One of Rogan Gregory’s earliest memories takes place in his dad’s workshop: he’s three years old, sitting in a high chair, covered in sawdust. ‘I grew up in his shop,’ says Gregory, now 42. A sociology professor and prolific craftsman, his father worked with paint, bronze, wood and textiles, and taught Gregory everything he knew. ‘He thought making things was just a fun thing to do, not an occupation,’ Gregory says. ‘So I never considered doing it.’
Instead, Gregory funnelled his creative energy elsewhere. After finishing college in Miami, he moved to New York and began consulting for top-tier fashion brands, surfing on his days off. He launched his eponymous workwear-inspired line in 2001, pioneered socially conscious clothing through his work at Loomstate and EDUN, and even started a furniture collection, Rogan Objects. All the while he kept making art, often constructing it in the window of his former Tribeca storefront – which stood across the street from burgeoning design gallery R & Company. Its principal, Evan Snyderman, took note. Upon visiting Gregory’s Montauk studio two years ago, Snyderman was blown away by the skillful creations that flooded the space: pared-down, often biomorphic forms sculpted from bronze, wood and stone.
This week, R & Company mounts the largest exhibition of Gregory’s work to date. Ranging from palm-sized bronze and outsize wood sculptures to cavernous stone lamps, the objects are presented in dioramas inspired by those at natural history museums and brought to life with warm, subtle lighting. Each piece evokes a vague resemblance to an animal, bone fragment, or something washed up on the beach, prompting viewers to look closer.
Discovery plays a central role in Gregory’s making process, which is as much about re-embracing a deep-rooted passion as it is exploring the nuances of a medium. Almost every piece is made initially in wood, where Gregory lets its gnarls or grain determine the form. He often starts by cutting with a chainsaw, then uses a chisel or grinder, and refines the wood with sandpaper, which takes the most time. ‘I just finished a hanging sculpture that I’ve been sanding for days,’ he says. ‘I can’t get anyone else to do it because variation of the shape is so subtle.’ Once finished, he might make a mold of the sculpture and cast it in bronze.
Like his father, Gregory plans to continue his day job. ‘Making art and doing fashion is really satisfying,’ he says, noting that he never set out to become a clothing designer. ‘But sculpture is my calling. Being dusty and sanding something for four hours is pure meditation for me.’