Kelly Rogers is a creator of Embroidered Paintings, Printmaking, Portraits, and Abstract Mixed Media Visual Arts. Chosen as a recipient of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition’s triennial Art 365 project, she’s currently working on a tapestry entitled Tales of Woah which will debut at the Art 365 exhibition in June 2017.
Kelly conjures much of her magic at Current Studios. On Current’s website, Kelly’s bio reads, “Kelly Rogers is a mixed-media visual artist living and working in Oklahoma City. Her foundational work in painting has informed her subsequent bodies of work in various media, including printmaking, bookbinding, ink & brush drawing, embroidery, and fiber arts. Kelly also works as a crisis line operator, where a large part of her role entails bearing witness to stories of loss in moments of crisis. Her current studio work is a series of embroidered paintings that explore the impact of trauma and the true grit of human survival, collectively entitled Tales of Woah.”
This is Kelly’s interview. This is where my shyness about my embarrassing sex book, We’re All Bad in Bed, stopped—special thanks to her support.
“I’m a cusser,” I said
“I’m a fuckin’ cusser too,” Kelly replied.
I smiled a half moon. Sitting across from each other and chatting through jagged winter coughs, we were off to a good start. Unlike most of my interviews, Kelly asked me questions first. I had a feeling that summed her up: mostly give with a pinch of take.
I’d come to Kelly to interview her about Oklahoma and it’s conservative outlook on sex. I wanted to get her opinion about me releasing a sex book, and to my surprise, I didn’t even have to warm the waters before we jumped in.
“If you don’t mind, how’d you get into what you’re working on right now?” she asked me as soon as we sat down, her tone silk.
“Well, I like writing books that make people laugh, and . . . “
Blah, blah, blah. I rambled for a couple or three minutes about my new book, We’re All Bad in Bed. Kelly listened. Eyes Velcroed to mine. No judging. All care. She leaned in, and I lit up. I talked faster about women and sex, how I think we’re getting louder and prouder as a species. Nothing is off limits anymore.
But the funny thing was, my words didn’t match my truth—not at the time anyway. I was still nervous to release my sex book, even though I’d spent weeks trying to smother the fear. I’d killed some of it thanks to the help of my friends and a few other magnificent women I’d interviewed and blogged about—powerful OKC women—the kind of chicks who refill your empty courage tank with a simple glance. But even with all that, some of my uneasiness still lurked in the shadows.
“I’m scared. Do you think I should be?” I asked Kelly.
She stared me down. “Just go for it. Be you.”
And that was all it took. Sometimes a simple moment cracks your foundation. From that second, I quit thinking so much and just let myself move forward with my art. Then, our conversation took a sharp turn. We headed straight for the subject of “Oklahoma” and what it’s like being dragged up here.
See . . . my art comes from great memories. Healthy ones. But Kelly, she makes art for the girls who have stories that make you want to plug your ears. Horrible ones. Kellly and I are yin and yang. It doesn’t stop us from getting along. We get it.
“I remember as a little girl feeling like I heard the rules and understood them,” Kelly said, “but that maybe they were in place to control me—like to tell me who can talk and when. In our family, there was a real strong male hierarchy. The men ran the house.”
She waited. “All those templates for life came out of a generation that simply didn’t live the life we face today. Different time. Different world. It never made sense anyway. Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you can’t talk shit and get nasty.”
I took a deep breath, the kind that threatens to split your chest in two. Blew it out like a wolf. “And yet we’re still here, trying to tear up that template, then sometimes taping parts of it back together, because it suits certain situations.”
“It surprises me how deeply engrained some of that Cinderella shit is,” Kelly said.
“Oh . . . but I LOVE some of that Cinderella shit. Some of it I FEEL,” I admitted.
Kelly squinted. “Really?”
“Yeah. I want the knight—maybe not to save me—but at least to slay occasional dragons. Come fix my car, move my heavy dresser, and carry me to bed when I fall asleep on the couch. That kind of stuff. I like some “traditional” stereotypes. Like my guy HAS to be a lot stronger than me physically. He has to able to change a tire or beat up another guy. I know that’s some violent, cave man bullshit, but it’s a must for me.”
Kelly reclined in her seat and nodded. “I get it. When I connected with my husband, I thought to myself I finally found my alpha, and I get how totally fucked up that sounds, but that’s how I felt.”
We paused for a second, bonding over this odd crumb of psychological babble. Buffalo is Kelly’s husband—yes, Buffalo. He got the name from steamrolling a glass exhibit in Denver International Airport, like a bull in a china shop, but in this Okie’s case, like a buffalo in an airport gift shop. Beyond being a human battering ram for display cases, he’s an artist too—the musical kind.
