Bryan Rogers Dreams Up Blissed-Out States of Existence

Loose-limbed men in bemused and beatific moods soak up the reverie in the New Jersey painter's brilliantly blissful canvases.

“Floral Recliner” (2023). Image courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, NY.

In the paintings of Bryan Rogers, men—loose-limbed, fluid of form, hirsute and bemused and even beatific sometimes, contagiously blissed—lose themselves in forests and glens and interiors indistinguishable from those natural worlds. His acrylic-on-panel paintings often appear lit from within, their glow radiating through mazes of botanical detailing and proto-eroticism. A graduate of Pratt’s MFA program and co-founder of the erstwhile Honey Ramka gallery, Rogers now lives in South Orange, New Jersey, where he’s finishing an exhibition of new paintings called “Wallflowers,” opening Jan. 11 at the Monya Rowe gallery in New York.

Rogers took a moment away from his studio to speak with Surface about patterns, productivity, and a “pre-sin state of existence.”

Rogers. Image courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, NY.

When did you begin painting, and what was it about the medium that called to you?

Like many artists, I always painted, even as a kid. I felt it was something I was good at and a productive way to spend my time.

You were a co-director at Honey Ramka. Why did you start your own gallery, and how did becoming familiar with the structure from that side of the desk affect your own work?

Honey Ramka was started with friends. I sort of fell into it because I could use a level. My favorite parts were the moments right after the work was installed. I also worked for other galleries and artists as an art handler. What I’ve learned is how much of this is a collaboration between artists and galleries. I’m more outside my comfort zone on the artist side of things.

Talk about your process as it relates to botanical imagery. Are you making plant and tree studies to incorporate? Are the anatomies of plant life striving for accuracy or surreality?

They’re striving for approximate representation. I have a general knowledge of plants and gardening. Plants often have patterns in their growth structure and I try to simulate some of those patterns in my work.

“Floral Rocker” (2023). Image courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, NY

The scale relationships between the plants and human forms are interesting. Are you thinking about the shifts in their sizes within a single painting as changes in perspectives, in time? Or are they multiple men and multiple varieties united in a world?

I like for them to have that kind of ambiguity. Painting allows for a play with time and scale.

These paintings evoke the long histories of queer naturalist communities, like the Radical Faeries. Are you depicting groups that exist or dreaming them into existence?

Mine are fictional. I draw from my imagination.

“Mirror” (2023–24). Image courtesy of the artist and Monya Rowe Gallery, NY.

Why the title “Wallflowers”?

I like the play on words—how it’s an actual plant but also used to describe a type of person. I’m also making paintings of walls and flowers so there’s something recursive about the title in relationship to the work itself.

In the press release, you say “their nudity returns them to an animalistic state.” What’s important to you about showing queer men safe, in “enclosures,” and as animals?

I think of them as being in a Garden of Eden, pre-sin state of existence.

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