Los Angeles

Peter Rogiers

Belgian artist Peter Rogiers titled his first US solo exhibition “Slagroom,” using a word that, besides referring to the solidified impurities skimmed off molten metal during smelting, is also Dutch for “whipped cream.” Indeed, Rogiers’s recent sculpted figures are clotted-looking masses that seem barely to hold their shapes against the forces of gravity and motion, and while plastic was more prevalent than metal in this show, these curious forms suggest creatures that might have crawled from one of Vulcan’s crucibles.

Modeled in buttery clay, Rogiers’s figures take the rawness of Rodin to an extreme—everywhere we see the dragging of the artist’s hand through the material. Cast in fiberglass, the sculptures are mounted on and in steel stands that double as supports and framing devices, making the works seem acrobatic and claustrophobic at once (and thus bringing to mind Francis Bacon’s trapping of bodies in semipermeable, quasi-geometric cells). Add Hans Bellmer’s penchant for dismemberment and other bodily distortions, Bernini’s theatrical dynamism, and the gravitationally challenged anatomy of late Michelangelo, and you begin to get an idea of the ingredients that lie beneath the works’ slick outer layer of uniformly colored epoxy and polyurethane.

Rogiers’s talent lies here, in his ability to cull lessons in the handling of the figure in space from a broad-based history of painting and sculpture, and employ what he has learned in a practice both rich in tradition and refreshingly experimental. Consider, for example, a small study of a head inspired by Wes Craven’s B-movie Swamp Thing, constructed by draping cotton fabric over an elaborate skeleton of steel rods and then saturating it with polyester resin, which signals a new direction in Rogiers’s methodology.

In this and other works, Rogiers powerfully intertwines three different narratives: the implied circumstances and activities of his subjects, his influences, and the forensic trail of his methodology. It’s the last of these that gives the
works their charge. In the way he manipulates his materials—the way a sweep of his hands across the clay results in the tense hump of a back, or the way he hollows out what should be a fleshy arm to little more than an empty contour—he tells us about his characters’ as well as his own cultural and artistic roots.

Dominating the exhibition was a trio of similar figures that managed to be at once playful and tortured, nimble and torqued. Imagine the “three shades” that top off Rodin’s Gates of Hell freed from their identicality, bulked up on Mannerist steroids, and aged into decrepit versions of Michelangelo’s Moses. These three, Smith, 2007, Sandman, 2006–2007, and Europe’s Tuna, 2006–2007, sport hooked shafts suggestive of a prophet’s staff, a shepherd’s crook, or a song-and-dance man’s trusty cane, and as their beards fly out in front of their furrowed faces, they hold poses suggestive of Fred Astaire, a kung-fu master, or an airborne witch coming in for a rough landing. Rogiers may know how to tap into the history of his craft, but he also knows how to key into the anxiety of the moment.

Christopher Miles