When perusing Alice Rogers’ portfolio via her web store, Trances and Portents, or her Instagram account, you get the sense that she wants to frighten you, just a bit. But this isn’t some sort of jump scare, shock-value fright – no, there is a sense of intent here.
Rogers, through her explorations of dark themes on canvas and photography and in sculpture, invites – nay, demands – the viewer to do the same as well. It’s not the stark horrors of fearsome wolves, menacing swords, or lean, beckoning claws of hungry spirits that are the threat here.
As you peer more closely closer at Rogers’ work – despite yourself – you also begin looking inward. Your own shadows, secrets, devils, and darkness are brought to light. Rogers’ works reflects both the damage we do to ourselves and the scars of those old hurts inflicted by others, and at its heart, it is about the vulnerable magic in making something beautiful from these wounds – and the balance achieved in doing so.
Dirge recently caught up with Rogers about her works, these painful yet ultimately cathartic worlds she creates, and the magic and manifestation, power and purification that is part of the process.
Dirge: Tell us a little about your artistic background – What were your first inclinations that you had a strong creative instinct? Can you pinpoint the moment you decided you wanted to become an artist?
Alice Rogers: I loved drawing from the time I was a small child. My family and teachers encouraged me to keep at it, so I painted murals and designed the school t-shirts and all that sort of stuff. I actually went through a period where I rebelled and said, “Maybe I don’t want to be an artist!” and decided I was going to study forensic science instead, but I ended up double-majoring in fine art and English in college, anyway. I was never able to choose between those two things – art and writing – and I still try to organize my life so that I don’t have to.
You are a writer, photographer, illustrator, and sculptor – within so much of your work you show us liminal worlds and stories within these worlds, and it’s all just brimming with what seems to be intensely personal symbolism. In what medium are you happiest working, when creating these worlds?
I think of all various mediums and forms of expression as tools. Some tools are more appropriate for certain projects or ideas than others. I find that drawing is the most immediate way for me to express something, so even though I’m also a writer, I tend to draw instead of journaling. Occasionally a phrase or sort of poem will come to me before I start a drawing and I work around that. I can’t always communicate everything I want to get across in a drawing, and that’s where the three-dimensional stuff comes in.
I wouldn’t call myself a photographer. I’m certainly not skilled, technically, in that area, but I’m having fun exploring the idea of creating little worlds in three-dimensional space and capturing them in still images or short films. Sometimes I’m just drawn to one medium more than another; for three years I didn’t create anything visual at all and only wrote, and then it sort of flipped. Having all of those tools available keeps me creatively stimulated so I if I get burned out doing one thing, I move on to the next for a while.
From photos of your studio, it is difficult to tell where the altars end and the workspace begins. This idea/philosophy of “art as magic” – can you speak to that? And along those lines, in your Instagram, I came across the term “Seiðr,” which I found to be an old Norse form of sorcery sometimes associated with the goddess Freyja. Do you consider what you do, the art that you create, a form of Seiðr?
Last December, I was thinking a lot about manifestation. I sort of ride the line between intellectual curiosity and belief when it comes to magic and the occult, and I interpret most of it as a system for refining and manifesting intent. You have to determine what you want and why, then make all sorts of small changes in your life that add up to make it real. Magic isn’t just about manipulating energy; it’s finding power in knowing yourself in a really intimate way. At the time, I was preoccupied with negative patterns that were repeating themselves in my relationships and I drew out what I wanted to manifest, which was a deep connection with a person possessing certain qualities. That drawing turned into several more, and sort of ushered in a new phase of creative expression for me.
Symbols are just such potent visual shorthand, and joining them together can give them even more power. They can say so much with just a few strokes of a pen or brush. The symbols I prefer to use mostly originate from Western occult traditions and Germanic paganism, and in this way I draw upon my own ancestral heritage and the knowledge and power of so many people who have come before me. So even though I’m incorporating these symbols and ideas into my art in a way that’s intensely personal for me, others can look at what I create with it and find something that resonates for them in a totally different way, or so I’ve been told.
In the end, it’s not about what other people find nice to look at. It’s not even about the final product. It’s the meditative, half-conscious, magical act of translating emotions and abstract concepts into visual form, which is therapeutic for me. It’s a deep analysis of self, relationships with others, and how I interact with the world that’s really for no one’s benefit but my own, but everyone is on their own particular version of the same journey.