Kelly’s life seems to be surrounded by eccentrics. She lets her creativity run loose in Current Studios, a share space for artists. It’s located off Penn St. in OKC, and the Studio describes itself as, “an experimental art space committed to strengthening Oklahoma City’s cultural capital by developing sustainable contemporary art practices and conversations about art, community, and problem solving.”
Every time I’ve popped in there, I’ve ended up overstaying. Too many cool conversations. Too much fun. Beyond Kelly’s artsy colleagues, her family sparkles too. She describes her mom as a traditionalist sprinkled with disco-bumpin, drag queen-lovin’ attributes. Her mom taught Kelly to be good person.
“She showed us that you don’t treat people differently based on what they can afford or the color of their skin,” Kelly explained. “You never know what people are going home to at night, so cut them some slack.”
“She sounds cool,” I said.
“She is cool,” Kelly replied.
We were only twenty minutes into the interview, and I could already tell Kelly was the cherry on top of my woman-empowerment sundae. But of course, she was. Kelly is the winner of Oklahoma City’s Art365. She showed me what her project is, and it’s no less than miraculous. Message-steeped. Girl-aimed. It’s a slap across Oklahoma’s face—an honorable one—presented on a giant tapestry that will attract all types of people instead of repelling them. Because that’s what good art does. It rips you open. Sneaks inside. Fiddles with your belief system without your permission.
On her website, Kelly describes her Art365 project like this:
“Tales of Woah: One in Three is a 12-foot, hand-stitched embroidered tapestry. The needle-and-thread drawing is a collection of individually rendered portraits of young women and girls, one-third of whom are illuminated with ink and adorned with golden thread. The healing metaphor of stitching is applied to the troubling statistic that one in three girls in Oklahoma County is sexually abused by her 18th birthday, highlighting the prevalence of abuse and trauma that Oklahoma children face. The multitude of figures is intentionally overwhelming in its loving depiction of minute details of faces, hands, clothing, and childhood objects. The exposed reverse side of the canvas expresses the raw and complex effect of trauma, while the drawing itself brings to bear an often-forbidden conversation about the condition of Oklahoma women and girls. Tales of Woah reimagines a familiar expression, converting the pity of “woe” to an awestruck “woah,” honoring the experience of survivors, and giving reverence to the true grit of human survival..”
Sooooooo, in my scratchy street version of her description, I call her project fuckin’ dope. It’s huge in scale. And remember, she’s hand-sewing the damn thing. It’s covered in images of little girls at play. Hop scotch here. Kickball there. Swinging. Dancing. The message: one in three is abused in Oklahoma. Ouch. That’s why Kelly’s doing this project. It’s a statistic bomb, one she wants to plant in as many people’s laps as she can so that when it blows up in their faces, they have no choice but to pay attention.
As much as I’d like to write a thousand pages about Kelly, I’ve decided you should learn for yourself. Don’t read about her. Go meet her. See her work and feel her mood. It’s way better than any blog you’ll ever lay eyes on. Go leech some of the amazing energy this woman oozes, because it’s the biggest favor you’ll do for yourself all week. Oh . . . and check out her snarky ‘tude. Scroll down for some shit that proves just how balanced Kelly is. For all her meaningful rhetoric, she’s also into a good fuckin’ laugh.
Thank you, Kelly. Yous da shiz.
- What is the weirdest place to have sex in Oklahoma? In the butt! (Just kidding). Outside, on or in vehicles, camping situations—anywhere that you’d have to check each other for ticks afterward—that’s about as weird as it has gotten for me so far.
- If Oklahoma had its own, unique sexual position, what would it be called? The Panhandle. For me, the Panhandle is that Sunday morning, “we don’t stay up as late as we used to, the kid is at the sitter AND we have rested up from our date night last night” kind of sexy time, when one or both partners make breakfast before or after knockin’ boots. Like, during CBS Sunday Morning, but before “Face the Nation.”
- What Oklahoman do you think is the biggest freak between the sheets? This was tricky. I think truly it’s a rpolitician, but in my heart I hope Woody Guthrie or Roger Miller or one of our beloved musicians holds the title of “freakiest Okie.” 🙂
- If outsiders were wondering what kind of sounds an Oklahoman makes during sex, what would you tell them? Buffalo is fond of saying that, in Oklahoma, the rattle of a pill bottle is as good as a mating call. Believers and backsliders alike will shout the Lord’s name in vain, if the going is really good. 🙂