by Jonathan Beer
Les Rogers makes sumptuous paintings that maintain an incredible mix of economy and decadence. His works mobilize fleshy, atmospheric, and graphic languages, intermingling them in a confident and practiced way. Rogers is known for his large and assertive paintings, where subtle notes of humor and struggle flicker beneath the surface. In his most recent solo show, Summer Swells, which opened August 1 at HALF Gallery, Rogers departs from his hard earned, undoubting canvases and exhibits a series of new small works that embrace his witty tendencies in the unexpected way they are created.
At first glance the modestly sized abstract works appear to be inside strange wooden frames; a thick black line outlining each painting. With a closer look it becomes clear that the frame and painting are in fact one and the same. The only thing separating ‘frame’ from image is a wobbly router line painted black. What appears kitchy is surprisingly the opposite – this is not the same collage sensibility trending in painting for the past 15 years, this is an honest investigation into the intricacies of both the image and its context.
These pictures revisit an older, unanswerable set of questions that are woven through the fabric of art history, chiefly that of image and context. The frame, whether painted or physical, is a device that can direct context and meaning in a picture. The first frames originated in the 12th and 13th century, and were, created in exactly the same manner as Rogers’ paintings. This method was used on small panels, the area to be painted was carved out, leaving a raised border around the outside edge, and then the whole piece was gessoed, gilded, and the center section painted. Large ornate frames emerged some time later for commissioned religious paintings and altarpieces, to create continuity between image and architecture. As religious paintings were acquired privately, frame-making became an artisanal craft, and moved from a strictly purpose to one of decoration. As time progressed, the concept of art shifted from commissioned, devotional imagery to more inspired and independent work, and with it, the context for viewing artwork changed. Instead of churches and cathedrals, there were salons. After salons came museums, collections, and finally galleries. The definition of art expanded with such magnitude that any remaining context was finally eradicated by the white cube gallery model. Most artwork today is seen with minimal to no frame at all, and the work is free to affect the environment of the gallery.
Rogers is not the first to combine the frame with painting; Seurat famously painted the edges of his canvases with oppositional colors to those in the painting in order to maintain the color structure of the work if the display environment changed. Rogers takes a less pretentious route as he unflinchingly turns a humorous eye to his own practice; these works are clearly a challenge to the seriousness of his earlier pictures, and perhaps a jab at the pretention that accompanies painting in general. Rogers shows that the frame is not an obsolete addition or simply the mark of a work’s inclusion in a private collection, but something that can be considered literally as part of the picture. Whether or not this new style can sustain itself remains to be seen, but that is another matter. These new works by Les Rogers are anything but typical and should be admired for not only the courageous deviation from such an established process but also for the resolute way they challenge current trends in painting.
Les Rogers Summer Swells
August 1 – September 2, 2012
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Jonathan Beer is a New York-based artist and writer. He began to write critically in 2010 while attending the New York Academy of Art for his MFA in Painting. His paintings have been exhibited at Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts, Flowers Gallery, Boltax Gallery and Sotheby’s in New York. Jon is also a contributing writer for The Brooklyn Rail, ArtWrit and for Art Observed.
Lily Koto Olive is a New York-based artist, writer and musician. She began to write critically about art in 2010 while attending the New York Academy of Art for her MFA in Painting. She has exhibited her paintings at the Dumbo Arts Center in Brooklyn, NY, HERE Arts Center, Sloan Fine Arts and ISE Cultural Foundation in NYC and Marketplace Gallery in Albany, NY. Lily is also a contributing writer for The Brooklyn Rail.