Where were you born / where did you grow up? (combined with the next question: Where do you currently live?)
I was born in Seattle, but we moved around a lot within the Pacific Northwest growing up. In my early twenties, I moved to Eugene, Oregon because it was in a Sublime song and sounded cool. I ended up staying there for over ten years (though I moved from place to place the whole time). After that, I joined Peace Corps and lived in the Dominican Republic for about two and a half years.
I visited my family once during my service because my grandmother was dying, and I wanted to say goodbye. While I was at my parents’ house, my sister and her family came to see me. Her oldest son, my nephew, asked me, “Are you going to go back to the Dominican and forget all about me?” It broke my heart, and I decided I would come back to live in the Tri-Cities after my Peace Corps service was finished.
Honestly, I had always assumed my life here would be temporary — that I would end up moving to a bigger city. But I fell in love with the weird, wonderful people I met here, and found little pocket communities of artists, makers, gamers… just cool folks.
Did you always know art would be an integral part of your life?
Definitely! My mom learned early on that the only way to keep me happy was to keep me busy. I had a little worktable where I would constantly have a handful of projects going. For countless hours, I would keep myself entertained with random art projects. Sometimes I would rope my siblings into collaborations, like plays we would put on for my parents, or cards we would make together… stuff like that.
When I got older, I excelled at art in school. I had a few teachers take a real interest in that part of me. That’s when I started thinking about art as something valuable, and I think I probably started attaching artistic ability to my sense of self-worth (which is good and bad).
What medium are you currently working in? (combined with: Please describe your current project.)
I’m working on a show called “I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This…” that’s all about people finding the love and support they need from within. Internal validation > External validation.
The show will include works by various artists. Some of my pieces are audio only, some are visual, and some are interactive. One of the visual pieces is about letting go of the power we give religious texts over us. That one I’m a little nervous to show, because I worry people will get angry about it… but that’s kind of the point. If we decide something is ‘sacred’ or overly precious, we’re kind of under its thumb.
Another piece is a place for people to write messages to their bodies. I have a few I’m writing myself, like “You are not a burden” and “I’m sorry I don’t appreciate you like you deserve.”
There are a few different people who are reading some of the audio pieces. They are about a lot of different topics, but the common thread is that they are all things we need to hear (some of us, anyway). I hope that people can find healing and peace at the show. I hope that they can let themselves be vulnerable.
The installation I think I’m most anxious about is also the one I’m most excited about. It’s a performance art piece that will require me to look visitors in the eye and tell them what they need to hear. It will be intense and emotional — I know myself well enough to know how much of myself will go into every interaction.
It sounds like building and sharing this show will be a very vulnerable experience. What inspired you to take on this project?
That’s a really good question. Years ago, when I lived in Eugene, Oregon, I had a friend who was quite a bit older than me. We talked a lot about relationships with our parents, and she knew how much I wished I had a closer relationship with mine. She offered to email me ‘from my parents’ the things I wished they would tell me. It might sound silly, but it was hugely impactful. In fact, one of the audio recordings for the show, Proud of you, is directly inspired by that. Sometimes just hearing — or seeing or reading — the things you need to hear is the very thing!
I love the intimate experiences you are creating through this work and offering your audience as a vehicle to connect to themselves, and I love what you mentioned about hoping people find a moment of healing and peace at the show. I know vulnerability can be scary; what would you offer people who are nervous to fully immerse themselves in some of the experiences?
I would say don’t push yourself! You can’t force yourself to be open and vulnerable. And maybe you’re not in a place where you’re ready for that. I would rather people feel safe than be fully immersed in an art show.
But at the same time, keep in mind that safety and vulnerability are not opposites. They’re strange bedfellows, maybe, but they are not mutually exclusive. I have found in my life that when I keep certain memories or experiences at a distance in order to feel ‘safe’ or keep from being emotional, I end up doing more harm to myself in the long run.
I would encourage anyone who struggles with deep-seated pain to seek counseling, do some mindful exercises like mediation or journaling, and work to develop a support network. NAMI will actually be at the show with resources (and I’ll make sure to include some helpful links at the end of this interview!).
Please describe your technique.
I work at weird times — pretty much whenever I get a wild notion or some bright point of inspiration. When it comes to making art, though, sometimes you just have to get to work. You can’t always wait for lightning to strike. I’m a huge procrastinator by nature, so that’s something I struggle with.
