AN ARTIST REGARDS HER MAKING OF SYMBOLIC FIGURINES AS AL ALCHEMICAL PROCESS

 

by Edward M. Gómez

 

At the 2022 Outsider Art Fair, which took place in New York earlier this year, at the beginning of March, the artist Angela Rogers showed a large group of three-dimensional, mixed-media figurines that were mounted on a wall in the booth of Fountain House Gallery.

The artist Angela Rogers with “Baby Ash,” one of her larger, mixed-media “poppets.” Photo by Pamala Rogers, courtesy of Angela Rogers

With their spindly, outstretched arms; mermaid-like tails; heads sometimes bound up like stuffed sausages with colored thread; and painted-on, probing eyes or big peepers made of cowrie shells or other materials, Rogers’ strange little creatures appeared to be full of energy — and more than ready to jump off the wall, hightail it out of the art-fair site, and blend into the everyday bedlam of the city, with all sorts of potential mischief and magic in mind.

 

Rogers’ sculptural creations, whose main components are fabric and thread, and are made using needlework and assemblage-art construction techniques, are artworks with a backstory. Each one of the artist’s figurines may be seen as both a kind of portrait and as the elaboration of an idea about a kind of magical-spiritual energy. That’s because they are derived from the well-known principal characters of the tarot, the centuries-old card set that has long been used in Europe and elsewhere both for playing games and as tools for fortune-telling.

Many of the artist Angela Rogers’ smaller “poppets,” which are inspired by iconic characters from the traditional tarot-card deck, were on display in the booth of Fountain House Gallery at the 2022 Outsider Art Fair in New York earlier this year. Photo by brutjournal

In fact, to date, Rogers, a self-taught artist who, several years ago, following brain surgery, developed a seizure disorder, has created at least four original tarot-card decks, in each of which she has interpreted such familiar characters as the Magician, the Fool, the High Priestess, and the Sun. Having practiced as a tarot-card reader for many years, she knows her way around the symbolism-laden deck; similarly, she has long been interested in the occult and esoteric worldviews and lore.

 

It was some time after her surgery that Rogers, who was born in West Virginia, grew up in North Carolina, and today lives in New York, started producing her mixed-media figures. She told brutjournal, “I didn’t go to art school but in the late 1980s, I studied experimental theater at New York University in Manhattan.”

Close-up of one of the artist Angela Rogers’ smaller “poppets,” which was on display in the booth of Fountain House Gallery at the 2022 Outsider Art Fair in New York earlier this year. Photo by brutjournal

Normally, Rogers begins working on new pieces by selecting sticks, around which she wraps layer after layer of colored yarn and string to build up three-dimensional volumes and give her little sculptures body and form. Using such found or ordinary materials as wire, string, beads, old jewelry, bits of metal, and such odds and ends as a corncob pipe or real teeth, she further develops them, imbuing each one with an individual personality or aura.

 

Rogers said, “My creations speak to me. They tell me who they are going to be, what they want to wear, and what their names are.” The artist refers to her figures as “poppets,” using a word from an earlier period of written English’s evolution that refers to small children or a dolls.

The artist Angela Rogers with “Thelema,” her newest, large-scale “poppet,” and the piece on display, draped in red fabric. Photo, left, by Pamala Rogers; photo, right, by Angela Rogers; both photos courtesy of the artist

Rogers’ figures tend to be relatively small in size, but earlier this year, she created “Thelema,” a 12-foot-tall sculpture whose high- priestess subject, the artist said, “embodies everything about holy guardian angels.” Made partly from ripped-up evening gowns, it was, she added, “inspired by the work of the British occultist and ceremonial magician Aleister Crowley [1875-1947], who founded the religion known as Thelema; it’s inspired by his writings about Western occult practices and the use of the will in what he called ‘magick.’”

 

Tossing out some free-floating thoughts about her figures, which may be seen as artistic depictions of iconic, esoteric subjects, and which seem to exude some psychic-spiritual energy of their own, Rogers observed, “The Dark Lady is the shadow side of all of us, while the White Lady represents our light side.”

 

She noted that she regards all of her figures as somehow alchemical, in that they represent a transformation of plain physical materials into objects possessed of some kind of unnameable power.

Two of Angela Rogers’ “poppets,” inspired by characters from the tarot deck: On the left, “Dark Lady,” 2019, and on the right, “White Lady,” 2019, fabric and mixed media. Photos by Amanda Suarez, courtesy of Angela Rogers

The artist Angela Rogers with a new “poppet”-in-progress. Photo by Karen Gormandy, courtesy of Angela Rogers

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