Catherine Rodgers loves color. And resin. And Plexiglas.
Born and raised in Little Rock, she’s been a full-time artist for more than 20 years, and her works are in hundreds of private and corporate collections nationwide. She teaches internationally and has served as faculty at the Arkansas Arts Center since 2012 (now known as the Windgate Art School at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, scheduled to reopen after major renovations in the spring).
Additionally, Rodgers teaches small groups and private classes at her studio Catherine Rodgers Contemporary Art, and her works have been shown in numerous exhibitions including the 55th Annual Delta Exhibition.
Rodgers credits the veil paintings of Morris Louis and the color field paintings of Mark Rothko for much of her inspiration. While she began her artistic career as a portraitist, these days she “prefers to let colorants and resin seek their own expression.”
Examples of her techniques can be found in the Spatial Series, the Urban Series, the Cascade Series, the Deconstruction Series and in wall sculptures and round Plexiglas installations.
Q. How would you describe your work, and how did you come to it? Has making art always been part of your life, or is there a conscious moment when you decided to become – or that you were – an artist? And is there a spiritual as well as intellectual component to your work? How has it evolved over the years?
My artworks are happy. That seems simplistic, but it is the common thread that runs through my eclectic body of work. I remember reading an interview with Lucien Freud and he was asked, “What is the hardest thing about being an artist?” He answered, “being the same every day.” I share this because I never know what I am going to create when I arrive at my studio each morning.
I love color and working with a variety of materials such as resin, Plexiglas, wood, wax, wire, plaster, clay, concrete and a variety of colorants. The tactile experience of working with various materials is very satisfying and I come by it naturally. My father and both grandfathers were perfectionists in their professional careers. They worked long hours in the building trade and took great pride in their craftsmanship. Credit belongs to them for my work ethic and love of creating art.
My maternal grandfather was a plasterer. While visiting the Little Rock Zoo as a child, my mother shared stories of how he built the large outdoor sculpture based on the nursery rhyme “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in A Shoe,” and he also played a part in building the oversized sculpture of the Orange Pumpkin. Those two sculptures greeted visitors to the zoo for many years. Using simple materials of wood, wire and plaster, my grandfather created birdbaths, outdoor furniture and plant stands in his spare time. My collection of plaster wall sculptures is my homage to him.
Making art has always been a part of my life. I remember painting murals on my bedroom walls when I was very young, and luckily my parents didn’t seem to mind too much. During the summer months, they took me to the Arkansas Arts Center for painting and acting classes. I vividly recall playing the part of a tree swaying in the wind in a summer play when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. It’s their fault that I am a tree hugger.
I have been a full-time artist for over 20 years, but the path to get to this point has not been a straight one. Before committing to art, I received an MBA and worked in the voice and data industry selling systems and software to banks, hospitals, and other large corporations. I traveled the country constantly.
One day, flying home from the east coast with my boss, I realized I was missing another one of my son’s football games. At that moment, I told him I would stay long enough to close the two deals I was working on and then I would resign, which is what I did.
After that, I sat at the top of Pinnacle Mountain and thought about what I would do next in my life. I loved the practice of yoga and decided I wanted to bring more of it to Little Rock. I traveled to study yoga and returned to open Barefoot Studio, which I owned and operated for seven years.
I share this history because these two work experiences have played a major part in my success as an artist. Understanding the business of marketing a product and the focus that comes from the practice of yoga have been invaluable. I consider the creation of art to be a meditation. When I am working at the easel, time slows, and it is truly living in the moment with total focus.
Q. Unlike a lot of artists, you seem to recognize the need for promotion and marketing and happen to be very good at it. Can you explain both your philosophy about selling art and the need to promulgate an artistic brand? What advice do you have for artists and would-be artists?
The four Ps of marketing were branded in my brain when I was in graduate school: product, place, price, and people. There is rarely a week that goes by when a fellow artist doesn’t ask me to evaluate their work and give advice on how to sell more. It truly is as simple as understanding the four Ps. Who is your customer? What do they want to buy? How will you distribute your artwork? How much will your customer pay for your art?