You write of your fascination with the line between the scientific and the supernatural, and that you “reside in the balance between reason and belief.” I find myself marveling at the stark contrasts in your work, the extreme juxtaposition of dark and light, of shadow and exposure… and yet it all speaks to a sort of balance, if I am not mistaken. Tell us about the value and meaning of balance in your work.
When I really started paying attention to the themes that were popping up in my life over and over again, the idea of balance really stood out. I’m not sure why exactly, just that it seems like the universe is constantly reminding me that it’s part of my life’s work, along with a search for truths that a lot of people might find scary or uncomfortable (which is what draws me to the occult). There’s no light without darkness, and without pain, we could never fully appreciate beauty. That might sound clichéd, but it’s true. I don’t necessarily see things in black and white – there’s an awful lot of gray in the world – but for me, the starkness of monochrome is sort of a way of creating order out of chaos, even in my wardrobe or my personal space. It fosters a sense of harmony and continuity.
The motifs in your art and photography vary wildly from sacred geometry to Twin Peaks to yokai – what would you say is the underlying theme in these inspirations? What can you tell us about your current obsessions and fascinations, and how they may be finding their way into something you are working on right now?
Almost all of my creative inspiration comes to me in half-sleep. I have a sleep disorder that keeps me in the hypnagogic and hypnapompic sleep stages much longer than most people (the “falling asleep” and “waking up” phases where you’re sort of dreaming, but still partially conscious). With that comes sleepwalking and hallucinations, but mostly a trance-like state that enables you to access the deep reaches of your subconscious, or other spiritual planes. So almost every night, I wake up with an idea or three. I write them down if I’m conscious enough. Sometimes I remember them in the morning, and sometimes they slip away.
Like last week, when I woke up with the words “ars moriendi” in my head – I couldn’t recall ever actually hearing that phrase, and I looked it up, and it roughly translates to “the art of dying.” Since I tend to work intuitively, sometimes my symbolism is very purposeful and sometimes it feels like a mystery even to me.
But I do have a preoccupation with atmosphere and mood, especially when it feels really primal, which is why I’m drawn to David Lynch, and “Butoh” Japanese performance art, and music by artists like Pharmakon. I think it’s very powerful when art is disturbing, but not in a cheap way, not in a way that relies on gore or shock value. It’s like strumming an instrument and finding a note that vibrates through your entire being. For me it all goes back to the junction of psychology and mysticism. Is it all brain chemistry; are we nothing more than sentient sacks of meat? Is it a means of accessing universal energies that we can’t fully process in the physical world? That’s the essential mystery and that’s what fascinates me.
Earlier this year you had a piece in Sticks & Stones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls – can you tell us a bit about the venue and the pieces that you chose (or created) for it? Is your work showing anywhere right now?
I actually haven’t shown my work very much at all. For a long time, I worked in oils, and then everything I created over a period of fifteen years or so was destroyed by mold after a flooding incident. Ultimately, I see that as a positive development because it forced me to detach myself from each piece as a finished product, so the emphasis is on the act of creating.
The Sticks & Stones’ show, which was a benefit for a local nonprofit called Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, was the first time I put up any of my black and white drawings. I’d love to show that work again somewhere, or the drawings I’ve produced since then, but I’m also shifting focus a little bit to larger sculpture, photography, and film.
I’m also planning a collaborative show with my friend, Angela Thornton, who’s a knitwear designer and art director. We’re still in the early stages, but ultimately it will be an experiment in combining visual art and design with performance, so we’re excited about that.
Another powerful project you are involved in is Ask Me About My Abortion, “a safe space for people to share their stories, and read about the experiences of others, with zero judgment, pressure, or bullshit.” Can I ask how the creation of this safe space came to be and why it is important to you?
Ask Me About My Abortion came about because my best friend, Laura Slack, wanted to help anyone searching for information about abortion online find actual first-hand experiences, instead of religious propaganda. So many people we know have had abortions – straight, queer, religious people, atheists, people with female reproductive systems who don’t identify as female. It’s far more common than a lot of people realize, and the culture war in our society over this issue relies on a sense of shame and guilt to silence the voices of anyone who believes we should have agency over our own bodies and when or whether we become parents. It’s a passion project for her, and as a feminist it’s an important issue to me, too.
The controversy over attempts to defund Planned Parenthood has ignited similar projects recently, like #ShoutYourAbortion, which we think is great. We’re hoping that we can ultimately provide a searchable database full of a broad range of experiences from all sorts of people, whether they feel great about it or had difficulty. We’re not censoring any of the stories; we’re just not accepting any anti-choice perspectives. We want to reflect reality. So please, everyone, send us your stories!