Artist Bryan Rogers Conjures Fantastical Queer Landscapes in His New Jersey Studio

The painter's solo exhibition “Wallflowers" opens at Monya Rowe in New York on Thursday, January 11, 2024.

Courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, New York.

In Bryan Rogers’s painted world, men live among the flowers. The New Jersey-based artist’s stylized landscapes brim with waterfalls and towering trees rendered with decorative, rhythmic qualities that call to mind influences as varied as Ancient Egyptian papyrus and Art Deco motifs. Rogers inserts male figures into these tableaux—these men aren’t imaginary, but variations on his partner and his brother—and they fill the compositions with a physicality that ranges from lumbering to flamboyant.  

Over the past few months, Rogers has been hard at work in his New Jersey studio, a space in the basement of a century-old home, putting the finishing touches on works for his second solo exhibition “Wallflowers” at Monya Rowe Gallery in New York (January 11–February 17, 2024). In these new works, the artist presents a rich world of interiors. In the new work, Floral Recliner (2023), a male nude reclines amid imagined plants and flowers. In other works, men contort in poses that are almost yoga-like in effect. Vibrant colors, often hues of purples, blues, and pinks, imbue the scenes with a hippie, nearly psychedelic ambiance.  

Rogers sees queer identity as intrinsic to understanding his works, and his figures’ relationships to both organic and constructed spaces reflecting the ways people navigate public and private spheres. Recently we caught up with the artist and his studio companion—a cat named Mama—as he put the finishing touches on his show.

Courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, New York.

Courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, New York.

Tell us about your studio. Where is it, how did you find it, what kind of space is it, etc.?     
My primary studio is in the basement of my partner’s family home in New Jersey. It’s a hundred-year-old unfinished basement with concrete floors, cinder block walls, and a ceiling about four inches taller than me. I have a small flip-up window that peeks through the front hedges. I also have space in the garage but it’s less comfortable temperature-wise for spending all my time out there working.   

What made you choose this particular studio over others?
I like a home studio. I’m always thinking about how the space around me is being used or underutilized. The basement has been mainly used for storage, so I took some time cleaning, painting, and reorganizing so I would have a place to work. Plus, this part of the basement is next to the furnace so it’s not terribly cold.  

Do you have studio assistants or other team members working with you? What do they do?    
My practice is a one-man show when it comes to production. I do buy premade panels. My partner is also a big help in many ways, especially with keeping my time freed up.

How many hours do you typically spend in the studio, what time of day do you feel most productive, and what activities fill the majority of that time?      
I spend most of my days in front of my painting working or thinking about working. Much of that time is spent painting small details. I break up the day with walks around town looking at the houses—there are so many beautiful ones around here. I feel most productive later in the evening when I know what I’m doing and I’m usually trying to finish some arbitrary amount of work before bed. The time does fly.   

Bryan Rogers, <i>Floral Rocker</i> (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery.

Bryan Rogers, Floral Rocker (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery.

What is the first thing you do when you walk into your studio (after turning on the lights)?    
I add water to my paints to keep them liquid. I paint with thin transparent washes. I can keep them going for months like this sometimes. When returning to a painting I either know where I left off from the night before, or I sit and drink my coffee and think about where to start. I often sketch some ideas in paint and wipe off those that I don’t like.   

What is a studio task on your agenda this week that you are most looking forward to?      
This week I am starting a new painting. Starting a new painting is my favorite because it is the most immediate part of my process. Most of the work is in the detail.    

What tool or art supply do you enjoy working with the most, and why? Please send us a snap of it.    
 I like my little brushes fresh and new.     

When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get unstuck?    
Feeling stuck happens if I’m not happy with the piece I’m working on. This is a common feeling for me so I’ll move on to a new painting and then return to the others later. Usually after some time I can see a painting more objectively. To unstick my brain in the short term I like working in the garden or doing other outdoor chores.  

Courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, New York.

Courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, New York.

What images or objects do you look at while you work?
I hang printouts of details from past work as inspiration. It helps remind me of successful choices I might have made and to isolate color combinations and representational qualities I like.

Do you have any other artist’s work In your studio?
I  have books and artwork by other artists. I have always been interested in collecting art, usually by trade. When I was a teenager in Virginia I met the artist Carolyn Lloyd Swain. She is a self-taught artist who had local success with her paintings and carvings. She let me hang out in her studio and I would help her and she would let me use her materials and make things. I always have her work in my life.    

What’s the last museum exhibition or gallery show you saw that really affected you and why?     
Lourdes Sanchez at Sears Peyton Gallery. I love her imagery and the freshness of her large-scale watercolors. To me her florals capture an ephemeral and surreal quality that exists in my real-life garden.   

Where do you get your food from, or what do you eat when you get hungry in the studio?     
My partner fixes and brings me most of my meals. I eat mostly the same meals every day. We shop at the Stop & Shop which is a short walk away.   

Courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, New York.

Mama the cat visiting Bryan Rogers’s studio. Courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, New York.

Is there anything in your studio that a visitor might find surprising?    
I have a cat friend who also sits in my chair with me while I work. Her name is Mama. We called her that because she was a stray who had kittens in our backyard when we lived in Bushwick. 

What is the fanciest item in your studio? The most humble?     
I have an electric foot warmer because my feet get really cold in the winter. Most of my light comes from lamps I picked up off the street.  

How does your studio environment influence the way you work?    
I am limited a bit with size and materials because of where my studio is.   

Courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, New York.

Courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, New York.

Describe the space in three adjectives.    
Rustic, subterranean, suburban.   

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