Designer Rogan Gregory Gets His Ideas While You Are Sleeping
This article is part of our Design special section on how looks, materials and even creators evolve.
The artist and designer Rogan Gregory often has a spasm of creativity after midnight, shaking off slumber at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. to take notes or sketch ideas for his furniture and objects. The habit is his version of the “dorveille,” a period of creative wakefulness.
“It doesn’t always make sense,” the Los Angeles–based Mr. Gregory said of the results of these sessions. “Sometimes it’s completely irrational. It’s almost like I was dreaming.”
He added, “Weird things happen in the middle of the night.”
Traces of those woozy hours — balanced with a flair for immaculate finishing that he demonstrated in his former career as a fashion designer — can be seen in his show that will take over the ground floor of R & Company’s White Street space in TriBeCa, from Sept. 9 through Oct. 28. With about 25 works, ”Rogan Gregory: Imperfect Truth” is his third exhibition at the gallery.
Sensual curves run through Mr. Gregory’s pieces, which are all new. You might guess (correctly) that Isamu Noguchi and Wendell Castle are among his influences.
For the exhibition, the gallery has been imagined as a residence, where the front area is a living room that will hold pieces in light, neutral tones. They will include plush, rounded sofas and chairs that recall Jean Royère’s Polar Bear series as well as organically shaped gypsum and marble tables. The back space will take the form of a dining room with drapes, a large chandelier, a wood-and-bronze dining table and several bronze sculptures.
Some of the chairs and lighting to be featured in the show have a slightly Surreal edge — limbed lamps look as if they might walk away at any moment. Mr. Gregory’s Le Roi Soleil chair in bronze and shearling variously summons images of a mouth and an eyeball.
The designer has been a full-time maker in this vein only for a few years, and it seems his creativity has been unleashed by a move westward, three years ago, from his former home in Amagansett, N.Y. He now lives in Malibu and keeps a studio in Santa Monica.
“His work has only gotten better,” said his friend Kulapat Yantrasast.
Mr. Yantrasast, the founder of the architectural firm Why and an omnipresent designer of high-end museums and galleries, including R & Company, lives near Mr. Gregory’s studio. He tries to check in monthly.
“He has expanded his materials — bronze, plaster, stone — and the weather has helped him,” Mr. Yantrasast said of the ease of moving some of the production outside.
The atmosphere is also more relaxed. “L.A. is more forgiving,” Mr. Yantrasast said. “There’s less pressure from the market and competitors.”
Mr. Gregory, who turns 50 this month, does not seem like someone who is susceptible to outside demands; he often surfs four times a week and talks about his creativity in terms of wildness.
“I see the way my 8-year-old son behaves, and I want to be him,” he said. “When I come into the studio, I want to be an animal. I don’t want to be a conscious human.” Mr. Gregory and his wife, Bethany Mayer, who helps manage his studio and career, also have a 12-year-old daughter.
He added, “I like to surf in big waves because it makes me feel like I’m re-engaging with my primitive self.”
Mr. Gregory’s need to do his own thing is one reason his fashion career was only an opening creative chapter, though it reached significant heights, winning him a Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2007.
He started in that business as a creative consultant to brands like Calvin Klein and ended up with his own denim-focused line, Rogan, and then founded Loomstate, an urban line made from organic cotton.
“Then I did my brand Edun with Bono and Ali, which was cool,” Mr. Gregory said, referring to the lead singer of U2 and his wife, Ali Hewson.
In his two-year stint as creative director of Edun, he made a priority out of sustainability and sourcing production in Africa; (the company was later bought by LVMH but folded in 2018). “But it was a distraction from my own thing, honestly.”
His own thing, according to Kory Rogers, the Francie and John Downing Senior Curator of American Art at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, has a wide appeal.
“Everyone can look at his pieces and see something in them,” said Mr. Rogers, who included a coffee table by Mr. Gregory in the 2020 show “Creature Comfort.”
The rounded table was made of gypsum, honed until it resembled marble. “With his hand, he achieves what it would take nature eons to do through erosion,” Mr. Rogers said.
He added that Mr. Gregory has gotten “more confident in the aesthetic he’s pioneering — Neolithic, natural, biomorphic.”
Born in Colorado, Mr. Gregory was raised in Ohio. But it was a long trip to Egypt as a 10-year-old, during which his sociologist father was doing a Fulbright fellowship, that imprinted itself on him.
“It was absolutely the formative experience of my life,” he said. “I realized I had an awareness of my place as an American and as a human being in the world.”
Aesthetically, Mr. Gregory said the sculptural quality of the desert landscape and its “vast nothingness” stayed with him.
“I think landscapes have always influenced the way I roll,” he said.
Mr. Gregory seemed proud of not having had a specialized education. “I didn’t go to fashion school or art school,” he said. “A lot of the way I learn is through trial and error.”
After getting a bachelor’s degree from Miami University in Ohio, he moved to New York. “My parents both told me that you cannot make a living as an artist,” he said. “That wasn’t an option. I had that beaten into me.” Fashion consulting seemed like a practical way to be creative.
Michael Diamond — better known as Mike D, the musician and a co-founder of the Beastie Boys — got to know Mr. Gregory when he was still in fashion, and has become a friend and collector. They met in the water, surfing off Montauk.
“So much of his work, and why I relate to it, is that we have shared love for the ocean and nature, and the life that exists in and around it,” said Mr. Diamond, who installed two fireplaces by Mr. Gregory in his home in Venice, Calif.
He views Mr. Gregory’s post-fashion life as liberating.
“His creativity exploded,” Mr. Diamond said, adding that he saw yet another potential phase for his friend.
“Chapter 3 will come sooner than we think,” he said. “I can see him making purely free visual art.”
Mr. Gregory will get to his next act — whatever that may be — in a relentless if undirected process. Not a day goes by when he is not creating, he said. “I’m always making something; it’s almost like I don’t have a choice,” he said. “I have to really engage otherwise I can’t think straight.” He is also working on a book about his artistic practice.
The only thing he seemed to miss about fashion was sharing his vision with more people, though gone are the days of trying to make a garment in the hopes of getting a million people to buy it. His bespoke objects are not widely circulated, for obvious reasons; the prices in the R & Company show range from $15,000 to $150,000.
“Now I do stuff that will be seen by 20 people a year,” he said. “I really would like to do more large-scale public pieces that people could engage with.”