Updated: Aug 19
JR: Around seven years ago I stumbled across an online community making their own 3D printers and distributing the instructions on how to do it yourself, I was back in Wolverhampton for the summer (working from a large tent in my garden as a makeshift studio) it was here that I built my first printer. This machine was fairly small and went through a few iterations over the years, changing as I upgraded various parts. It was here that I first began my smaller works in bronze and my biro drawings.
For the longest time I was mainly concerned with image, even though they would become these 3D printed sculptures all of their emotional qualities was derived from its image, at this point I was ignorant to what the process had to tell me back. Late in 2019 a particular accident happened on a sculpture that resulted it to completely spiral out of control but somehow continue on and fix itself. It became the strangest mix of these tight mechanical extrusions and eccentric plastic spaghetti.
It was through this accident that I realised the medium specificity of the 3D printed extrusion process, it was able to create these intricate chaotic forms that would be too complicated for any other traditional sculpting process to replicate, almost impossible to carve, cast, or mill with the same complexity. Combining the specificity of the medium, with the technology of a specific era I continued my pursuit in depicting the individual amongst the emerging digital-physical landscape.
Over the years I’ve arrived at a sort of set of processes, that involve taking 3D scanned studies from life (often informed by my drawings) and pushing them through a series of sculpting and drawing processes that blend both mechanical and hand sculpted (or drawn) elements together to find a certain moment of metamorphosis, in which the individual transforms and its new form better reflects how it feels as an individual to exist amongst the emerging world.
JR: I’ve always been interested in relationships between people and their machines, whether it was James Bond and his gadgets, or playing with my Dad's electrical equipment as a child, pretending to create various gadgets myself. Fast forward to my Foundation year back in Wolverhampton when I was nineteen, I always struggled to find an entry point into the arts - other than illustration - as I’d never really been to a gallery. In the library I stumbled across a book on the Hans Prinzhorn collection of Outsider Art, here I became fascinated by the work of Gustav Mesmer. His diagrams of man-powered flying machines, his attempts to build the wings and strap them to his arms as he ran down the hillsides.
I suddenly found my work somewhere between the functionality of gadgets, computers, electricians, but also with the freedom to be theatrical, creating machines that were able to control minds, fly, or turn you invisible.
I became very much interested in James Tilly Matthews’ Air Loom, a sort of influencing machine he drew up, capable of controlling powerful leaders across Europe, whenever somebody tried to explain its workings, he would talk of the latest technology in a way that sort of escaped understanding so that the delusion could never be solved. I loved the way in which the technologies of choice defined an era, so when I came across DIY 3D printers it made sense to experiment with them.
This experimentation continues to underpin my practice, to find out what happens to a man, when he is observed amongst our emerging landscape, then his form is passed through a series of wires and motors, as he turns from life to megabytes and then back again as he's extruded under high pressure into soft porcelain coils, stacking them on top of each other, perhaps his knee collapses, or even worse his back, and he loses that pop-eye posture. Where did he lose his confidence, was it in the wires, or in the porcelain?
JR: My work is very much in the pursuit of working out what happens as we pass ourselves, our relationships, and our ideas between these physical and digital landscapes. There’s a certain kind of change that happens as we send information digitally, and then respond to it at the other end both physically and biologically. Perhaps a disruption interrupts your communication, or a message left unread causes a mistaken emotional response. In my pursuit of trying to investigate what happens here I push my ideas and forms along the same pathways; I’ll push the digital instructions into my machines to begin drawing out a man at work, for example, operating a fax machine. However, a motor may slip out, or I may begin drawing alongside the machine, sometimes new forms begin to appear, his hips break down into a dress, his thigh begins to sprout a cock poking out from under his dress, and his arm which was once loading paper into the machine, begins to rise towards his head as though he is tired and wiping the sweat from his forehead.
