Julian Rogers at Red Arrow Gallery

This July, NASA released the first pictures from the James Webb Space Telescope, forever altering the precision with which we visualize the cosmos. The images’ aesthetics, however, are unsettlingly familiar, with their twinkling stars and smudge-like spiral galaxies drawing comparisons to bowling-alley carpets and the covers of pulp paperbacks.

With the exhibition “Wave Upon Wave,” Julian Rogers taps into a similar vibe as he turns our gaze skyward through a series of sunsets and cloudscapes rendered with exquisite verisimilitude. Rogers previously worked in the studios of Jeff Koons and Bjarne Melgaard, where he honed his skills as an industry painter. His clouds are impeccably crafted, the brushwork seeping smoothly into the canvas right up to the very edges of each nimbus. Through thinly applied oils, the artist coaxes out an astounding variety of textures, ranging from blindingly lit popcorn fluff to the dingy streaks of stratus clouds, slung low across the sky like the ripped knees of denim jeans. But for all their claims to realism, the paintings are stubbornly fictional, hailing from digital composites cast in impossibly bold palettes. For Ranch Hand, 2021, the overlapping swells come in shades of baby-powder-bottle pinks against an eruption of cobalt and indigo. In Wild Horses on Government Land, 2022, a cadmium-red mushroom cloud wobbles on a cornflower-blue base, just above some melon-hued strands of dusk. The artificial aspects of the compositions are even more pronounced in Rogers’s sunsets. Endless, Nameless, 2021, sandwiches several rogue suns in a layer cake of dark clouds, while My Sunset Underground, 2022, is pierced by a kind of windshield glare. And yet, as with the Webb images, these fantasy frontiers feel strangely familiar, suggesting the domesticated sublime of preloaded screensavers.

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