Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: Painter Wows Speyer, Elton, Horts

transomelton john getty Mr. Rogers Neighborhood: Painter Wows Speyer, Elton, HortsAbout five years ago, the real estate mogul Jerry Speyer, whose favorite artists include Jeff Koons and Frank Stella, approached the London gallerist Victoria Miro at the annual Armory show and asked, “What’s good?”  Ms. Miro, pointing to a booth nearby, replied, “If I were you, I’d go over there and buy that Les Rogers.” Or at least that’s how Mr. Rogers tells the story, relayed to him by Ms. Miro that night, about how Mr. Speyer came to buy one of his works.  >

Back then, a medium-size Rogers canvas such as the one purchased by Mr. Speyer sold for about $12,000. On Jan. 8, Mr. Rogers will have his fourth solo show at the Leo Koenig gallery, titled “Last House,” of large, mostly gestural abstract paintings with interwoven bits of realism, priced between $20,000 and $30,000.

In addition to Mr. Speyer, prominent New York art collectors Susan and Michael Hort (they’ve amassed more than 2,000 works in their downtown triplex) and Elton John have also bought work by Mr. Rogers. Mr. John bought a large vertical painting called Striking at Mr. Rogers’ 2002 show at the Koenig gallery after former Interview editor Ingrid Sischy suggested he check out the artist’s work. A year later, he returned and asked to meet with Mr. Rogers in person to purchase another work; he bought a face portrait of Mr. Rogers’ then-girlfriend, Melissa. (His current girlfriend is the former Page Six gossip reporter Paula Froelich.)

Just recently, Adam Moss, the editor of New York magazine, also came in possession of one of Mr. Rogers’ work. At least temporarily.

During the March Armory show, Jody Quon, the photo director at New York, ran into Mr. Rogers, an old friend, and asked whether he might like to create a portrait of Michelle Obama—other artists such as Hank Willis Thomas and Billi Kid were also contributing works—for the magazine’s March 23rd cover (“The Power of Michelle Obama”). And though he doesn’t usually do portrait work, Mr. Rogers agreed.

“I only had two days to do it, so I really just kind of whipped it together,” Mr. Rogers told the Transom. “For a while I thought it might be of the cover, too, but I think I made her look a little too … Well, I think they wanted something more upbeat for the cover.” In Mr. Rogers’ work, Ms. Obama has a stern expression; a cheery Gluekit illustration was featured on the cover instead.

But Mr. Moss liked the painting enough to ask to borrow it for a wall of his Tribeca office, where it is still on loan. “I may try to get it back in a few weeks to have it around my studio when the show is up,” said Mr. Rogers. “I was actually thinking of donating it to the White House or I’ll just keep it, but I don’t plan on selling it.”