These changes need to come about through an interaction between both a digital space and a physical space. In the same way that Jacob Epstein’s Rock Drill (1913-18) was able to define a moment with almost sniper-precision, I find it critical that I push my ideas and forms along the same networks that we push ourselves along, bouncing between touches and touchscreens, or in this case mechanically sculpted and hand drawn in order for me to arrive at a figure that is able, through its sculptural and emotional qualities, to communicate what it feels like as an individual to navigate the emerging landscape.
JR: The positive works result from being directly extruded from the machine, porcelain is extruded into a long coil and then assembled layer by layer into say a man on a fax machine, it is here that I’ll be working with these coils, building supports as say a neck begins to stick out from a chest sagging under it’s own weight. When I was initially working on these I was reading Anne Helen Petersen’s ‘Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation’ and I was finding huge overlaps between the emotional state of a generation and thee emotional qualities of the forms as they extrude themselves upwards, working against environmental limitations and becoming tangled up in themselves as they struggle to maintain form, a sort of noodling of the porcelain, as his brain becomes tied up, analysis paralysis, spaghetti brain, whatever you wish to call it - either way it’s a cuter way of saying burnt out.
In the same way I choose to work investigate emerging technologies as a way of capturing a moment in time, I’m drawn to the way that Paolozzi would work with industrial detritus such as cogs, and gears from machines, he would push these into clay moulds, and then take their impression using wax and plaster. In a similar vein I began developing my own 3D printed moulds, finding an entirely different language inside the sort of coral-like ghostly forms that appear as you cast from them, and rather than the sort of surface layer of the specifics of the extrusion process, I feel I have penetrated the process a layer deeper, exploring the inner landscapes of both extruded moulds and the 21st century individual.
JR: This originally began with me revisiting Ingres’ Roger Freeing Angelica, (1819). I find certain artists have a certain way of portraying the man and woman; Chadwick would show them as a couple, Moore would show them as mother and child, and I find myself particularly drawn to the depiction of man and woman as the fairytale sounding ‘damsel in distress and the man coming to save her’. I’m so fascinated by both of their performed identities in this situation, as well as how riddled with narrative it is.
I originally began sketching from an advertisement online for the man wearing the inflatable dinosaur suit, he looked absolutely ridiculous, as I began drawing in Angelica from Ingres’ study, the classical qualities of Angelica combined with the mythological dinosaur creature began to chime together so nicely, at this point I kind of concluded that he’d stumbled into a party that Angelica was at, she was hoping he was coming just for her - but he showed up drunk, and in that silly costume. (Drawing for me acts as this sort of free space where these ridiculous scenarios can come about so quickly).
As I came back to revisit the dinosaur costume study, and I was seeing conversations open up more around public sculpture, I began to think of MOTH in Wolverhampton (a sculpture of a Man On The Horse in the middle of the city we would meet at) and I began to question this portrayal of masculinity, a figure so strong and sure, it really didn’t allow space for all of the other fragilities and complexities of this projected notion of bravery or masculinity.
In this space around the strong man on horseback, I began to feel that the inflatable dinosaur study began to represent a far richer spectrum, it's able to reach out towards humour as you’ve mentioned, but also a sort of fragility that exists amongst it, whilst also making a nod back towards the classical notions of masculinity atop a valiant steed.
Thank you to James Rogers for participating in The Art Five, Issue 18.
Forthcoming exhibition: James Rogers work will be included in a selection of works in print presented by Julian Page at Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair 11-14 November 2021.
London-based contemporary artist James Rogers (b.1993, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, UK) studied BA Hons Fine Art at Camberwell College of Arts (2016-19). In 2020 Rogers' was awarded Fenton Arts Trust Development Grant Awarded by the Fenton Arts Trust. He has previously been awarded the prestigious Mead Scholarship supported by the philanthropist Scott Mead. The Federation of British Artists has selected him for the FBA Futures show held at the Mall Galleries, and he has represented Puma in their recent collections focusing around reinvention and innovation. Alongside this he has recently shown at Oliver Beer’s studio, independently organised charitable auctions of his work, and had his work selected by former Christie’s auctioneer Tom Best for his ‘To my Twenties’ exhibition, Auction Collective (October 2020).
All images and video courtesy of The Artist.