Fawn Rogers, the contemporary artist working in Los Angeles, is an interviewer’s delight. As even a set of largely tepid questions, sent via email, become tools enough for Rogers to leap off the page, furious and funny. Focusing her work on ruminations regarding power’s foothold as the dominant obsession within human nature, and thus the unending conflict between humans and the natural world, Rogers asks big questions, pulling in a wide range of mediums to help tickle, and at times maim the viewer. Combining and working across practices in painting, videography, and conceptual installation, Rogers has found recognition as an artist across five continents. Accolades, however, do not appear to be the driving force behind Rogers’ will to create, a focus that seems to be drawn instead from a desire to dialogue as much as provoke.
As her website’s bio notes, “Our current geological era is one giant crime scene and we’re all personally involved.” Rogers’ understanding of culpability and focus on self-implication is evident in her work, especially in her own cameos within her video work, their varied settings and shots operating as a mouthpiece for her dreams, fears, and thoughts. Rogers is a steady excavator of society’s ills, especially the function of patriarchy in its ability to prove devastating to both the natural world and female-identifying and non-binary people.

Her artistic practice, and its engagement with violence and the Western-focused domination of all things wild, presents Rogers a way to escape this dark vision of society. Rogers’ work is instead a liberating process, where she is free to focus on building a world where empathy between humans and nature is paramount. Her most recent works emphasise the erotic and familiar motif of the mother of pearl as a sex organ. Highlighting the issue of human consumption and the unnatural cultivation of nature and violent harvesting of nature’s ornate productions, Rogers’ oysters are nature looking back at us, as our first mirror and biblical foil, to force us to think more deeply about ourselves.
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Much of your work revolves around human interaction with the natural world, honing in on the less-than-innocent. That said, is there a natural space that you return to for guidance and or bliss?
Through the night and blood to light. I can’t help to dismantle intrinsic value in my work. But then I think about harmonious things that are concentrated and sensual. I think of something like the sea, the soil, the grass. I want to be like the grass, caressing the earth. The grass is resilient and both feminine and masculine. Together they make the grass the grass. Maybe that’s the best kind of guidance and bliss.
Your work, which frequently refers back to this motif of the oyster and mother of pearl, has been described as both grotesque and sexy. Do you bridle at this sort of description of this depiction of nature, or does it feel accurate?
I don't see these two descriptors as being antithetical. Living is like that, too. This work is a sort of open dispute with the forces of repression and shame. The oyster paintings are an investigation through forms of sensuality and death associated with human intervention. Maybe they tease out associations with divinity and consumption, or an interplay between nature and industry, beauty, violence, idolatry and invasion. Emblemising the conflicts and collusions between evolution and extinction.
Most pearls are cultivated by us in a process of violence. The fact that we deliberately force plastic beads inside of the oysters to irritate them, forcing them to produce these beautiful gems, after which we discard 85% in order to maintain a market scarcity. As a side note, they’re fun to rub on your teeth.
Your earlier work focused on art collecting as a cult and practice. Can you detail the inspiration behind the card deck work? What is your perception of art collection as a practice today?
When I got invited to do a special project in an art fair in New York in 2015, I thought the only way I could spend three days in an art fair was barefoot in a tent playing poker and drinking bourbon. So I made a deck of cards titled Court featuring 52 collectors from the ARTnews Top 200 list. I stayed on the floor with pillows and decks of these cards, loads of players, lots of fun.
After the barefoot tent foray, MOA museum invited me to do a deck for them, so I turned the focus of this deck back towards my practice. Subject involved drive shafts from produce trucks and lots of dirt installed, and I curated 54 California artists to create the cards inspired by produce farmed in California. The state was in a bad drought but helps provide 90% of the food supply to the rest of the country. Some of the artists in the deck are Henry Taylor, Austyn Weiner, Alex Beccerra, Analia Saban, Patrick Martinez – a big variety.
You’ve forayed into art as games and games as art, what sparked this interest in play?
Well, an oversized chess board titled R.I.P. maybe explains it. Traditional chessmen have been replaced with recently extinct animals. It’s meant to be played. It’s a good mindfuck.
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What do you do to relax and unwind more personally?
Hire erotic dancers to come to my studio while I make art.
In a 2017 interview you recalled falling in love with art when you visited the Pompidou in Paris. What was so transformative about that moment? What did your first forays into art making look like?
