The band stopped playing, the crowd simmered down, and everyone proceeded to form a circle around a short gothic-looking woman wearing a white bonnet. Her face, painted in black and white, resembled a skeleton. She took her place at the center of the circle and began to recite her original story, “Stoic Grin.” Though she admits the story is hard to explain in detail, it’s basically a southern gothic story about Christmas.
The woman’s name is Angela Rogers, and she is a “visionary” artist —emphasis on visionary. Her work is full of neon colors, long figures that appear to leap off the canvas, and underlying spiritual meanings. A great deal of her work is influenced by her tarot card reading background, something she’s been making a living off of for about 30 years.
On the Saturday evening that we met, she was debuting a wall that she had designed for an exhibition, called “Still I Rise.” Her wall was titled: Poppet Magic, a reference to the wrapped figures (made out of branches) that she hung on the wall. Each one was handmade by her, and wrapped with a specific intention.
“That particular one is meant to invoke adventure in my life,” she said, of a black and white horse.
The figures are called “poppets,” which is derived from the word “puppet.” She got the idea from an old tradition in witchcraft and folk magic that involved “filling dolls with things” to invoke or banish. While wrapping “I was either praying for something, trying to invoke something, or trying to banish something,” she said.
“I got obsessed with making those things; I’d make like two a day,” she gushed.
Overall, her installment had a very sci-fi meets tribal feel to it.
She spent most of the night at the exhibit mingling with fellow artists, and presenting her wall to anyone who was interested. At around 5 p.m., she quickly scurried off to catch her Access-A-Ride. We met at her apartment the following week.
Angela emerged at the top of the stoop sporting flip-flops, and a blue
Caftan (a traditional form of dress) that blew with the cool breeze. It was just a few months ago that she was passed out on this very same stoop, due to a seizure. She was in the midst of crossing the street when she got an odd, yet familiar, feeling. In fear of losing control of her body in a deserted area, she rushed back to her apartment. “I figured it was better for it to happen near my apartment than in the street,” she said.
When she regained consciousness a tall man in a suit was standing over her.
“What happened?” She asked him.
“You fell out,” he replied. “Are you, okay?”
He told her to sit tight, and wait for an ambulance that he had called, but it never showed up. “I just sat there and waited for my sister to come and get me,” she said. Angela has catamenial epilepsy, which is a chronic neurological condition that causes recurring seizures due to hormonal changes. Therefore, it wasn’t her first seizure and it won’t be her last.
“Hi! Thank you so much for coming,” Angela chimed at me.
She glided up the stairs, and we were in her first floor apartment within
seconds. The living room was filled with paintings, Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, random trinkets such as skulls, and is dimly lit.
She pulled out a red book and started flipping through the pages. “This is my book that I just published,” she said. “It’s a feminist comic,” titled No One Likes A Woman Vol. 1. The book includes 15 drawings that illustrate issues that she was affected by at some point in her life. For example, the first image accompanies the words “No one likes a fat woman.” This is a reference to the excessive weight that she gained while taking medication to reduce the frequency of her seizures.
Her favorite pieces, which vary from day to day, are from her carnival series: The Carnival of Oddities and Occult. “All of my figures look alike. They’ve got big heads and big eyes,” she says through a laugh. Another commonality in her work is that she always fills the page. She draws bold amazon-like women who have mysterious eyes and pronounced breasts. Her feminist background is more than apparent in her work, as each figure seems to scream: I am a woman, and I am here.
When Angela moved to New Jersey from North Carolina, almost 26 years
ago, she was pursuing an acting career. She participated in the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival and decided to work and save up money to study theater at New York University. She describes NYU’s “experimental theater-wing program” as, intense and “the most hippie” of programs.
In addition to acting and drawing, Angela also managed to express herself through poetry and music. She was a member of three bands—the most recent being the Lone Vein, an alternative group. She toured and delivered spoken word.
Everything was going great until nine years ago when her partner died. “I just really needed some help,” she said. So she sought out a place that would allow her to express herself honestly and creatively through art. The idea came to her one day when she was visiting her sister’s art studio, Pure Vision Arts. “Every time that I got to visit her I was really jealous of the creativity that was there,” she said. After researching similar types of studios in New York City, she came across the Healing Arts Initiative (HAI) located in Queens. “It gave me a place to go, and to not isolate,” during that difficult time, she said.
Eight years after joining HAI, Angela had brain surgery and participated in a small rehabilitation art group that she wasn’t fond of. It was a little too
restrictive for her taste. Instead of focusing on the energy that is being put into art, most members of the group were concerned with how their drawings looked. “It doesn’t matter. Even if you’re not the best drawer, you can draw something,” she said. She hated that everyone took things so seriously. The last straw for her, however, was when she arrived to the class and realized that they would be coloring artwork that was already pre-drawn. This was a tipping point for Angela because she felt that coloring in a coloring book defeated the whole purpose of the class. “It’s too restrictive,” she explained. “It doesn’t allow your imagination to do much of anything, but choose color.”
Angela shuffled to one end of the room and returned with a brightly colored drawing of a fairytale-like creature staring intensely. She drew it on the day that she had the seizure on her stoop after talking to a neurologist on call. She was so frustrated with their conversation that she started to frantically draw after it.
Behind her is a set of pink T-shirts. “Those are Christmas presents,” she said.
“I’m making them for my friends and family.” She flashes an assuring smile, and says, before opening the door, I should get started back on these.