's a map to find us in the beautiful new hall next to St Mary's Church!