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Full Frontal: An Interview With Les Rogers

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Les Rogers comes right at you with big paintings: nudes, abstract, landscapes--he paints everything and leaves you to figure out what kind of artist he is. What type is that? Searching, talented, attracted to vibrant physical marks and dramatic cropped imagery. You can see his work in a new show at Haunch of Venison. They're large paintings of his former girlfriend in intimate positions--and he's in there too if you look carefully. Perhaps you read about them on Page Six. Page Six? Yes, Rogers is the rare artist who shows up in the gossip pages. A painter staking a claim outside the gallery world? Nothing wrong with that.
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Folding Over, 2010 Oil on canvas 84 x 132 in. Courtesy: Haunch of Venison, New York.

Your new show is of nudes, but you also paint abstract work. How do you approach these different genres?
Well they're the same in that both stand in for the real thing or experience, and while the tact is different they can both generate similar feelings. In the new show the photorealistic works and the completely gestural abstract works both create fields to get lost in. Having said that, some days in the studio you want to throw paint and other days its nice to know where it should be carefully placed.

But the working process may be different?
In each mode it's nice to start the work by setting up a problem, a broken plan so while you are working you have the anticipation and curiosity of what will emerge. I can't work without the element of surprise and with photorealism finding that energy requires a huge scale or finding the odd crop or turning a finished work sideways.

How is it different painting nudes when they're from photos of women you know intimately? Does that personal involvement with the subject make it easier or more difficult?
Well I only paint from my personal photographs of my girlfriends, and in every case they're photos I never expected to make into paintings. Over time I'm drawn to the photos because I know they represent genuine moments, so the paintings are a celebration, a pleasure. Most importantly, I consider them Realism because they're un-posed documents not because how the paint is handled.
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Closest, 2010 oil on canvas, 72 x 56 in. Courtesy: Haunch of Venison.

You've worked this way for a while, right?
Right, ten years ago I was preparing a show of hectic abstract works trying to convey the entire world, and my then girlfriend came home from work completely stressed out and lay down in the middle of the hardwood floor and had a cigarette. Not the usual couch or chair but middle of studio floor surrounded by paintings for a show about to be shipped. I took a snap shot of her. Just before sending the work I realized that she needed to be with those paintings, so I painted a large version of her on the floor and included it--so the works became her world and she was the eye of the storm and constant viewer and guardian. I have to wait for these events that's why I don't always work like this.
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Les Rogers.

The current show is a very up close record of myself--it's the first time I've painted myself, by the way--and my girlfriend from a few years ago intimately rolling around inviting the viewer into an absolute private space, so it's a far cry from a nude model posing for an artist as object of desire. Yes, I like the personal involvement, art is always easy and difficult but it's best when you know the subject is born out of love.

But it's still a delicate matter to paint your girlfriend?
The very personal nature of the work is the draw and it's approached with extra care and anticipation. The subject has a special power and I try to convey that power. It really is the perfect subject for creating a new form of realism because of the sheer number of hours spent together there is an unseen shared truth and perhaps the works are less reflection of how she looks than what she was experiencing. I actually find painting my girlfriend an absolute necessity in properly recording my life since all my paintings are diaristic on some level. I've done 8 shows where there is one single painting of my girlfriend surrounded by a dozen or so abstract paintings as she was the closest witness to me life at the time of the work.
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Large There, 2009 oil on canvas, 96 x 120"

Do you also use photographs even when you're painting abstractly?
When I work abstractly I am also pulling information from photographs but allowing a more immediate response and physically reacting and juggling multiple views at once leaving it properly broken. When I decide to slow down and allow the original photograph to tell more of the story I am still looking to find the sweet spot--how it can immerse the viewer in a new more physical event.

So you're not concerned with maintaining a recognizable style from show to show?
Each show wants to do its own thing and any painting wants its own personality, so I don't get in the way of that or get concerned with any form of "branding." At the same time they build upon this inclusive, encyclopedic and each year more comprehensive record--you can call it Proustian--but there's so much to cover that my response tends to fluctuate. As long as I can look at each painting 20 years later and still learn from them who cares the style.