This month’s artist/Army spouse, Katherine Rodgers, uses every location and experience as a classroom. From friends, family, history, environment,…there is always something new to learn, inspiration for new ideas, and the possibility of new opportunities.
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as an artist and military spouse, and where you are today.
Katherine: My parents moved me and my siblings from Philadelphia (my birthplace) to Houston when I was 13 years old. The culture shock and change led to me being bullied very badly in middle school, and my mom noticed my pain and enrolled me in art classes at the Glassell Junior School of Art in Houston hoping I would meet other kids like me. In the classes, I learned painting basics and, more importantly, I learned watercolor, my preferred medium. I always wanted to be an artist, but when it came down to getting educated for the workforce, I was called to become a nurse instead. I met my husband after nursing school and became a military spouse in 2002. Funny enough, there are lots of nurses married to military service members. Our careers can move with us very easily, similarly to teachers. My husband and I spent our first three years of marriage in Germany and our last duty station was in Cuba. Everything in between was bouncing around the United States and back and forth to Fort Leonardwood, Missouri. While moving all over the world and country, I tried to continue to paint and hone my painting skills, but it was not until 2009, when my husband deployed again, that I moved from Fort Bragg to Houston to live with my family for the year. While he was gone, I returned to the Glassell School of Art, now as a 33-year-old adult, and I refocused my energy on painting to help me through the separation and single-parenting of three small children under the age of 4. I’ve been painting very consistently ever since, and in 2017, I became a full-time professional artist while stationed in the Northern Virginia/DC area. I started to teach watercolor basics and was consistently displaying my work in galleries and shows around the area. During 2020, we moved to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where I sold prints and original watercolors to many locals and friends.
MilspoFAN: Describe for us your creative work and the aesthetic of your painting.
Katherine: I joke a lot; my friends will tell you that I am always joking. I think we have to be able to laugh at life because as military spouses, we are dealing with more change and stress than the average adult. So, I even joke about my work being “OTC” art. While most people know “OTC” as an acronym for “Over-the-Counter ” medication, I use it to mean “Over-the-Couch ” artwork. My aesthetic for my paintings is described as “happy works of art.” I want my artwork over peoples’ couches and in peoples’ homes. I want people to see my work and connect it to a place and smile. Many of my themes come from our current local nature and surroundings: cherry blossoms for DC, hummingbirds for Cuba, or cows for Texas. I also pull from our service and work a lot with the theme of poppies that symbolize the blood on the battlefield, remembrance, and hope for a peaceful future. Last year for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I painted 20 poppies to mark and remember.
MilspoFAN: How was your artist residency at The Chateau Orquevaux in France? It looks stunning in advertisements. What did you work on?
Katherine: In October of 2019, I applied for an artist residency at the Chateau Orquevaux in France and found out I was selected in June 2020. Knowing that we would be stationed at the Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it seemed like a great idea to jump off the island and be amongst artists for a few weeks in the countryside of France. Due to Covid, I had to postpone my trip until March 2022, but it was worth the wait. The residency itself is stunning! I had my own private bedroom and studio and was among a group of 12 international artists ranging from the USA, Kuwait City, Czech Republic, and beyond. The invasion of Ukraine happened while I was there, and I was closely watching the news and seeing people flee, fight, and try to survive. Feeling so close to Ukraine and even the invasion of Normandy beach from WWII, the poppy theme came to me again (symbolizing eternal rest of the soul). Working very large, I incorporated mixed media (collage and gesso) into the works of art. I had found some Paris tabloid magazines from the 1950’s and used the advertisements to collage a background. The paintings are inspired by what we need to live well – while the ads are old, the advertisers today are still pushing products to help us feel happy. Out of this residency came my current series, “L’art de Vivre” (The Art of Living). My time there forced me to focus on how much material goods the military moves for our family, the overconsumption of goods, the influence of large companies, and what it takes for the art of living well. It made me stop and think about what the Ukrainian people took with them when they left their homes to survive the invasion. I highly recommend the Chateau Orquevaux residency to other military spouse artists. They accept performing artists, writers, and visual artists into their residency.
MilspoFAN: How do you meet other artists or plug into the local arts scene when you PCS?
Katherine: I meet other artists through local art leagues and taking classes at local venues – galleries or community centers. I have even found artists at community colleges’ continuing education courses in some areas. I never stop taking classes because I can always pick up a new technique or skill from the instructor or a classmate. Many times, when I tell someone in the military community that I am an artist, another military spouse will introduce me to their “artist friend.” That has happened more than once, where I meet a friend of a friend that is also an artist. This is how I found out about the Chateau Orquevaux residency; another military spouse artist told me to apply after her experience there.
MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?
Katherine: My husband is now retiring out of the service after 27 years and 8 months on active duty. We have moved 11 times together and thankfully we have been welcomed back to Houston, Texas with open arms by old friends and family. We have only been back for two months, but I have found the Watercolor Arts Society of Houston to be a familiar place with many opportunities to show my work, learn, connect, and sell. We are looking to buy a home in the area with a studio space nearby so I can continue to paint and teach beginning watercolor again.
MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?
Katherine: My best advice to other artists, and especially military spouse artists, is to follow your passion. When you follow your passion and continue to learn in your craft, you will find your people. While many of my best friends are military spouses, the people with whom I am most comfortable with are other artists. Join your local art leagues, show your work/talent, tell your community about your skills and talents – military spouses want to support other military spouses. You have such an advantage with a built-in audience around many military posts/bases. Do not let your spouse’s career and the many military moves stop you from being an artist; you can do both.