When the Newport Visual Arts Center opens its virtual Pop Up Craft Show on Wednesday, Dec. 16, it will kick off the celebration of local artists with a live-streaming talk at 6 p.m. by Sandra Roumagoux. She will unveil her new exhibit catalog, Sandra Roumagoux: Retrospective, and discuss her featured paintings in the show.
Known for her love of nature and passion for politics, Roumagoux has described her art as an “interpretation of the ever-relevant paradoxes of faith, war, and nature. Much of what I do is predicated upon a personal, fundamental acceptance of the ‘divine absurdities’ of existence, and the dualities in our existence of love/hate, violence/peace, silent/sound, night/day.”
We caught up with Roumagoux by phone to talk about her life in art. Her comments have been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve been painting for what seems your entire life. Talk about your early inspiration to become an artist and how you’ve evolved.
Roumagoux: I grew up with sisters, all older. They were always interested in drawing. They’d be listening to the radio and drawing with charcoal and paper. As a child, I was fascinated how a two-dimensional drawing could look three dimensional. It’s using perspective space. That’s where the interest started. I also had girlfriends who liked to draw. We would get figurines and draw them.
The other part was I was the only left-handed person in the family and that was encouraged. Even though I held the pen all wrong. That was allowed. It wasn’t even an issue. Because I’ve spent so many years training … I have become more ambidextrous now that I am old.
You’ve been quoted as saying you were raised in a family of avid environmentalists and gun lovers. How did that impact the artist you became?
For one thing, it was so much a part of the culture of the family for deer hunting season, pheasant season, duck season, hunting dogs. My dad had his own duck blind, he shot traps. He won several trophies in shooting traps. I remember as a child going with him on Sunday shoots. That was our church. I would go behind him and pick up shotgun shells and use them as castanets.
At the same time, my family were environmentalists. My father was one of the first on the committee to organize Keep Washington Green. The combination of the two allowed me to experience both sides without drama. It gave me the courage to tackle subject matter in my paintings where I could mix the environmentalists and gun lovers in situations that didn’t turn out to be too preachy. I could keep the irony and an undercurrent of dark humor.
You are a former three-time mayor of Newport. How do politics impact your art and art impact your politics?
My parents joined the Democratic party in Benton County. That was when Benton County was Republican. I became one of the kids who went to all the political parties. I met my hero, U.S. Sen. Wayne Morris, when he came to my parents’ house for coffee. I would be a gofer, driving candidates all over. I was just fascinated by the whole political process. To me, it seemed natural. I can remember taking bumper stickers to parking lots and asking people if I could put one on their car. You learned very quickly that not everyone wanted one on their car. Politics and art, I can’t separate them. I am really emotional about the environment and injustices.
How has the pandemic changed your art?
It starts out with the nuts and bolts of making art. By that I mean the gallery system. How an artist markets their work, how you are able to teach. It has just flattened everything that we considered “normal.”
Most artists, unless they are younger, hate technology. Having to grasp Zoom, grasp doing online exhibits, having to go back and update their website — I’m embarrassed you looked at mine; it needs so much updating — and none of us will do that. We as artists love galleries, even though they take 50 percent of your sale price, because they do all the nuts and bolts for you. They do all the marketing, bookkeeping, selling…
I have taken all my work out of galleries. I have two storage units in Newport. One is a crypt size and the other one is larger, where I can have people come in and I show the work myself. I can do that with one or two people and masks. If it’s a nice day, I can take it outside.
The other part is, since I do enjoy political/environmental subjects, what do you do without a subject matter? How do you even approach that? COVID, how do I do that so it isn’t a symbol of the virus itself? How do I do that without being trite, sanctimonious, preachy? That is a problem I am working on. I am really ensconcing myself in my studio, which is my single-car garage. I spend a lot of time being active in the selling part of my work. In a way, it’s been good for me to have to slow down and really look at what I am doing and spend that alone time, forced alone time.
What can visitors to the Visual Arts Center expect from this show?
They want to consider this an adventure. Not only are they as viewers working on how to reorder their thinking, but how to buy art, look at art, be involved. As an older artist, having a retrospective is really kind of nice. People want to see it and are interested.
The other part is, I’ve stayed in art my entire life, I’ve lived and breathed it, and talk about that as a valid way to be. That also ties into my teaching. One of the greatest honors is I am still asked to teach.
You’re 80 years old, where do you find the energy?
My husband was three years older than I. Never sick a day in his life. Then he had a stroke. He died July 30. He always said, “Where do you get the energy?” I said, “It has to be genetic.” All my sisters outlived their husbands. My oldest sister at 98 is still going strong. I have another sister who is 92. I would say it’s just the luck of the draw. I’ve always had this energy. I never knew where it came from. I just thought that’s how everybody was. I feel so fortunate to have that.
This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.