As far as technique goes, there’s a huge range with me. A lot of times, I’ll just get into it and see where it goes. Other times, a lot of planning is involved. For the piece about religious texts, for example, I planned out the words by trying different things and counting each character and space, and then plotted it out in Photoshop and then on paper before finally committing it to the canvas. So, it varies depending on the project.
I love what you said about having to work even absent of inspiration. I know this is a huge challenge for me. How do you get in the ‘zone’ so to speak? Do you have any rituals, music, or routines that help kickstart your creative juices when it feels hard to get to work?
I have to just lay out whatever I’m working on, and I have to do it in a central place (like the kitchen table… sorry, Brendan!) so I can’t ignore it. When I’m working on something, I always have all these little things I think of while I’m in the shower or in bed — basically, when I can’t go do them immediately — so when I’m back to work, I start by ‘fixing’ those things, and that gets me into the right mindset. Once I’m in the zone, it’s really hard to stop (even to eat or pee). That’s probably more information than you wanted! haha
What inspires you?
For “I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This…” I am most inspired by Miranda July and Amanda Palmer. Miranda July does these amazing audio and video recordings that are weird and wonderful. Amanda Palmer is a total badass. Her first TED Talk is what inspired my performance art piece.
As for what inspires me in general, it varies a lot. Sometimes I get inspired by music or books (right now, Lynda Barry’s What It Is book is blowing my mind and inspiring the hell out of me). Sometimes inspiration comes out of nowhere and surprises me. I’ll be having a conversation, or even seeing one, and a light will turn on inside my head. Or I’ll just be driving, or brushing my teeth, and something will click.
How have personal challenges impacted your work?
One of the major themes of “I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This…” is that illness and disability are not a burden. Emotions and vulnerability are not a burden. That’s a huge reason why I’m making sure this show is accessible — ADA compliant, elements that are audio only, visual only, and interactive — we want as many people as possible to be able to come and get something out of it.
I’ve had three brain surgeries. So many things go along with that fact. I have memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and other symptoms of traumatic brain injury. I have to take a lot of medications because of hypopituitarism. I can’t overexert myself or let myself get too hot because of hydrocephalus. It’s… a lot.
I do have a lot of support. My biggest problem is feeling bad about my needs (who wants to be ‘needy’?) or feeling like I don’t deserve the support from others. I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety, and it all kind of compounds with physical limitations and chronic pain in a way that makes it difficult to even get out of bed sometimes.
Thank you for sharing that. Do you have an artistic philosophy you'd like
I think art is a gateway. It shows you something that’s inside of you. If art makes you feel something, or lets you see something in a different way, it’s doing its job. Making art can be really scary! There’s a book, Art & fear, that changed my life. I haven’t read it since college, but I remember how I kept thinking, Oh wow! So it’s not just me! when I was reading about how vulnerable and terrifying artmaking can be.
The most important takeaway (for me, anyway) is that vulnerability is a gift. You are putting some of yourself into something for the consumption of other people. That’s a really weird way to put it, probably, but as someone who was used to being shamed for crying, it’s a hugely important concept for me. Which takes us back to Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk — she was basically saying that asking for help is a gift. I’ll repeat what I said earlier: VULNERABILITY IS A GIFT.
What does this art show mean to you?
I haven’t shown my art for a really long time. Decades. Well, I have shown some pixel art — which is absolutely relevant and worthwhile as an art medium — but nothing that got my hands dirty. I didn’t realize how much had I missed working with paint, and canvas, and paper until I started working on this show. It means a lot to me personally (for reasons I’ve already talked about), and I hope it will be meaningful to the people who come see the show, too.
Personally, it feels like I am finding myself again — or a part of myself that I had put aside. I’ve been learning so much the last few years. This show is a way for me to document some of that growth in a medium that can help others (and help me) keep growing. It’s self-therapy… hopefully for everyone that experiences it.
May is Mental Health Awareness month, and I think that the messages of “I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This…” will resonate with a lot of people. We will have resources available at the show, as well.
“I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This…” opens May 20 at The Space in the Uptown Shopping Center: 1384 Jadwin Ave, Richland, WA from 4pm–9pm.
A few mental health resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Ashleigh Rogers is the Creative Director at DrewBoy Creative. She is an artist and art instructor living in Richland, Washington with her husband and four children.
She is an artist, art instructor, and facilitator in Tri-Cities, Washington. Her work explores the themes of connection and intergenerational stories through experimentation in painting, photography, installation, and sculpture. Ashleigh is passionately dedicated to facilitating accessible arts programming in her community.