Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts. Last week, she wrote about Stewpot Director Cynthia Brannum.
What do we see, and how?
Velietta Dickens Rogers, a self-taught artist whose inner beauty shines through her paintings, welcomed me into The Stewpot Art Program studio to visit with her about her outlook and art. Just as she took time to get to where she is now, she follows a certain curiosity with her painting. She takes time to paint and explore the world around her. She discusses how the Stewpot Art Program changed her life in this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:
Tina Aguilar: The work I see here in the studio is intimate and honest. Would you talk to me about your art?
Velietta Dickens Rogers: Art is everything to me. It takes me a while to do my landscapes. You can’t just throw something on a canvas. It’s how you feel about it. I have this one painting, Pink Sun, and the image was in my mind a long time. It took me a while to get it to a point where I felt like it was right. I work in my dining area, my studio, and I would go back and forth to the washer and dryer. I would look at it and decide what to do. This image is from an early morning. I could see the light between the trees. Nature changes in such marvelous ways, and once you get a pattern you can see where it takes you in your mind and spirit. I just can’t sit and complete my work fast. Painting is very spiritual to me.
T.A: So what is that process like?
V.DR: I have pieces that I work on for a while, and then I let Cynthia [Brannum] look at them as I am ready to share them. She might tell me that I need to shade or add to a certain part of it. I can look at a painting, but I sometimes feel like it’s not quite ready. Cynthia has a great eye. She can see and say what is missing if I ask her. She tells me, “you don’t have to do this, but it’s just a suggestion …”
T.A: This is very human work here at the Stewpot. You found out about this art program through your health advocacy group because you wanted to seek out an art program?
V.DR: Yes, I asked my case manager about anything relating to art. I went through a list of advocacy organizations, and then I found The Stewpot because I noticed the art program description. So I called and left a voice message. It was one of those automated numbers and I waited about a month, but no one called me back. So I decided to come down here myself. It seemed like a good place, and I tried it. When I first started coming here, I was nervous and I wouldn’t talk to anyone. And as I decided to start painting, I found comfort, a healing and my path with art. It took time to get out of my environment, and this was the only place I would come.
T.A: How did you get to know this community?
V.DR: At first I would just sit, read and watch. Slowly, I gained a new part of myself and felt safe. This was not a feeling that I had in the past. My daily life was about being closed up. Soon I started “watching” out loud and making friends. Some would sigh when I would walk in, because they said, “Oh no, here she comes and she’s going to talk a lot.” As I watched everyone work they got to know me and I would make comments or ask questions of the other artists. I was stuck in my experiences before I found this place. Then the anger and pain went away through my art. All artists are different. We look and see differently. I learned that I want to be around others. There is something about being around other artists. There is a great feeling that keeps you coming back. Everyone supports each other and talks each other up as the creative process continues. It has been almost a year and a half now, and it is because of this place that I opened up. This is important work they are doing here, and we help each other. I have grown from the friendship and community.
T.A: Tell me how you get your ideas?
V.DR: My early paintings have dealt with my life history, and those works were therapeutic. Before I found the Stewpot, I used to buy Wal-Mart painting kits for about $20. Painting helped me get parts of myself out and allowed me to move beyond my fears. As I said, I take my time with my work. I used to watch others doing several paintings in, what I thought, was a short period of time and I wondered why couldn’t I do that. I like to look at how some of the Impressionist masters – Pissarro, Monet and Degas – work. I try different strokes, because I love texture. I will look at paintings for a long time to see the details. I pass the Arboretum when I am on the bus, and I always see things. Also, I keep a camera near me when I am watching television, Channel 13, and snap photos of things I like. In fact, I do not have the money to travel, but I can with Rick Steves. I can take a picture of whatever place he is in, if I like it, and can imagine about it. I can’t afford to travel anywhere, but I can with him.
T.A: What are some first experiences with art that you can recall?
V.DR: My mother introduced us early. We were able to visit the Museum at Fair Park when I was growing up. Something always seized me with the forms. This is something I catch myself doing today – staring. People think I am looking at them when really it might be the way they are sitting in a chair or the chair itself. I like to look at things.
T.A: What about your work in the studio?
V.DR: I kept using the materials here, and it made a difference than what I bought for home. I noticed there was something wrong with my packet at home. The feel of the paint was different. Then I started to take some paints from here and use them at home. It helped me with my work. I love the Art Program. Being here has introduced me to new things that enhance my creativity. When Cynthia took us to the Impressionist exhibit at the Kimbell Art Museum, I was able to see work up close and it took my breath away. As an artist, I want to know how others work.
T.A: What are some new techniques or areas of interest for you?
V.DR: Progress with pastels is the latest for me. I have recently read in one of the magazines here in the studio about how one artist uses gesso acrylic and a certain type of gel. Because I like texture, I would apply paint and it wouldn’t puff up like I wanted. Through the openness and opportunity of good supplies and experimentation, I am able to strengthen my work. So Cynthia is helping me with this so I can start trying it.
T.A: Do you visit a lot during the week, and what does your family think of your work?
V.DR: I am here at least two days a week. When I see someone isn’t here, you just miss them. We are like a family. Before I found my art, I was always busy with other things that today do not interest me the same. Both my daughter, Lillian, and my son, Elmer, support my work. My kids appreciate me and give me encouragement. They know I am all about my art. My immediate family is very supportive, just like my Stewpot family.
Velietta Dickens Rogers’ work can be seen in the Second Floor Gallery at The Stewpot by appointment. She continues to explore new techniques and, most recently, the images of the Buffalo Soldiers.