Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Roy David Rogers: A Profile

As you can imagine, a name like Roy Rogers can cause quite a bit of kidding. But Roy David Rogers is no singing cowboy. In addition to being an accomplished artist, he’s also a professor at National University.

Rogers sits on a couch in the living room of his Escondido home, which offers panoramic views of the valley below. He’s dressed comfortably in a black shirt and blue jeans, which complement his silver hair and beard. Almost everywhere you look, there are examples of his creativity and eccentric personality. Above the fireplace, a model train is suspended in motion, coming out of a tunnel in the wall. It hangs in midair where the track ends. Upon closer inspection, you can see that Rogers has placed miniature passengers in the crazy scene, some of which are leaping from the doomed train. His eyes smile from behind his dark-rimmed glasses as he points out his creation.

Born in Lake Elsinore, CA in 1946 and raised in Los Angeles, Rogers majored in art in high school, but it was difficult for him to envision art as a profession at that time.

“My parents were normal working-class people, you know, my father built houses,” says Rogers. “So they didn’t actually encourage me.”

After graduating high school, Rogers attended a community college in Los Angeles, but did poorly and soon dropped out. It was the mid-1960’s, and the Vietnam War was in raging. Less than one year later, Rogers was drafted. Soon after, he joined the Navy.

After his service, Rogers decided to give college another shot. Using his GI Bill, he enrolled at Arizona State, this time majoring in architecture. He felt that architecture was a good way to make a real living while drawing upon his creative nature. But eventually Rogers grew weary of the program.

“At the time I was going to school there, the program was really more engineering than it was an art, and that didn’t interest me at all,” he says. “And everyone seemed to agree in the program that I had a lot of talent and that my buildings were very interesting, but they’d probably fall down.”

It was during this time that Rogers discovered the art department, and began taking classes in art education. In a way, his choice to study art education was an effort to show his parents that he was doing something that they may consider to be worthwhile. It was at this point in his life that Rogers decided that he would make a serious commitment to being an artist.

“I made a decision that no matter what happened to me or how my life played out, that’s what I was going to do,” he says. “And I just sort of went after it. Sink or swim, here I go.”

His studio, which is a converted garage he jokingly refers to as his “two-car studio”, Rogers shows his series of miniature homes. He’s dubbed them “One Hundred Days of Solitude”, after the novel of the same name by author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Many of them are elaborately detailed, some sitting high atop pedestals or stands. One is covered with playing cards, another is surrounded by sand. The series was shown at Grossmont College in 2000.

Professor Roy David Rogers in his studio
“They’re meant to be funny in a way,” laughs Rogers. “Sort of little stories of my life.”

There are also a series of toys in the studio that Rogers has modified. A couple of years ago, he and some friends did a show of this series, which he describes as ”toys from toys.” He points out a black battleship with legs attached to it, and guns protruding from every conceivable spot.

Rogers also re-designed a Clue board game, which is complete with different characters and a more complex story than the original.

“In this game you don’t try to find out who the murderer is,” explains Rogers. “You may become the murderer.”

In the 1970’s, while working in a gallery and practicing an old form of print-making, he was introduced to Fran├žoise Gilot, who had been Pablo Picasso’s lover, and the mother of two of his children. Rogers and Gilot soon became close friends. One day, Rogers confided in Gilot that he had decided to be a painter, and that he needed to go to Paris to study. She told him that he should stay at her home. He needed little convincing.

“So in 1978 or so, I packed up all my stuff and moved to Paris,” he says. “I really didn’t have any plans of coming back.”

Eventually he did return to the states. After working several part time jobs which allowed him to scrape by, Rogers really began to feel that he wasn’t getting anywhere. After some soul-searching and working in solitude, he began showing his work and experiencing success.

Soon after, Rogers began working as a substitute teacher. He found that the schedule worked well for him, and taught only Tuesday through Thursday, which allowed him four solid days to focus on his art.

At this juncture in his life, Rogers felt a creative shift take place within himself.

“Even though it was very personal and I knew the people I was painting and that kind of stuff, I had this nagging sense that I wasn’t really talking about anything that I wanted to talk about,” he says. “The thing that was really motivating me at that point was that I had this kind of skewed vision of family. I was adopted before I was born and I never knew who my biological parents were.”

Rogers feels that his adoption was the cause of his deep-rooted sense of abandonment. Later on, his adopted parents ended all contact, favoring his first wife over him.

“I started looking at family, emotionally, and what it meant, and in a way, it really didn’t mean anything to me because all the people I knew who were quote family, they’re not related to me,” he says.

Rogers then began collecting old black and white photographs, some of friends and family, while others were found in antique and thrift stores. And so he began a series of paintings about family, using the photographs as a way to express the fact that the people in them were family, but not his own.

