Los Angeles

Steve Rogers

Rosamund Felsen Gallery

The around-the-house-and-neighborhood narratives Steve Rogers draws into and sculpts out of clay in his shallow wall-hung bas-reliefs are modest, masculine affairs. In three of the best of the 13 pieces that made up this show, mostly from 1983, he portrays himself, alone, working; in another he shows himself partying in the studio. The majority of the remaining, more crowded and complex situations—on the boardwalk in Venice, or at the boxing ring in downtown Los Angeles—are depicted through Rogers’ spectatorial eyes. His is something of a solitary world, and nice and old-fashioned in its limited circumscription. Rogers seems to like his work, cigars, a drink or two with friends, the fights. His palette of black and white glazes and the natural color of the clay puts an appropriate patina of commonsense values on these real-life scenes. They appeal to me for their gruff tenderness rather than for any nostalgia. They seem to be about a regular guy’s life and its attendant emotions, told candidly and without pretense.

The boxing scenes were the most familiar of the views here, others like them having been featured in Rogers’ only other one-artist exhibition a year and a half ago. Of this genre, Twelfth and Final Round was the most panoramic to date. A standing-room-only crowd reacts with credible gusto to the conclusion of a fight. Rogers’ reliance on a long, curved balcony of spectators and an orthogonally centralized ring reinforces his apparent attraction to Italian Renaissance bas-relief—Donatello at the Olympic Auditorium. Similar outdoor panoramas are employed in Venice #1 and Venice #2, in which Rogers portrays a slice of the frenetic corpuscularity, all red meat and briefs, that gives the boardwalk its air of a conveyor belt of youthful sublimation. In an approximation of the relentless glare of the seaside sun, he washes the whole population with a white glaze. This overexposed outside world is not as interesting as the smoky interior one Rogers inhabits. His wooden-trussed and skylighted studio is the site for Day Work, with the artist drawing on a big square of clay with his right hand, a smoking stogie in his left. The same locale by night, filled with socializing friends, makes up Gathering on 18th Street; the artist is the one with the cigar.

Rogers’ forays into more overtly loaded scenarios gave the show its punch. Shattered in the Church floats a screaming head amidst wrecking apparatus in an about-to-be-demolished-church, but really isn’t decipherable until it is explained that Rogers worked on a crew razing such a building in downtown Los Angeles. His willingness to embody a tragedy no doubt fed the autobiographical emotionalism of the other two pieces, Boxing’s Bare Essentials and Working Late. A still life, the former brings together one of the small anatomical figures used by art students, a single boxing glove, and a drawn picture of two men fighting. Situated on various tabletops or wall, the three objects are otherwise surrounded by agitated dabs of clay that make up a charged, indeterminate field. Working Late goes back to the studio; Rogers’ back is to us and he is at work on one of the smaller bas-reliefs. A foreshortened tabletop at the left holds a cup of steaming coffee, one at the right an ashtray cradling a smoking pipe.

Richard Armstrong