I grew up without exposure to much art. I did read about artists, though, and they became my family. Joseph Beuys, Francis Bacon, Mike Kelley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Chris Burden, Robert Motherwell, Louise Bourgeois, Kerry James Marshall, Bruce Nauman—I still love their work. Being self-educated in the ‘80s, most of what I saw was old white guys, but damn, I still love their work.
The Pompidou, though, was my first time in a museum, and to see the work in front of me at that scale, I legitimately fainted. That might have been from heat exhaustion or malnourishment having landed in Europe mid-summer with $200 to my name. Either way, it was a great experience. Nothing like the first time!
Can you speak a bit about the work utilising the phrase ‘I Love you and that makes me god.’ It’s a powerful incantation, where did it come from?
Well, my mother was no holiday. She tried to kill me at 4 years old because she thought I was masturbating. She was screaming about God while beating the daylight out of me and all I could think about was that she was God. She had all the power, and all I wanted was her love.
The expression is not intended to be religious, but is an exploration of various themes, including conviction, power, and intimacy. In a coalescence of private and public dialogue, the project encounters the beliefs we live by, with and without realisation, and the unconscious frequency with which they surface, whether by intention or denial.
The work approaches the dichotomy between interpersonal and impersonal love: its focus is identity, both individual and collective, and the interstice of isolation and connection. The project is not concerned with the categorisation of Love and God but explores the proximity of identity to these themes. Individual works within the project cultivate dialogue on the following concepts: ritual, community, evolution of humanity, cosmology, social constructionism, sacred histories, ethics, vulnerability, and the experience of conviction.
I started this work with public interventions, including pasting and writing the phrase on hijacked billboards and other highly visible locations around Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and London as well as a fifty-story public installation on the American Eagle building in Times Square.
Since 2016, the work has explored spoken declarations of the phrase, using two-channel video where participants engage with it. The project has involved a broad range of participants from throughout the world, including celebrities, homeless individuals, academics, convicted criminals and victims, humanitarians, inventors, architects, service industry professionals, athletes, and a Native American tribal chief, among numerous others. Each of these participants speak the phrase with their own interpretations of and reactions to the meaning of these words.
In 2023, an iteration of the project was shown at M+B Gallery in LA. This iteration of I Love You And That Makes Me God is a two-channel video of another artist speaking the phrase and answering my questions around God and Love. The video monitors are encased in a large-scale sculpture made from plaster, dirt, and red Ferrari car paint.
Your more contemporary work is of the sculpture ilk, featuring bits of colourful metal. What’s going on in Car Meat and Car Steak? How did you make these pieces?
Ellsworth Kelly, Calder, and Chamberlain… move over, boys! There’s a lot going on in Car Meat. On one hand, cars and cattle are two of the largest contributors to the ecological crisis happening at this time. In making Car Meat, I get to do one of my favourite things, which is visiting junkyards. Cars are sort of immortal, and thousands lay in scrap yards. You see their personality while their bodies wait to be stripped of anything of value, much like is done with cattle. The pieces I pick away for Car Meat are the hoods, and only from the ones that have been in a head-on collision. I cut away the fat and am left with a steak-shaped piece of metal I paint to be hung on meat hooks.
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These sculptures are paired with earthen car works. When you visualise a collection or exhibition, do you tie things together almost simultaneously or does one work spark the creation of the others?
Both. For Come Ruin or Rapture at Galerie Marguo in October, a new iteration of Car Meat will be featured alongside paintings and a two-channel video. This exhibition is going to combine different facets of my practice in a way that affords all of these concepts a space to interact. It will also be some of the most personal work I've made.
Who or what inspires you?
It's always evolving, but at the moment I’m interested in car shells, medical corsets from the 1800s, and prosthetic limbs which in a way are akin to shells. There’s something about the pressure in my body, in my own head, that has felt constraining but useful, and the concept of a shell speaks to that quite directly. And I’m also always inspired by construction fasteners (nails).
What can the world expect from Fawn Rogers in 2023?
Chaos, fuckery, and microdosing. And then maybe smoke on the water and fire in the sky. Upcoming solo exhibitions:
GODOG, solo exhibition, curated by Michael Slenske, at Lauren Powell Projects in Los Angeles, CA, September 15 – October 14, 2023.
Come Ruin or Rapture, solo exhibition at Galerie Marguo in Paris, France, opening in October.
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