From a distance, the paintings appear to be plain black and white photographs. But they certainly are not;
 Rogers has painted the pictures to look exactly like a photograph, in turn creating his idea of a “skewed vision of family.”

Several examples of this series hang on the walls of Rogers’ home, one of which took third place in a show in San Bernardino.

When the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art finally opened one of its shows to artists who lived and worked in San Diego, Rogers’ work was displayed.

“So I got into that show,” he says. “I was still pretty young then, like early thirties, and everyone who was in it, we all felt like, wow, we just got like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.”

While Rogers was happy with the success of his family photo painting series, he didn’t want to be known for that alone, or to be expected to produce the same kind of work in the future.

So in order to prevent this from happening, Rogers stopped painting. He showed his work at some galleries in Los Angeles, but explains that it took him a couple of years to regenerate.

“I started working with the theoretical side of art,” he says. “And trying to understand it from a different perspective rather than what I had always read to believe and been taught to believe and what it was, and what it is.”

Rogers shows some of his work

Rogers then embarked on what he called a “failed experiment to sort of re-invent the wheel”, in which he tried to work out a system that incorporated representation within abstraction. He was looking for an ideal balance between the two. And so he began painting still-life with a unique spin. Even though he wasn’t particularly happy with the outcome in the beginning, he did grow quite fond of the series of work that resulted.

After placing a piece in a show at Palomar College, Rogers was invited to teach painting and drawing classes there. He ended up staying for almost 15 years and enjoyed it, but he the administration was more interested in teaching art the traditional way, while he wanted to teach a more modern version.

In 1996, Rogers had a series of heart-attacks.

“I had angioplasty, then went back to work for about another month and I had another heart attack. I barely made it to the hospital on time to get the drug that could clear that up a bit otherwise I would have been a goner,” he says.

While in the hospital, Rogers came down with the flu. His doctors were leery of performing bypass surgery on him in his weakened state. Then, while he was recovering, he suffered another heart attack. Luckily, at the time of this third attack, the doctor on call was one of the best heart surgeons in the United States.

“They gave me all new wiring,” he says. “I woke up five days later from an induced coma with tubes running out of every orifice of my body. They told me later that they had put me on a drug with the initials LFD, and the doctors and nurses joked that it they called it ‘leave him for dead’. They didn’t think that I was going to come back, and for some reason I did.”

In 1990 a general rule was enacted requiring anyone teaching at the college level to have a master’s degree. At the time, Rogers was the only professor at Palomar College who was teaching with a BA. And so he applied for graduate school at UCSD, walking away three years later with his MFA.

Stacked neatly against one wall of his studio are many of Rogers’ paintings from the 1980’s.

“I guess it was sometime in the late 80’s that I gave up trying to sell to galleries,” he says. “And since then I haven’t shown many places other than schools, museums and exhibition spaces.”

A few years ago, however, he began showing a few things at the municipal gallery in Escondido. Rogers explains that he’s more interested in the art and personal satisfaction that it gives him rather than any financial rewards.

“I’d really rather kind of avoid it,” he says of fame and fortune. “Because it places all sorts of restrictions on you. And there are all sorts of people who want to make you do certain things.”

Rogers in front of his bible collection

In a corner near the door of his studio is Rogers’ curious collection of bibles. He had been collecting them for some time and was planning to make a pillar of them, but it didn’t quite work out the way he wanted it to. He likes having them, but is still in the process of finding a creative use for the dozens of bibles.

After teaching at MiraCosta College for a bit, Rogers got a job teaching at National University, taking on some literature and adult experience courses. When art and art history classes began to be added, Rogers began teaching those, and has been doing so ever since.

“He’s a very engaging teacher,” says Professor Annette Cyr, who is the lead faculty of the arts department at NU. “He encourages his students. He even encourages me.”

Cyr also points out that Rogers was instrumental in the creation of the 214a Gallery, which utilized storage space in room 214 at NU’s La Mesa campus. The Spiral Bound opening resulted, and began June 18, 2011.

“I probably would never have thought about a closet as a gallery,” says Cyr. “But he was the one who said, ‘just get me a closet, and I’ll make something out of it.’”
Cyr also respects Rogers’ work as an artist.

“There’s always a lot of humor,” she says of his work that she’s seen. “And a lot of sophistication, conceptually.”

Rogers says that while has done many other things in his life, art is a necessity.

“I have to do it because I have to feel I’m doing something good,” he says.

High Fuel Costs Mount for Local Fishermen

Every time lobster fisherman Dan Riley pulls his boat onto the fuel dock before a trip, he knows it’s going to painful.

The 30-year-old entrepreneur owns and captains his own boat, the 40-foot Caitibeth, which is named for his two twin daughters. The diesel engine on the Caitibeth is fed from four tanks, each holding 80 gallons. With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, Riley’s stop at a fuel dock off Harbor Island in San Diego Bay runs him roughly $1,000.

