I am excited to see Brett Cody Rogers’ exhibition, Painter’s Forms, at Pepin Moore, the show opens on Saturday, September 17.
The last time I saw Rogers’ work, in fact the only time I had seen his work prior to this summer, was in 2005 at the artist’s last solo exhibition in Los Angeles with Dave Kordansky. Rogers was then just out of school and the show included five or six large paintings. Subsequent exhibitions, also of paintings, were in Europe. (In fact there were group exhibitions in LA over the years which included paintings by Rogers, but seeing one or two paintings every year or so does not offer much chance for understanding.) Recognizing that I had little experience with his practice, I paid close attention at one of the painting panel discussions this summer, where Rogers spoke with passion (and in a questioning tone) of photography and its ability to interrupt a linearity that he felt existed in his own painting practice. After a long and heated back-and-forth among several of the panelists, Rogers stated with a nervous emphasis: “Adding photography (to his painting practice) breaks the linear rhythm and introduces pockets of non-hierarchical creativity from which new things might be done.” I responded to the artist’s nervousness – the shaky-voiced passionate delivery he used often signals one who is speaking the, or a, truth.
I followed up with Rogers immediately after the talk, we exchanged emails and I set up a studio visit.
Speaking with him in the studio and looking at completed paintings, paintings in progress, photographs, mobiles and small sculptures I began to understand Rogers proposition that photography has nurtured a disjuncture in his usual practice. Many early paintings drew quite directly on architectural details and gestures that he encountered in the city around him, and from the refined yet commonplace schemes of Modernist and Case Study styles of buildings, which are so prevalent in Los Angeles. Reviewing work online I find that something seems to shift in 2007 and 2008 – while some of the paintings continue with a domestic feel, a few have become pared down and exist more as symbols for rather than reminders of his outside interests. In 2009 and 2010 Rogers begins to make use of an X shape to organize the information on his canvases. Also, throughout 2010 he made paintings on jute, or burlap, with cut-out shapes – circles and stretched diamonds and weird pointy polygons. The left-over pieces from these paintings were used to craft the mobiles that inform much of the present exhibition.
I provide the above to remind myself of what I’ve missed over the years, and to offer you -who may also be unfamiliar – a way to think about the work that he is making now. If you’d like you may access the artist’s website, which has a pretty complete inventory of early and later work www.brettcodyrogers.com.
And having just laid out, for you and for myself, an understandable timeline of this artist’s practice, I must now dispute my thesis entirely. Confounding the desires of writers, academicians and collectors, most artists do not work in anything like a linear fashion. I would imagine, thinking back to the charged conversation on the panel when Rogers declared he had found a way out of “the hierarchy of linearity” that his real struggle was against the tendency of our world to impose a consumable narrative upon an artist’s practice.
I placed the film stills just above because, well, the film, and the mobile pictured in it, so obviously had an influence on the cruciform paintings of 2010 and also the paintings in the current show. In a few of the photographs that Rogers showed me the suspended brass rods, from which depend his painted jute cut-outs, cross in space; and this suggested, or enforced, the artist’s cruciform tool. And yet, and yet, as I mentioned above, I cannot keep straight in my head exactly how any of this work developed. (I exaggerate for emphasis.)
Brett Cody Rogers offered me several stories of his path over the last few years, in my mind they all concluded with his arrival at the new work and the new exhibition. The small sculptures that I saw, or perhaps I saw photographs of them, are the work of the artist’s grandfather, who was himself an artist and produced significant large public sculptures in Ohio and around the Midwest. These 10″ to 14″ copper works were maquettes for larger sculptures; they functioned as a sculptor’s sketch book – small ideas that may not be made but inform the practice. Rogers’ grandfather died and Rogers has inherited them.
The grandson photographed these sculptures, using strategies that produce confusion to mediate these photographic representations of his grandfather’s sculptures. Remember the jute paintings? The paintings that were cut up to produce his painter’s forms, mobiles, etc.? In the example above one such painting hangs between the studio wall and a glass-covered table on which one of the sculptures is situated. The plate glass, which is backed by black velvet, produces a distinct double reflection, the vertical stripes and the angled and horizontal borders and fields on the jute painting, and the reflective surface of the polished metal frames all cast and re-distribute reflections. Some of the darker fields on the paintings could be shadows cast by the sculptures, and then perhaps the shadows of the sculptures fade into the paintings.
That Rogers used these photographs to generate portions of his paintings, and also made photographs of the mobiles – themselves made from the background paintings – which then also became the source for additional moves in the paintings, complicates the issue of who is reflecting what, and when the reflection happened or was caught by Rogers’ eye or the camera’s eye.
The surfaces of the paintings and the surfaces imaged in the photographs are vital to an understanding of the artist’s practice. For the paintings on canvas, Rogers often uses transparent and translucent washes, when laid atop one another these will produce a third color – not by mixing the paint but rather the transparent nature of the paint allows light to penetrate and to refract, so it is the mix of light that makes this third color. The jute or burlap paintings, which appear only in bits and pieces in photographic representation, have wonderful heavy textures and simple colors that remind me of – you’ll forgive a fanciful comparison – the rough and earnest fabrics of Danish Modern design. (It’s probably silk or fine wool when used for upholstery, but still, the affect of common materials is in place.) We find in Rogers’ new work a reference to Modernist architecture after all.
And the film. A 16mm, looped film, six minutes long, three in color and three black and white, with no recorded sound but certainly featuring the sound of film running through sprockets and a motor whirring. Everything comes together when I watch this film. Those meditative six minutes seem like the answer the many questions posed by the flat work, and also the film seems to precede and predict the later paintings and photographs. Rogers and Jed Lind set up a fan and lights and filmed the mobiles moving through space. The focus shifts and so do the angles and distances. In any real sense the film represents nothing we can comprehend wholly – the images are so close up that a reading of the objects is unlikely. But the flashes and caresses of Rogers’ painted shapes, black knotted yarn and shiny metal rods work like afterthoughts of the paintings and photographs and serve as brief distillations of one’s experience of the exhibition.