Rogan Gregory returned back to his Santa Monica studio Saturday, but the lessons and experience of his 10-day artist residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center will likely percolate with him for some time to come.

Even more than the pandemic, the sculptor’s two or so years in California have been instrumental influences on his work — but so has his brief stint in Snowmass Village.

“I feel like I’m much more a West Coast person, always have been — I just haven’t been here,” he chuckled. “I love New York, but I think atmospherically and the landscape and the general vibe, it’s better suited for me. Even coming here, everything influences what you do as a creative person. You wake up in the morning and it’s cold, you’re going to start thinking differently. Being here in Aspen — with even the seasons — you’re constantly taking cues.”

The Boulder-born, former New York fashion designer turned full-time artist made the pivot in his late 30s, and while he’s “blessed, so lucky” to have “an awesome suite of patrons” that has enabled robust creative pursuits in his art, Gregory is constantly learning even while having a well established “comfort zone.”

That’s exactly what his residency at Anderson Ranch was: another deep-dive learning opportunity. Well versed working with wood, bronze and stone, among mediums, it wasn’t until arriving in the Aspen area that Gregory really discovered clay.

“It is a very intriguing material. It’s so complicated — millions of different options and type of clay, type of firing, type of glazes. It’s endless,” he said, lighting up at discussing the possibilities.

He then gestured from his wooden-walled, log-cabin style resident studio to a table filled with what were obviously experiments sitting on individual slabs, sometimes partially piled on one another to allow room for the sheer volume of them. Each one boasted a different color and texture.

“These are just tests I’ve been doing, playing with different chemicals to see what happens,” Gregory said. “People go to school for a long time to work in ceramics, and it’s just so vast. It was totally overwhelming. There are so many options. If you make a chainsaw sculpture, you use the wood and chainsaw, and you can focus a lot more on the form. Here, there’s form and texture and drying times and chemistry and physics and — it’s endless. Really, coming here has just been an education more than anything else. I’ve just been learning.”

On Friday, the day before his flight back to Los Angeles, Gregory said he wasn’t even sure if he’d be keeping many of his Snowmass creations, as none of them were yet finished and he didn’t know what they would ultimately look like.

Sculptor Rogan Gregory was an artist-in-residence at the Anderson Ranch and we spoke with him while he was in the midst of his work on the campus in Snowmass. 

“With a lot of the work I make now, when I let it go, I feel good about it. I haven’t really made any ceramics that I can let go of yet. That’s the difference. I’m not sure — yet. That’s the point of a residency too: it’s an opportunity to kind of experiment and get out of your comfort zone,” he said.

But should Gregory determine that he indeed would like to continue his newly kindled relationship with clay, he’s prepared to do so at his home studio.

“I have a couple of kilns. I have everything necessary to do it, just the question is am I really going to go for it, or am I going to retreat back to what I’m comfortable and familiar with? I’m not sure,” Gregory said.

That’s perfectly fine with him. He described working with just about any material as an intimate experience, and getting to know clay has informed his perspective with all of the others even more, too.

“I think everything I do, I’m touching a lot. Every piece, between me and my assistants, it’d be interesting to mark off a square inch of a sculpture and find out how many times a hand has gone over it, it’s got to be like 10,000 times.”

“I’m a faithful believer in letting materials kind of dictate what they become, as opposed to imposing my view or my perspective or aesthetic on them,” he continued. “With clay, I let things happen; I don’t try to push it to do something it doesn’t want to do. I like all the natural characteristics of materials. I don’t want to fight with them; I want to jive with them.”

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.