artist ROGAN BROWN’s monochrome, hand-cut paper sculptures reveal the
interconnectedness of human beings and nature by conflating the
microscopic, the cosmic and everything in between. His labor-intensive
process and choice of paper as a material emphasizes “the delicacy and
durability of the natural world.” In 2013, Rogan won Best Installation
in the UK National Open Art Competition. In 2014, he was awarded first place in the Sculpture/Installation category of the Florence-Shanghai Prize, allowing him to exhibit his work at the Present Art Festival in Shanghai (July 2014). He was recently appointed to be an artistic adviser to the Eden Project,
a well-known ecological education center in the United Kingdom. He will
collaborate with both scientists and artists to create exhibitions and
programs exploring the theme of the human body and its hidden
microbiological wonders. Rogan lives in Les Cevennes National Park in the Languedoc Rousillon region of France.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your history as an artist. Have you always worked in cut paper?
My history as an artist is a little unconventional in that I did not go
to art school but studied literature and cultural theory at university.
Although I wouldn’t call myself an “outsider artist,” I do see myself
and my work as coming from outside the establishment and this perhaps
accounts for its hybrid quality: part craft, part design and part
sculpture. I started working on the paper sculptures about four years
ago after a period of experimenting in the studio. The work is a direct
response to the move that I made from London to a remote, rural area in
southern France. I was looking for a way to engage with the subject of
nature that avoided both painting and photography because I felt that
the weight of history and tradition in these media was simply too great.
I began drawing detailed fragments of leaf, tree moss and rock textures
that I discovered on my walks in the forest. I realized that my
approach was more in the tradition of scientific observation and
illustration. I developed this further by buying a microscope and
delving deeper still into detail.
The monochrome paper cuts emerged because I was looking for a technique that focused purely on process and form. Time is a key element in the work. The process had to be slow, progressive and meditative in order to reflect the natural processes that I observed around me: seasonal change, growth and decay. Few other art forms foreground the time that went into their construction as well as paper cutting does: every cut is a moment, every sheet a month, every sculpture a season.
You mentioned the fact that the pieces are monochrome. I agree that
having the work be one color highlights the process and form, but why do
you choose the color white? Have you ever considered other colors?
RB: White maximizes light and shadow and evokes marble, dead coral and fossils. I think of my work as creating fossils, time fossils, imaginary fossils. I see myself as an archaeologist of the interface between nature and the imagination—nature IS imagination, according to William Blake. The fossil allusion also contains a warning about what we are in the process of doing to nature. In addition, white carries associations of purity and innocence, which is a counterpoint to the explicit sexuality. But above all, the calming effect of white allows me to be as frenetic and excessive as I like in terms of form without overwhelming the viewer. I have tried using color (or rather tonalities of the same color). It works very well but carries different associations. It is certainly something I will be developing in the future.
OPP: What is the difference between the hand-cut and laser-cut works? What makes you choose the automated process for certain pieces?
RB: There are technical, conceptual and economic differences. It is possible to do things with a laser cutter that are impossible by hand. There are certain shapes that are very difficult to cut at a small scale by hand. Clone exemplifies this. Conceptually, the hand and laser cuts are completely at odds with one another. One could argue that the laser cuts destabilize and question the value of the hand cuts, that they undercut—pun intended—the aura of authenticity in the hand cuts. However, there are also simple, real world economic imperatives at play. The hand-cut work is so labor-intensive and time-consuming that it makes no commercial sense at all. It doesn’t merely subvert the time-money nexus; it completely torpedoes it. In short, the limited edition laser cuts allow me to sell work at an accessible price. Since I wish to make my living from my work, this is very important.
OPP: The beauty of the work is in their delicacy and
precision. Do you experience any anxiety about ruining a piece with one
RB: The cutting itself is very precise
and controlled. Everything is minutely hand drawn in advance, each layer
giving birth to the next one. There is no real anxiety during this
phase. It is in the final gluing process that problems emerge: each
layer has to be placed with perfect precision on top of the preceding
one. There are usually about eight layers of paper separated by a hidden
spacer to create the illusion of floating. The glue does not allow
repositioning. I have only one shot, and mistakes are sometimes made.
OPP: What do you like about the process?
RB: The process can be frustrating, but it’s also exciting. I only see the work properly for the first time once all the gluing has been completed. Each piece suddenly comes alive when it is placed vertically in the light. Photos only catch them at a certain moment. In reality, the pieces move with the changes in the ambient lighting, so they are always slightly different. There is a transient play of light and shadow that creates a feeling of incredible delicacy and fragility.
What strikes me most about your imagery is the connection between the
very small and the very large. Some pieces are identified by title as
being based on spores and kernels, but these pieces make me think of
weather systems and the cosmos, as well as cell structures. Obviously,
the vagina is clearly present, but so is the more metaphoric spiritual
void at the center at many of the pieces. What inspires you most about
the imagery you create?
RB: I dislike giving titles to my work because it limits the free play of interpretation, but it is a practical necessity for identification. It’s marginally better than a numbering system which would carry its own freight of meaning and association. I create pieces that encourage multiple readings because I’m interested in representing interconnectedness. The vagina or yonic element is, of course, present (a nod towards Georgia O’Keeffe), but there are multiple references to the human body including organs such as the heart and lung, intestines, arterial systems, neurons, tissue membranes and cell structures. The point here is that we are not physically separate from nature but contiguous with it: it is us and we are it. Consciousness imposes a completely fictitious division. What fascinates me in nature is the beauty and barbarity, the barbed beauty, the deadly voluptuousness. When you observe nature closely, you come to realize that it’s a vast process of feeding and breeding. Everything is devoted to this end. . . this primal Darwinian purpose. Beauty is there. It exists. It is not merely a cultural construct but a key element and strategy in this process. Perhaps it is there you can find your spiritual void. . . in this sheer godless logic.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis.
When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her
cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is
an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The
School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006,
and was a 2012-2013
Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian,
Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.