New York

Les Rogers

Leo Koenig Inc. | 541 West 23rd

What happens to the artist-model relationship when the model isn’t there? The subject of seven new works by Les Rogers is a photogenic eighteen-year-old girl from Austin, Texas, named Lindsey, who Rogers did not meet until after the portraits were complete. He made her acquaintance through the networking website MySpace and painted from the photographs she posted there. One does wonder what a man pushing forty was doing on a website whose average user is two decades younger, but this electronic connection yielded no Law and Order fodder—just a suite of large, whimsically decent paintings.

The stylistic divagation that has marked Rogers’s previous work persisted at Leo Koenig, Inc., with Lindsey pictured in various grades of Photorealist coherence and neo-expressionist abstraction. In some works her digital self-portraits seem to have been transposed more or less directly, while in others the art- ist departs from his model in delirious flights of nonrepresentational fancy. Picasso is the not-so-hidden influence here—he’s mentioned in the first sentence of the press release, and the violin neck and cleaved head in The Secret Goldfish, 2006, are too imitative to be construed as anything other than flattery—but Rogers has also cribbed liberally from Willem de Kooning, both early (disembodied facial features) and late (lithe painterly swoops), as well as Sigmar Polke (patterned overlays) and Alex Katz (broad planes of flesh). This formal mishmash nicely suits the upheavals of adolescent subjectivity, and Rogers’s shifts keep pace with Lindsey’s self-conscious self-fashioning. Her doe-eyed vacancy is the only constant here, as she dons a succession of track jackets and ironic T-shirts and experiments with different looks for her calculatedly messy hair.

The series is punctuated by some winsome pictorial flourishes, particularly the biomorphic colored blooms erupting on Lindsey’s cheek in Jungleland, 2006, and the slow congealing of her face, in slender chalklike lines, from the choked abstraction of Faint, 2006. Predictably, however, Rogers lacks the technical facility of the artists to whom he alludes, and some of his effects—the overwrought drippy runoff in Letter to, 2006, the academic modeling in Bang Bang, 2006—feel labored. Yet it’s also possible to read this stilted quality as the artist’s meditation on the incursions of the digital on the practice of painting, and as such the show made its own small contribution to the discourse around medium in contemporary practice; something is definitively lost, Rogers seems to say, in cross-pollinations between painting, photography, and the Web.

This comment on the current state of painting is matched in interest by Rogers’s take on the current state of American adolescence. Despite the works’ range and size, we come away knowing little about Lindsey; in one of the most effective pictures here, Gah . . . , 2006, her face is half covered by choppy bangs and oversized sunglasses, and her mouth is stretched in an impenetrable expression that could be a bored yawn or a chipper bursting-into-song. For all of the emotional openness that personal Web pages and blogging seem to have sponsored, teenagers remain as elusive as ever, their performative poses attesting more to obfuscation than transparency. One thing was revealed at Rogers’s opening, however: His virtual muse showed up from Texas. With her parents.

Lisa Pasquariello