Due in some part to the unrest in the Middle East and a poor economy, recent spikes in prices of fuel are always making headlines. Almost daily, you’ll hear about how gas prices are affecting prices of airline tickets, and about how people are feeling the pain at the pump; people cutting back on extras, making their coffee at home rather than stopping for that latte at the local coffee shop, people riding their bicycles to work. But how have those high prices affected the fishing industry, an industry that is heavily reliant upon fuel to bring seafood lovers their lobster and swordfish?

San Diego's G Street Pier

“That’s the hard thing,” Riley says of the high fuel costs. “Along with the restrictions from [the Department of] Fish and Game, it almost drives out the one-man fisherman. Of course, it’s easier on the big guys because they can absorb the cost, and they can also come up with tons of fish. There’s a lot of talk about sustainability and all that, but they’re driving out the people who make it sustainable.”

Riley, a San Diego native who looks more like a football player than a fisherman, is one of the few in the business who don’t have a family tradition in the fishery. Because the Department of Fish and Game only issues a certain number of licenses to prevent overfishing and promote sustainability, many licenses are passed on to relatives. In fisheries like Riley’s, a license can cost $75,000.

“I’m lucky to be where I am,” he says. “I knew the right people at the right time.”

Riley explains that other than repairing and replacing his gear, fuel is his biggest expense. Additionally, he needs to buy bait and pay any crewmen he hires to help him on the Caitibeth.

“To be honest, I’ve never heard of any alternative to using gas to power our boats,” Riley says. “No matter what, we need that petroleum. What are we supposed to do, put sails back up on our boats?”

San Diego has been home to a vibrant fishing industry for thousands of years. Even before Cabrillo sailed into its big bay in 1542, Kumeyaay Indians were there fishing from canoes. Later, scores of Italian and Portuguese immigrants formed the backbone of prosperous fishing communities such as Point Loma and Little Italy. Until heavy regulations forced them to relocate to other countries in the 1980’s, the embarcadero was home to numerous tuna canneries and purse seiners; of all the fisheries in the world, those in the United States, and more specifically in California, are the most regulated.

According to the Port of San Diego, there are more than 130 commercial fishermen in the area, and their catch includes rock crab, California halibut, shark, rockfish, albacore tuna, spot prawns, swordfish, red sea urchins and the California spiny lobster.

San Diego's Tuna Fleet

The Port has also stressed the importance of the fishery upon the overall financial health of San Diego’s economy. A 2007 survey by Responsive Management, a research firm focused on public opinion, showed that 70 percent of Californians either moderately or strongly agreed that they like visiting working waterfronts, and even visit places specifically for that reason.

But that’s not all. People love to eat seafood.

According to a study conducted by the Port of San Diego in which restauranteurs, retailers and processors were interviewed, there is a high demand and interest for locally-caught seafood.   The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that on average, Americans eat nearly 17 pounds of seafood each year, which is up from 12.5 pounds in 1980.

While prices of fuel are high enough for those who drive automobiles, prices are that much higher for fishermen who fill up at fuel docks.

“Marina fuel distributors appear to have a monopoly with no incentive to be competitive,” Utilities Consumers’ Action Network Gas Project manager Charles Langley states in an email. “Marina prices tend to be excessively high, and are in my opinion, often guilty of price gouging.”

“We have people that come in, and because the red diesel we sell doesn’t have any excise tax, people are upset because we’re not cheaper than people on the street,” says Erik Poole, the owner of High Seas Fuel Dock, a family-run business that has been operating on Shelter Island since 1972.

According to Poole, the costs of operating a fuel dock outweigh those of their street counterparts. And because the dock is floating in salt water, maintenance costs are extremely high. Additionally, because of safety reasons, fuel docks are full service operations; dock employees fuel the boats, rather than allowing boat owners to do it. The Coast Guard and the Department of Fish and Game have strict regulations in place for fuel docks in order to prevent spills.

“Also, if I could have a girl sitting behind a glass window selling cigarettes and soda pop, and it was completely self-serve like gas stations, yeah I could lower my prices big time,” Poole says.

In fact, business for the fuel docks has declined recently, and owners have struggled just like the fishermen who buy gas from them. Poole points out a cold spell last summer that limited the number of sportfishing boats going out on trips. Big boats mean big numbers, and High Seas offers discounts for volume, or what Poole considers to be a kind of transaction fee in order to keep customers.

Poole also says that he sold half a million gallons less of diesel in 2010 than he did in 2009. “In fact, I’m still owed a lot of money,” he says. “Not just from sport fishing guys, but from other companies with boats who couldn’t pay because it was such a horrible year.”

