April, 2022: We've enjoyed seeing Angela Rogers' art work at the Outsider Art Fair over the years, and had an opportunity to interview her after the 2022 Outsider Art Fair. Angela is a self-taught artist, singer, poet and performer. She was born in West Virginia, grew up in North Carolina, and eventually moved to New York City, where she has lived for the past 35 years.
Above: Artist Angela Rogers with a piece from her "Poppets" series titled "Tree in a Turban."
Q: I understand that you have made paintings in the past (and continue to do so), but started making the poppets after you had brain surgery in 2012. Do you believe the surgery had any influence on your shift to making the poppets?
A: I began seriously painting about 20 years ago at a studio called HAI (Healing Arts Initiative). I quickly developed my style and immediately painted a series of specific characters that I still paint. When I had the brain injury and surgery, something opened me up to a higher channel.
When I got out of the hospital, I began working on a performance piece called "Tragic Relief" (performance view below left). I performed it at the Hole Gallery on the Bowery. I had a vision, a chorus of women whose songs I composed with a backing track. I developed the choreography and the costumes. During this process, I was also wrapping sticks and shapes just because it felt good to do it. It was like a mediation for me. At the time I thought it was just a compulsive act to get some control and peace. This was the beginning of the poppets. There are a few of those first poppets around, not many though. They were either sold or given away as gifts. I gift people with poppets all the time.
View of the performance piece "Tragic Relief," by Angela Rogers.
Installation view of a series of "Poppets" by Angela Rogers at the 2022 Outsider Art Fair.
Q: When you start work on a new poppet, do you have a vision of what the final piece will look like before you start? Or is it more of a spontaneous process where you improvise as you make it?
A: Yes, I improvise. I listen to them and along the way they tell me who they want to be. Their names are the last thing that they tell me. Sometimes I will get the name wrong and they tell me they want another name. I normally start out with a shape. If they are bodies, the shape stays basically the same. But if I start with a specific idea of what I want to make, I will bend the wire and often it will morph into another being. My end goal is to make something magical, like a totem or talisman of some sort, with the intention that the poppet will invoke good luck, positive fun energy, peace and beauty. Then there are some that the intent is to banish negativity.
Right now, I'm working on a large installation at Fountain House Studio for the annual auction for the gallery. This year it's called "Rise." The prompt was Maya Angelou's poem "Rise." My installation had multiple poppets. The largest poppet is 12 feet tall. Her name is Thelema (see picture at right). It's been a really exciting time for me and my work. I had to do a lot more planning because of their size. I am using new materials like pantyhose, pillows, foam and torn apart, refurbished evening gowns I bought at thrift shops and got at Materials for the Arts. Before this large poppet I had always just used wire, string, yarn, fabric and charms.
Q: I read online that you have been influenced by your "Southern Gothic childhood," can you explain what you mean by that? Was that related more to your time in West Virginia, North Carolina, or both?
A: Both. Our childhood was full of stories of ghosts and paranormal happenings. There are lots of legends in the South that I truly believed in, like money dog road or brown mountain lights or totally believing I could dig for the devil. My parents never brought any sort of religious dogma into the house even though we went to church, which was more of a social thing. But all around me I would hear stories of the Rapture and if you weren't saved before you died you would go to hell. I had the terrifying classic vision of hell. In the seventh grade we had art for half the year and bible the second half. There were also eccentric characters around who influenced us. And the neighborhood was like Lord of the Flies, especially in the summertime.
Q: When did you first start making art? How old were you, and what kind of art did you make?
A: My parents were always supportive of my sister and I following our ambitions in art or whatever path we wanted to follow. My sister Pamela Rogers has been the biggest influence on me as an artist. Her work is amazing. We collaborate on paintings and sing together under the moniker "The Sisters Grim."
Studio view of "Thelema," by Angela Rogers.
Q: As a self-taught artist, was there ever a time when you thought about studying art in school? Or did you just want to pursue art in your own way without any formal instruction?
A: Going to art school never interested me. I did study experimental theatre at NYU in the late 80s, early 90's.
Q: Do you have a “day job” or non-art job, or do you make art full-time?
A: In addition to making my art, I work as a tarot reader. I'm 58 and have been reading since I was 16. I used to read on the street. I had a regular spot on St. Marks Place for years. I would go out at 10 at night and stay until 1 am in the summer. It was right in front on my building which was directly in front of Fun City Tattoo Parlor. Now I just do private readings.
Q: As an artist, do you think much about the idea of being an “outsider artist” vs. just being an “artist?” I’m just wondering if you identify with the idea of being an “outsider” or whether that’s more of a label of sorts used by art dealers?
A: Yes, I am a self-taught, outsider, visionary artist. I'll keep it at that.
Q: How did you get introduced to Fountain House Gallery? How often do you use their studio space vs. working in your own?
A: When HAI closed down it was devastating for all of the artists. We didn't see it coming. Suddenly we got calls saying "We are closing. If you have any work here you need to pick it up tomorrow." A lot of the artists at HAI were going to Fountain House. So I became a member of the clubhouse and joined the gallery. That first year I started, the money for the studio was raised, and I started my residency there.
I work on my own and at the studio. But since I've been working on this large installation, I've only been working at the studio. When I go to the studio, I'll work for 5 to 6 hours straight. There are no distractions. So, I go out there as much as I can. I can't talk about the studio without mentioning Karen Gormandy, the Studio Director. She has helped me rig up this 12-foot poppet. I was getting chicken and wanted to make it a bit smaller, but she was like "It needs to be taller, you can do it."
"Kembra," 2021, 22 x 7 x 2 inch mixed media art by Angela Rogers.
"Angel," 2021, 12 x 7 x 3 inch mixed media art by Angela Rogers.
Q: I understand that you’ve been in a couple of bands ... what instrument or instruments do you play?
A: I've been in bands from 1987 to 2012. I still sing and underscore people's theatre pieces and poetry. I use my voice with a guitar effects processor. I would like to do more music. My songwriting partner and guitarist moved to Florida in 2012 and I've tried working with other guitarists, but it just isn't the same. We worked together for 20 years on various projects. I worked with many modern composers when I was at NYU and it really opened my mind to making music. I composed a chorus for the Greek tragedy Medea. I still have dreams of directing another choral piece with visuals, and I'm always recording ideas on garage band.
Q: What advice would you give to a young artist who wants to pursue a career in the arts?
A: The advice I would give to a young artist is just to keep working. Follow your obsessions and visions. Try to work on something every day.
Artsology: Thank you so much! To see more art by Angela Rogers, check out this web page at Artsy, or read some of our past blog posts. To learn more about Fountain House Gallery and the mission of their organization, please check out their website here.