These magical woodland sprites and faeries seem to cut gracefully through the air, unbound by their static sculpture form. Forest Rogers has a way with clay; her creations seem imbued with an entire history all their own. With one glance, a viewer’s imagination is taken to far off places, mystical tales and heroic myths floating in the eons of fantasy.
Interview with Forest Rogers conducted in conjunction with her editorial in Issue 018 of Beautiful Bizarre Magazine.
Your name alone inspires romantic far off places- ‘Forest Rogers’. What lies behind the artist? What were your humble beginnings, and what spawned your creative outlets? Do you remember the first thing you created?
Many of my earliest sculptures were created in the bright red wax off the rinds of my Aunt Lucia’s round cheeses. I’d peel off some wax, crawl away into a corner or under a table, and make little animals. It’s still the best thing I can think of to do at a party, if the cheeses are right! Thus, my lifelong affection for feral materials began odd combinations solving a conundrum or inspiring an unexpected effect. There’s a conversation with the materials, if you let them have a voice.
Oddly inspiring question, what lies behind the artist… I think of myself as a lens between the Idea and the manifested object. When the work ‘works,’ it feels to me like a discovery or revelation, focusing something timeless into one tiny, fleeting moment of expression. So when you ask, ‘What lies behind the artist?’ the image comes of a shifting ocean deep, immeasurable, slippery with tangles of strange life, and one’s own small translucent self just a porthole providing a wee peep to those of like mind. The infinite, of course, is behind every artist, and that is one of the most frightening things: we have an infinity of choice every time we start doing what we do. I find it helpful to deliberately remember that, for habit makes one forget it.
Your educational background includes stage design and costume design. What was your BFA in and how/why did you come to focus on sculpture?
My BFA was in stage design, MFA in costume design. That was a move toward making beings, perhaps: the setting, then the garb, then the “persons” themselves via sculpture. I love the way theatre brings together narrative, movement, sound and the visual. Yet somehow, I needed to travel another path. The fact that my world sort of blew up right while I was working on my MFA thesis played a part — think two deaths and a suicide, a devolving spouse, an infestation of mice and a decision to change everything. It was apt that my thesis was costume design for Bernstein’s take on Voltaire’s catastrophe-packed Candide. The lyrics, “What a day, what a day, for an auto-da-fé,” are with me still.
The icky and wonderful fact that caterpillars apparently melt almost entirely to a kind of pulp in the chrysalis before turning butterfly is a useful metaphor at times of pivotal trauma. I’ve been shredded and squashed more than once, and while I wouldn’t choose it, I’ve come to believe it plays a vital transformative role, like forest fires and caterpillar goo. If one can remember that as one topples into the pit..
I love that you have a “How-To” section on your website. So many artists these days are terrified to share tips and tricks, or are worried about people stealing their ideas. How do you feel about these topics? Why is art education an important aspect to your artistic nature?
I can understand artists worrying, but I truly don’t. People will find their own voice, and if there are general, unintended resemblances on the way there, well, it has been so throughout history, it’s one way we learn. To inspire and encourage something in another, to be a link in that fantastic chain we make together that leads out of sight we know not where, is an honor and an excitement. I love Victorian art critic John Ruskin’s statement, “That virtue of originality that men so strain after is not newness, as they vainly think, there is nothing new; it is only genuineness.”
There’s a paradox, I think: the more one draws deep on unique internal qualities and individual experience, the closer one strikes to the heart of a subject and the more universally eloquent the result is likely to be. Nobody can copy the secret things wrapped at the center of your soul’s chrysalis. Those things may not be overtly expressed, but they’ll be present in your work, and essentially inimitable.
An artist I admire once said my work had the “quality of innocence.” I’d probably say “sincerity.” Sincere identification with the myth or tale or vision places one within the thing. Sincerity, old-fashioned virtue, requires sticking your neck out, too. I enjoy irony, but it’s much safer, gotta say. Irony puts you one-step back from the front line, just out of reach of accusations of unconscious kitsch. To be sincere is to dare — so there! In pursuit of sharing, I’ve begun an informal teaching effort on Patreon. A work in progress, but it excites me. I aim to download the contents of my odd brain there.
Your work feels otherworldly with touches of art deco, belle epoque and more. It also feels, somehow, very literary. As if these each of these creatures has an entire life and narrative within them. What inspires you, and how does this translate into a piece?
Gratifying question, for I desire to imply a world and a tale. A great pleasure of my life: reading aloud. My grandfather had a transporting reading voice — I’d give most anything to hear it now. He was a novelist — Samuel Rogers — and professor of French. He opened worlds reading, stretched on the couch after tea: Chekov, Gogol, Austen, Stephenson, Murasaki Shikibu. He’d fall into a nap, book dropping to chest, and I’d go up the stairs to the shadowed treasure-bookcase of Rackham, Kay Nielsen, Dulac and more. All that was poured into me very early; I’m delighted if it’s somehow evident.
What is your process like? How do you go from conceptual idea to physical work?
I sit most mornings at a coffee shop, I watch pigeons dance and peck, I start scribbling, usually on a pad of mid-weight tracing paper with a ballpoint pen. There are enough ideas knocking around in my head to outlast this life. As I scribble, they evolve. I scribble the same subject repeatedly, as a way of contemplating it. I keep these drawings very loose. That allows freedom when I go to sculpt, and lets the piece talk back to me and change. After the sketch stage, I usually create the head of the being. The head helps me make decisions, as heads carry identity. Headhunters everywhere agree. I’ll then “sketch” the whole piece in armature wire, looking from all sides for balance, proportion, composition. Nailing those first qualities is vital; detail can’t disguise feeble proportions. From there, it’s filling in, building out. Engineering and invention. Detail, color. And then, just when you want to be done, photography, packaging and shipping.
Are you still working in costume design? What other creative outlets, such as writing, do you work in and do they help fuel your sculpture or is it a healthy break from sculpture?
Writing makes me happy. I think it’s partly because you can shift everything with one word, unlike sculpture where you may need to cut through six wires and slice your finger with an X-Acto. I want to do some 2D work, perhaps combined with sculpts, as in some medieval altarpieces. I need to dance. Dance is an exaltation and exceedingly helpful to sculpture: feeling that motion and anatomical grace. And, knowing some magical dancers, some costume design, especially some mask making, calls to me lately.
How do you deal with artist block or disappointment and what advice do you have for emerging artists trying to keep up motivation in this day and age?
Brain-wrangling is an art in itself. One I’ve only partially mastered. Remember you are in good company: some, many, of the artists and writers you admire most have likely paddled the same leaky, doubt-swamped boat. What a loss if they’d flipped over the side and not painted, written, sculpted or sung the thing that spoke to you! You don’t know who your voice will reach, or when or how, and it doesn’t take a masterwork to touch another. It takes a particular fit. And you alone might have that key. Don’t throw it away. Someone’s lock might never get opened if you do.