The exodus of New Yorkers from the Big Apple for admittedly practical reasons, like having more space or striking a better work-life balance, has perennially ebbed and flowed; it seems on the upswing now with large corporate offices closed until 2021 and working from home becoming the norm. For the sculptor and longtime New Yorker Rogan Gregory however, his recent move to Los Angeles and taking up a new studio space in Santa Monica was independent of the pandemic.
‘I do a lot of work out in Los Angeles already, I have my foundries out there,’ shares Gregory, who lived in New York City for over 20 years before moving to Montauk and then to Amagansett in Long Island, where he’s lived full-time for the last five. ‘I’m very sensitive to the natural world and while I find and see inspiration in the change of seasons, I‘m more inspired by life; things growing and life-forms. In LA, anything goes; whatever you want to grow can grow, as long as you’ve got some water. There’s a lot of [other] reasons, like weather, but really in the end, I literally needed a change of scenery.’
In his new studio, which was originally a depot for garbage trucks with a dirt floor that was then later paved over, Gregory is able to fully realise the large-scale sculptures that he has been most recently focusing on. The minimal, warehouse-style space perfectly serves as a blank canvas for Gregory to sketch, mould and build his wide array of works, which range from statuesque, yet amorphous chairs, and sea creature-like pendant lights, to sculptural bronze floor-standing lights that resemble fauna. ‘It’s a very simple white box. I put a skylight in and a roll-down door, and that’s exactly what I need,’ he states.
‘In LA, I have a lot more space, there’s less of a grind, I can think clearer. From an environmental standpoint, everything is more open and bigger in California. In Amagansett, there are a lot of trees, so your point of view is blocked. I love trees, don’t get me wrong, and I will miss them, but generally speaking, when everything is bigger, you tend to go bigger,’ he says, sharing that he’s currently working on a few outdoor commissions. ‘Obviously when you’re outdoors, the sky’s the limit.’
‘Much of Rogan's work is commission-based,’ says Evan Snyderman, principal of R & Company, the gallery that represents Gregory. ‘What is unique about his approach is how much he cares about the way the work connects to the environment it’s created for and how it complements the architecture or the interior it exists within. Every single piece is made in his studio by his own hands, so there is a direct connection to the work, which in turn creates an energy. Clients are drawn to the gesture of a line or a form that alludes to the works’ sensuality.’
Whether it’s the congregation of arching bronze lights that look ‘almost like aliens gathering before they get released’ or a striking black-and-white sculpture that Gregory refers to as ‘the horse’, which you can sit on and will eventually be realised in bronze, all of the work starts off as either a drawing or maquette.
‘I get up in the morning and draw, or I make maquettes. If I do that for two to three hours, I feel fine. It’s almost like therapy. If I don’t do it, then I’m grouchy,’ Gregory says. ‘Anything you can think of, you can realise the general idea of [in a sketch]. Making a maquette is a much more accurate depiction of what the eventual piece will be. It depends on the piece really.’
With much of his inspiration drawn from the natural world, albeit loosely, like ‘thinking about what life could exist on an exoplanet or some liveable planet elsewhere’, or through a lens of weightlessness ‘like you’d find in the ocean’, there is a simultaneously organic and futuristic energy to Gregory’s pieces. The artist, who likes to surf and dive, says, ‘I imagine that a lot of animals that exist in the deep, deep ocean might be similar to what could exist in a place with a different atmosphere, different gravitational pull and the absence of light.’
Despite producing more sculptural pieces of late, Gregory asserts that he does not have a preference for making non-functional over functional pieces. ‘I vacillate between the two. I don’t feel like I want to restrain myself. It wasn’t okay 10 to 15 years ago for people to do both the functional and the fine art, but nowadays [you can],’ he says. ‘I was a clothing designer for a long time, and you had to be functional. So I do come from the belief that things have to be well made. I just like things to be well made.’
Pei-Ru Keh is the US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru has held various titles at Wallpaper* since she joined in 2007. She currently reports on design, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru has taken a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars and actively seeks out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.
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