In addition to identifying the four Ps, the advice I most often give to fellow artists is simple: Clearly identify the name, medium, and price of your artwork, prepare the artwork for hanging, display the artwork with space around it to breathe, maintain a mailing or email list, and if you are presenting your work at an art fair, don’t sit down. It’s important to stand and greet your prospective collector and engage in conversation.
In the case of my work, I try to create something new and unexpected, something that has never been seen before. Sometimes the work is successful and sometimes it is not. Either way doesn’t really matter. It’s the process of creating and problem-solving that keeps me in the studio. Some artists find a style that works for them, and they continue to create that style over and over. I would be bored working that way. It’s the exploration that I find exciting.
Q. How has your work evolved over the years? You seem willing and eager to embrace new materials and techniques.
Many of my earliest paintings were portraits. It may sound counterintuitive, but painting a portrait is easier than painting an abstract. With portraits, you paint what you see, but first, you must learn how to see. Line, perspective, color, shape, value, form, and other elements of art form the foundation. These same elements are necessary for a successful abstract painting without portraying something that physically exists like the landscape, still life or portrait.
The transition from painting something that is representational to painting abstracts took years for me to achieve. While preparing for an Abstract Expressionist painting class that I will be teaching for the Arkansas Museum of Fine Art later this summer, I realized how grateful I am to the New York School. There is a freedom in this intuitive art movement.
While their artistic styles differ, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and many others led the way to the use of color, gesture, and non-representation in art.
The Urban Series is one of my abstract offerings. About 17 years ago when Google maps was introduced, I used the aerial view maps as a starting point for painting abstract landscapes. As a child, I flew a lot in my dreams, making this viewpoint of looking down to the Earth from the sky familiar. The Urban Series has grown over the years, but it still is my representation of a landscape.
I enjoy using a variety of materials and techniques. Artists often attempt to create the illusion of three dimensions in their two-dimensional paintings. My newest body of work, The Spatial Series, is an attempt to give depth to paintings. It consists of three layers of painted acrylic sheets encased in a four-inch-deep clear acrylic box.
While I don’t know for sure what the next body of work will be, I am confident there will be one. I wake up in the morning with new ideas swirling in my head and can’t wait to get to the studio and work. I am all about moving forward, but when requested, I will do consignments that relate to previous works. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about wood. I can visualize new wall artworks made of painted wood cobbled together. We’ll see.
Q. Do you have favorite tools or require a particular space to do your work? How important is the right studio space? And is routine important to your process or can you wait for inspiration?
I have three workspaces. I rent a studio space in Tanglewood Center on Cantrell Road in Little Rock. It’s where I go every day to work. I have an air filter system that is essential when working with resins, and the large windows provide beautiful natural light. This is where I work when I need a very clean environment, and it’s a space where I can meet with clients about consignment projects.
I also have a 4,200-square-foot woodworking shop. This is where we make frames, pour paint on large canvases, and construct other art objects.
The third workspace is my home office where I maintain my website and take care of correspondence.
Back in my yoga days, we would share how important it was to “just show up to your mat.” Even if you didn’t feel like doing a practice, go sit on your yoga mat and eventually you would get up and start practicing. It’s the same for me when creating art. I have developed a habit of going to the studio virtually every morning. I turn on great music and the inspiration just takes over.
Q. How can someone see your work? In addition to private collectors, I understand you have several large commercial installations. Would you name a few?
My artworks can be seen at Catherine Rodgers Contemporary Art in Tanglewood Center and at M2 Gallery in Little Rock’s SOMA District. My website is catherinerodgers.com, which lists many of my artworks and where they are currently located.
Last year we installed five or more major artworks at several business locations in central Arkansas. They include the corporate offices of the Arkansas Federal Credit Union in west Little Rock, Clark Orthodontics in North Little Rock and the Country Club of Little Rock.