From the salty depths of the Gulf to the sprawling expanse of mesquite wonderland, the Coastal Bend has inspired many an artist with its abundance of sea life, migratory birds, native plants, and exotic mammals. In honor of The Sustainability Issue, we sat down with two local women artists whose multimedia work simultaneously seeks to honor the majesty of our planet and call viewers to action in the sustainability effort.
And so, from garbage, she built masterpieces.
Today Rogers works out of a charming bungalow studio in the Bay Area with a beautiful jungle of a backyard and a pool house that has found new life as a plastics storage center. Inside, photographs taken by Rogers of her own work line the walls, and her current project – four exotic costumes made entirely of brightly-colored straws – stands at attention. The small kitchen overflows with jars of shells, barnacles, and sand dollars on the countertops, cabinet shelves, and windowsill. Entire rooms and storage units boast bin after bin of colorful plastic, scrubbed clean with a toothbrush and organized by color and type. Bottle tops, straws, juice boxes, Barbie shoes … the other day, she found six pacifiers and 10 lighters. And the more she collects, the more horrified she becomes by the sheer amount of plastic humans generate and then throw out. “We have created a synthetic polymer that lasts almost forever,” she says, “and we often use it to package one-time-use products.”
Her ultimate goal and hope? “That we – you and me – can help solve this problem by reducing our use of plastic, removing it from our beaches and natural environments, and making mindful decisions about our everyday actions that benefit our world, rather than harm it.”
Over Zoom, I asked Normandy about the role of sustainability in her art, and we found ourselves in a deeply reflective and philosophical conversation about plants. These days, she lives and breathes green. When she’s not working away in her studio, she’s reading, gardening, and engaging in an online seed mentorship program. And while sustainability is not a word she immediately associates with her work, it is there in everything she creates.
The bottom line? “There’s a lot we can learn from other forms of life.” And that’s ultimately what her work sets out to do.
Through the seed mentorship program, Normandy has developed a reciprocal relationship with her plants. With a chuckle, she says, “I think about the fact that I love my plants and they love me back.” Admit it – stuck at home, we’ve all become a little bit more obsessed with our plant babies this year.
“I’ve just so enjoyed paying attention to the phases of their lives and how they grow,” says Normandy, affection coloring her voice. “A lot of seeds start out in this generic form … they’ve got one or two little leaflets, and as they grow, they become more specific and individualized. They’re becoming true expressions of who they are.” She sounds like a doting pet owner, or a captivated mother. We get it. “It’s a naturally occurring human inclination to pay attention to other forms of life,” she confirms.
“We live in this very human-centric world, and the reality is that we’re not at the center of everything,” she says, dropping bombs like seeds of realization. “We’re not the most important. Watching other forms of life helps remind us what’s actually more true, which is that a lot of life goes on without us … sometimes they flourish without us.”
Nonetheless, her work intrigues, captivates, and ignites curiosity, appearing around the world in galleries and hotels in Corpus, Austin, Portland, Atlanta, and Tehran. At once abstract and detailed, bearing simple titles like “Of Soil” and “Of Air,” they are immensely complex visual expressions of plant life that have you leaning in, looking closer, digging deep into the images, like dirt.
Normandy leaves us with this: “We are at a breaking point and we are going to have to make changes. Rather than viewing the earth as a collection of resources for us to exploit, we need to figure out how we can be better members of this really big, complicated family of life.”
And yet, small as we are in the scope of the ecosystem, it’s Rogers who reminds us of our mighty big impact when she says, “What we do on land affects even the most remote parts of our planet.”
Somewhere between Rogers and Normandy, between sculpture and printmaking, between paper and plastic, each of us can find our own relationship with our planet. We can pause, take a closer look, and listen to what our planet is telling us.