There is a slim volume on my bookshelf called “Heaven Bound,” a collection of 21 paintings and 21 corresponding poems, a collaborative and lyrical expression of the somewhat sorry state of our worlds, both physical and spiritual. “Heaven Bound” is a thing of beauty, depth, wit, horror, irreverence. The paintings are by Newport-based artist Sandy Roumagoux (pronounced room’-a-goo). The poems, by Roumagoux’s good friend Jim Fleming, were written in response to each of the paintings.
“Heaven Bound” was published by Cape Perpetua Press as a limited edition in 1998. Fifteen years later, the inspirational force behind those poems – Roumagoux’s paintings – have held up, timeless and universal. Within them are themes and images that continue to infuse the painter’s work: recognition and acceptance of the paradoxical absurdities of existence; anger at human disregard for and abuse of nature; rejection of society’s acceptance of violence and hypocrisy. Dogs, salmon, rural folk, carrion, toxic discards, religious imagery are plunked down, with satirical edge, amidst bucolic surroundings.
Roumagoux paints what she sees, what grabs her, as she drives the back roads of Lincoln County. Her new work on view at KALA is, like her old work, rich, gorgeous, big (the biggest canvas is 4’x6’). In a few of the new paintings, Roumagoux elegantly inserts human-made beauty – the classic form of a Conde McCullough bridge in cerulean blue, for example – into the wild. Some of the paintings are joyful or hopeful. Others reflect, simultaneously, deep serenity and profound loneliness. Still others are subtle-yet-biting commentaries on modern rural life. Every one of the paintings is strikingly beautiful, even those of discarded tires in the landscape, tires that nature has covered up and disguised as benign under green waves of salal and blackberries. The tires become part of the flora, hauntingly appealing in much the same way the Ashcan School of the early 20th Century turned the squalor of New York’s Lower East Side into a thing of aching beauty.
“It is more beautiful than ugly, but it doesn’t excuse it,” says Roumagoux of her Tire Series. “You don’t think about it because of the vegetation. Nature covers waste, but it’s still not a good thing.”
Among Roumagoux’s early creative influences are Marsden Hartley, Milton Avery and C.S. Price – and it shows. Her use of color, application of paint and representational-yet-abstract composition are similar. But her subject matter is almost always more activist than theirs ever was. Her work gives voice to strong personal opinions and points of view.
My favorite painting in the show is arrestingly subversive. In it, a hand-painted sign that reads “If You Go To Hell, It’s Your Fault” hangs above an apprehensive, sitting dog. Two men lounge nearby. Behind them is a rotting pile of salmon carcasses. The men nonchalantly gaze over the sign and over the dog and ignore the rotting salmon. The painting seems to be an indictment of the way much of society chooses to look elsewhere rather than struggle with thorny problems such as fishery depletion and environmental degradation.
“I focus on our culture’s abuse of the environment, our love affair with greed, our throw-away consumerism and our sanitizing of violence,” writes Roumagoux in her online artist’s statement. “These abuses are glossed over with religious platitudes.”
“I’ve been called political, but I don’t know how to separate politics from art. Both ask something of us, something that challenges us to a responsibility. Painter or politician, we come as candidates. We want our message to resonate with the body politic, with the voters. We make promises.”
Roumagoux served on the Newport City Council for several years before her successful run for Mayor of Newport last November. Her experience as a driven, highly lauded regional painter has informed her worldview. She deeply appreciates how much local artists can contribute to a town’s economy and quality of life. Her advice to fellow municipal-government officials?
“Listen to the artists,” she says. “Being an artist is being a small business. If you want to learn how to make a small business go on very little money and overhead, an artist knows how to do it. They do a lot more with a lot less…The arts are great in building community. There shouldn’t be the division that there is. I find it surprising that it still is. We need to learn from one another.”
Sandy Roumagoux exhibits New Paintings at KALA.
Opening Aug 10, 5-8pm, Astoria 2nd Saturday Art Walk
Through Sept 3.
1017 Marine Drive in Astoria. Viewing Hours: Sats/Suns 12 noon to 4pm
KALA presents Newport artist Sandy Roumagoux for the Second Saturday Art Walk in Astoria. Roumagoux is represented by Blackfish Gallery in Portland. She received her Bachelor and Masters of Fine Art degrees from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville where she stayed to teach courses in drawing, painting and design. She grew up on a farm in the Willamette Valley of Oregon where “gun cabinets were as normal a piece of furniture as the dining table.” Her paintings are included in the Microsoft Collection, Oregon Health Sciences, University of Arkansas, and she has exhibited in the Oregon Biennial, Portland Art Museum and the Galerie Brati Capku in Prague, Czech Republic. Currently, she is serving a two year term as the mayor of Newport, Oregon and is melding her love of politics with that of a painter/artist.