“As far as a gouging and a monopoly,” Poole continues, “There’s four fuel docks in San Diego Bay, and we’re all competing for business. A majority of the year, for about seven months, it’s pretty slim pickings. We fight tooth and nail for sales.”

Fuel Dock, San Diego Bay

 Poole also makes clear that if High Seas were the only fuel dock in San Diego Bay, he would have no problem lowering his prices, simply because of the increase of business it would create.

And while fuel costs are as high as they are, fishermen such as Riley are reliant upon markets such as Chesapeake Fish Company, where he often sells his catch, to set a price that reflects the costs he has to incur. And of course, there has to be a demand for what he catches in order to turn a profit.
The prices of certain species of fish are affected even more.

According to Sean Shannon, who owns El Pescador Restaurant and Fish Market in La Jolla, prices of harpooned swordfish will soon be on the rise. Swordfish caught this way require not just a boat, but also employ a spotter plane that tells the boat where to go.

Shannon has also noticed some fisherman not finishing a season, but instead dropping out when the fishing gets slower.

“They’ll say ‘forget it, I’m not going to go out there and spend one hundred fifty bucks on fuel and get ten lobsters, so they’ll just quit for the season. So that’s another effect that it has on us,” he says.
El Pescador, which opened in 1974, sells a great deal of locally caught fish from June to November.

“My prices will go up,” Shannon says. “But I’ll usually kind of absorb it for a period of time and maybe bump it.”

Riley, like many fishermen, has to be versatile in order to make a decent living, and also fishes other species.
From April to September, the off-season for lobster, he’s really a jack of all trades in the fishery.

According to another Port of San Diego study, commercial fishery-related workers earned an average of $40,026 in 2008, which is some $6,000 less than the average county worker.

“Right now I’m getting to the point of wanting to go out more,” Riley says. “You know, there’s a lot of fish coming up and a lot more stuff I can be doing, so gas is going to be a big concern for me.”

Despite the hazards of the job, and its many financial pitfalls, Riley reveals a deep-rooted passion for what he does, and doesn’t plan on letting anything stop him from taking the Caitibeth out for another trip to the grounds.

“I’d never do anything else,” he says with an enormous smile. “Nothing beats it. I love being out on the water, and I love being my own boss.”

The Shepherd of Occupy Seattle

Amidst the hordes of chanting young protestors in Seattle’s Westgate park stands 45-year-old Delmar Bryant. But Bryant isn’t the garden variety protestor. And if you couldn’t figure that out on your own, the words written on two pieces of tape attached to the front of his jacket may give you a better idea. Scrawled in black ink, they read: Ministerial Staff.

As a Christian minister, Bryant felt an obligation to participate in the Occupy Seattle protests, praying over not just the demonstrators, but the police officers who are there to make sure that all remains safe and peaceful. And just like the other participants, Bryant has been camped out in the rain for four days. He’s also carrying his own cardboard sign which reads: “If you need a prayer, just ask.”

“I’ve never been in a protest about anything in my life,” he says. “And I wanted to be here in a nonviolent way. Any violence and I’m out of here.”

Originally from Guthrie, Oklahoma, Bryant has lived in Seattle for three years. In addition to counseling friends and family, he also sings in the choir at Seattle’s University Presbyterian Church. And while he is a minister without a specific congregation, he feels a need to look after people, even when it may bring him into potentially volatile situations like that of the Occupy Seattle protests.

“I understand that we don’t want the police to police us,” repeats a growing crowd of protestors behind Bryant, taking the cue from several people standing high atop a wall. “We also need to be accountable for accurate information,” they say.

While the protestors maintain a peaceful disposition about them, none ever really shouting, the air is thick with tension as Seattle Police watch from under the awnings adjacent to the park, an area they have set as off-limits to the protestors.

“Two days ago, a bunch of these people went and sat down right there on Fourth Avenue blocking traffic,” says Bryant, pointing to the street next to the park. “The police came and told them to move, and they got up and moved.”

On the other side of Bryant, another large group of protestors mill around the edges of the park, many carrying homemade signs that read things like, “You are the 99 percent! Wake up! No more corporate control of congress!”

What looks to be a chaotic scene is actually a very choreographed and organized demonstration. There is an information booth set up, and a primitive display of the leadership is detailed on a board there, explaining the different colored armbands made of tape. Different colors represent those who, for example, have medical and legal training. Nearby is a large tent containing food and water for the protestors, all of which has been donated by both individuals and businesses.

According to Bryant, the water and food supply have reached critical stages several times. But after administering prayers for them to be replenished, someone always appeared with donations. Bryant sees those situations as nothing short of miracles.

Bryant plans to stick out the protests in Westgate Park, and sees his role as an important one, making sure that everyone is safe.

“There are a lot of bright young people here,” he says with a smile. “They are going to be potential future leaders.