To live among the animals

Elliott Rogers

“There Has Been a Huge Misunderstanding” by Elliott Rogers, resin clay, 2010.

“There Has Been a Huge Misunderstanding” by Elliott Rogers, resin clay, 2010.

Elliott Rogers exhibits at A Bitchin’ Space Friday, April 8, noon to 6 p.m.; Second Saturday, April 9, noon to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, April 10, noon to 4 p.m.

Happiness may mean being perceived as crazy. 38-year-old artist Elliott Rogers found happiness by rejecting urban living—and walls altogether—and taking up residence in a cloth shelter in the mountains near Redding. He followed his heart to be closer to nature, and this month, he’ll show his crittery sculptures at A Bitchin’ Space with the gallery’s proprietress Gale Hart, and Nathan Cordero, who is back from the East Coast. Rogers explained why his unconventional lifestyle works for his peace of mind, and for his artwork.

Gale said that the last time she talked to you, you were living in a tent with chickens.

(Laughs.) Well, yeah, I live in a tent, and I have chickens. They don’t live in the tent with me, but they do like to hang out there a lot. I’ve been living in a tent for the last two years, kind of off and on. The first year, I lived in a tent out in the mountains. This year I live under an apple tree in a friend’s backyard, still up north, but it’s a little different kind of setup. I just find a place where I can stay for a while and help out in exchange for living there, and kind of stay that course until I change paths and go somewhere else.

Where did you live prior to this?

I was living in Sacramento for 16 years and worked at the [Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op] for nine before that, and was going to school at [Sacramento City College].

What part of the mountains were you in the first year?

I was in the Trinity Alps area. I’m up north kind of near Redding right now … making art, living in my tent, taking care of my chickens and having a garden. … I kind of did something drastic, and people think I’m a little crazy, but I feel happier now than I ever did before.

How does tent residency affect your art? You mainly do ceramic?

I work with a resin clay. It’s kind of ceramic. It’s clay, but it’s not dirt clay. That actually allows me to work outside. Right now, with the weather, it’s a little harder for me to be outside in the elements—it’s cold, it’s wet. … I do have access to a house and can go inside if I need to, and have a place where I can use the bathroom and stuff like that.

That first year, you didn’t have bathroom or kitchen amenities, then?

The first year was a lot more interesting (laughs). I had to dig holes to go to the bathroom. … It was a lot rougher, but I actually prefer the first year over this year in that sense that it really took me to a place where I really had to depend a lot more on myself and be creative on how to get around living without. I mean, I went from my whole life living in an apartment, box-type house and that whole lifestyle to all of a sudden, a 180-degree turn. …

My life before, I was totally disconnected from nature. I kind of see that in the world. We’re really going farther away the more we destroy our planet, and I couldn’t live like that anymore. There’s a quote by Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I couldn’t wait for the world to change.

Tell me more about the resin clay.

It’s called Magic Sculp. … There’s two equal parts you mix together, and when you let it set, it air-dries and hardens, like rock hard. You can sand it, drill it, all that stuff. It’s almost like being able to work with clay or ceramics without having to have a kiln.

How long does the clay take to dry?

Six to eight hours. For what I do with my detail, I usually have an hour to an hour and a half to work until it starts to set. … I have to do it in sections, so I usually try to have at least three to five pieces going at the same time … so I can get multiple pieces done.

You do animals mostly in your work, like bears. Explain your animal influence.

I have a 6-and-a-half-foot giraffe, a camel, rabbits. I have dogs. I just did a platypus, a wombat, a goat. I kind of have a plethora of animals. …

I’ve always been drawn to animals since I was a kid, as far as I can remember. I mean, one of the first things I ever made was a papier-mâché squirrel. And I’ve always felt this connection to animals, and I kind of have it in life as it is: My friends always call me Dr. Doolittle, because animals and kids just come to me naturally.

I was imagining that you emerge from your tent in the forest in the morning, whistle a little song, and animals flock to you.

(Laughs.) It’s almost kind of like that! My chickens are kind of like that. If I don’t get up first, they come to my tent and they squawk until I get up. I actually have one that will jump up on my shoulder while I walk around. She just chills out on my shoulder. I do kind of feel like that sometimes, like Snow White or something.