July 15, 2015

A Visit to the Studio with Sondheim Semifinalist Pam Rogers

Large Bound Sculpture, plants natural fiber, and metal, 6 x 2 x 2 ft. 2013.
Pam Rogers, Large Bound Sculpture, plants, natural fiber, and metal, 6 x 2 x 2 ft. 2013.

With summer in full swing, AAC’s Resident Artist, Pam Rogers—like most other local residents—is enjoying the greenery and color of the landscape.

Having always been drawn to nature and organic material for inspiration in her intricate pieces, Rogers explains her excitement: “…I will start to have the natural materials for making some large suspended sculptures out of gathered plants. It is always easier to work with plants in the spring and there are so many more choices to work with.”

With a background in Art History and Anthropology, Rogers, an independent illustrator who frequently collaborates with the Smithsonian, has dedicated the last five years to creating art full-time and was recently named a 2015 Sondheim Artscape Prize Semifinalist.

Having just submitted illustrations for the limited-edition {{{mirror mirrored}}}, an art book featuring 27 different artists’ reinterpretations of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, Rogers chatted with us about her inspirations, her other on-going projects, and her experience as a full-time artist.  Read on for her thoughts.

Can you tell us about your inspirations and your process?
Pam Rogers, Rooted Portraits, various plants, wood, fiber, metal, dimensions vary. 2013.
Pam Rogers, Rooted Portraits, various plants, wood, fiber, metal, dimensions vary. 2013.

I work in layers, thinking of layers of narrative—one overlapping, enveloping the next. I used layers as veils and as entrances into my created worlds filled with images that are directly related to events and people in my life. I also work with the intention of grounding the work in the place where it is created, using materials that are local—pigments made from soil, plants or minerals from the place I am creating the work in.

I generally work from an initial mark on the paper or canvas and see how it grows and where it pulls me.  It sounds a bit cliché, but in the way Michelangelo felt that stone had a creation inside that was just waiting to be free, I feel that marks on a canvas or paper already are determined to be something, just waiting for me to let it grow.  I find the way pigments move on the substrate exciting—how certain pigments granulate, some flow easily while others need to be pulled and pushed.  It is all these aspects that help me in my creation of work.

Describe your piece for {{{mirror mirrored}}}

The fairy tale I worked on is The Juniper Tree and for the illustrations I created pigment out of juniper berries and worked from that concept adding imagery specific to the story.  It was a challenge and yet so much fun.  I am really honored to be included with artists like Kiki Smith, Amy Cutler, DJ Spook, Wangechi, Mutu, and Carrie Mae Weems – it is a wonderful project.

What other projects are you working on currently
Pam Rogers, Mrs. Stewarts #1, Ferric hexacyanoferrate, graphite, ink. 11x16 in.
Pam Rogers, Mrs. Stewarts #1, Ferric hexacyanoferrate, graphite, ink. 11×16 in.

I am currently working on some smaller pieces that are based in a cyanotype process and hope to expand this into a much larger-scale work at a residency this fall.  I find that I get stuck working in a certain scale with my work and it is important to mix it up a bit. So: small now, big in the fall.

Can you tell us about your work with the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum?

My first work as an illustrator started with doing Botanic Illustration in Denver and I found that I was interested in the connections between science and art. More recently, I started and continue to work only as a contract illustrator.  Most of my work is for academic texts. It has been nice to have the flexibility that allows me to work some in my studio and some with the actual objects.

I love the connection to Art History that this illustration work brings to my personal work.  This work has pushed me to constantly work on my drawing skills and also allows me to think about art in an entirely different context.  While it is based in very formal techniques and has specific requirements, it still is a window into the past that excites me and pushes me to see things with fresh eyes. Working on images that must be exact and show certain aspects of a relic, a bone or an archeological site are helpful in refining and retooling my drawing.  This type of work offers good practice in learning to look over and over, which is something that always has helped me in creating my work.

What does being a Sondheim semifinalist mean to you?
Pam Rogers
Pam Rogers

I was honored and somewhat surprised when I got the call about being a Sondheim semifinalist. It has given me a new outlook on my own work and certainly has energized me. I feel it is an opportunity for not only a whole audience to see my work, but to get serious feedback and consideration regarding what I am creating.

It is a very talented group of artists that I find myself with…and no matter what happens next, getting just to this point has been amazing and such an honor.  One of the most interesting outcomes has been as I was putting together the next round of materials, I really paused and thought a lot about why I am making the work I am and what am I trying to convey in the work.

It is an amazing experience to just be part of the process.

How did you realize that you wanted to pursue art as a full-time profession?  Can you envision yourself working in any other field?

I can see myself doing many things but I would always make art.  I don’t think it was a matter of realizing I wanted to pursue art full time, it was finding a way to make that a reality in both space and financially.  I still struggle with the “business” aspect and how to make that work. I struggle daily to make it all come together successfully. The more time I have spent working as an artist/illustrator full-time, the more I want to continue to find a way to make that work, though I think I will always have to supplement my income with additional work.  The reality is just that it is really hard to only make art and support yourself.

Do you have any advice for other emerging artists?
Pam Rogers, Grafted Garden
Pam Rogers, Grafted Garden

It is very challenging to try to pursue art full time, not only is there the financial aspect, there is the solitary aspect of a studio practice and often you only have your own set of expectations driving you.  I think having a community of artists that you bounce ideas off of, learn from, and just talk with on an ongoing basis is so important for any artist.

I also find it is easy to get caught up in the work so much that you don’t go out and look at other art work.  I always come back with a set of fresh eyes, great ideas and full of determination to get back into my own work when I have had an evening of attending openings, talking with other artists and/or going to our great local museum shows.

It is also so important to keep putting yourself out there- keep applying for things, talking to curators and gallery owners, apply for residencies and grants.  There will be a lot of rejections but then every once and awhile you will have an acceptance and it is wonderful.  You get that confirmation that just maybe you are making relevant work that people want to see.


The Sondheim Semifinalist Exhibition in the Decker and Meyerhoff galleries of MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) will be on view July 16 through August 2, 2015. The opening reception is tomorrow night: Thursday, July 16, 6 – 9pm
You can see Pam’s work along with a group of other great artists including Samantha Rausch, L.E. Doughtie, and Maggie Gourlay, all of whom participated in Instigate. Activate, the Emerging Curators show we presented in January of this year, and we also see Kyle Bauer’s name on the list of semifinalists. Kyle was in the 2014 Spring SOLOS here at AAC.

written by Narwan Aimen, journalist and AAC volunteer

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