Husband and wife pursue quirky artistic visions
The styles of Robb Rocket and Roswell are not the same, but they are complementary
FARMINGTON — Pinned to the wall of the Retro Mod Studio he and his wife Roswell call home, Robb Rocket keeps a list of reminders he has dubbed “The Simple Seven.”
It would be a mistake to call the document a manifesto, for nailing high-minded or incendiary proclamations to the wall or door a la Martin Luther certainly isn’t the easygoing Rocket’s style. It’s just a list of words to live by as he pursues an outside-the-mainstream artistic vision that he shares with his wife, and he needed a place where he could see “The Simple Seven” when he stood at his easel.
So there you have it. While the Farmington artist goes about his work, crafting an elaborate, colorful and imaginative painting from one of his pen-and-ink drawings, he sometimes has to remind himself about what purpose his work serves.
When he begins to wonder about that, he needn’t look any further than No. 1 on the list.
“Rocket art is about fun – not competition!” it states.
And if that doesn’t help him get his mind right, he lets his eyes fall to No. 2.
“Commissions are stressful & almost never fun!!” it states.
There are five others that drive home those points, a few in equally straightforward language. Rocket certainly doesn’t pretend that he’s figured out the secret to finding creative satisfaction in a community where it’s very difficult, even discouraging sometimes, to achieve commercial success as an artist.
But “The Simple Seven” help keep him on track, he said. He’s already been through that stage where he tried to create art specifically for other people, and he didn’t find much of that life to his liking.
Now, he and Roswell – that’s the artistic name chosen by his wife and studio partner, Tina Marie Farrow – have learned it’s much better to go their own way, even if that limits their commercial viability.
“Doing art for customers is not my deal,” said Rocket, whose work includes sci-fi, burlesque, hot rod, tiki, contemporary street and other pop-culture elements. “I like doing my own thing, and the customer buys what I already did.”
Roswell takes an even simpler approach to making art.
“We do it for fun,” she said. “Even though the economy’s kind of down and people are less likely to spend money on art, it’s fun just having these art shows and giving people something to look at and smile at. There’s more to art than just selling it.”
Don’t get Rocket and Roswell wrong. They both work regular jobs to stay afloat — he’s employed by a natural gas company, and she’s a longtime school bus driver and personal care assistant — and they’d love nothing more than to be able sell enough of their work so that they could devote themselves to creative pursuits full time.
Nor are they without ambition. They launched their Retro Mod Studio in their home this summer with an eye toward eventually making it a venture that handles the work of other artists in addition to their own. But they’re practical enough to realize that’s not something that’s going to happen overnight, and in the meantime, they’re determined to be happy with things as they are.
To a large degree, they’ve already done that. Finding each other four years ago has been a big part of that process, they said.
Given the relatively modest size of the local art community, the two were already aware of each other before they struck up their first real conversation one night at an opening reception in a downtown gallery that since has fallen by the wayside. It took only a few minutes before they started talking about the art that surrounded them and bouncing ideas off each other. By the time the night was over, Roswell had agreed to visit Rocket’s home for what she called a “studio night.”
“He was kind enough to share a studio with me because I didn’t have a place to paint,” Roswell said.
Rocket was happy to do that.
“It’s fun to paint with other artists,” he said. “You don’t get those opportunities very often.”
So Roswell began showing up at Rocket’s studio increasingly often. The two would set up their easels, pour themselves a glass of wine, put on some music, and talk art and make art. Before long, they were spending their weekends checking out the art scene in various other communities in the region.
“We became inseparable,” Roswell said.
They found they had things in common besides their artistic impulses. Both are Farmington natives but had moved away — she to Albuquerque for many years, he for a much shorter time to Tempe, Ariz., to go to graphic design school — only to find themselves drawn back to their hometown.
Within a short time, they were married, each one exploring his or her own quirky artistic style. Roswell, who takes her name from the southern New Mexico community where she was born because she feels a kinship with the aliens who supposedly crash landed there in 1947, has a background in traditional painting through her studies at Central New Mexico Community College and The Harwood Art Center. But, like her husband, she found that mainstream approach too constraining and yearned to develop a distinctive style of her own.
It didn’t take long before she had embraced the so-called Googie style that emerged from southern California in the 1940s. That genre is known for its bright colors, along with futuristic, geometric elements — think “The Jetsons" — and Roswell likes to mix that with the more traditional style she picked up in Albuquerque.
Neither artist has chosen a genre that has received widespread appreciation from the public. And yet, it is a delight for the eyes, particularly when their work is paired together. Their eccentric styles are markedly different, but they complement each other.
Rocket and Roswell certainly haven’t had any trouble finding gallery owners willing to display their work. They regularly show their art throughout the Farmington area, and their latest work is on display now at Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, where they’ve got a reception planned for Friday, Oct. 23.
“The art community here is extremely cool,” Rocket said. “We love the people. The problem is we don’t sell much. I don’t think anybody does, because the economy is depressed. That being said, if you’re an artist, you have to do it. It’s who you are. We have shows where we don’t sell anything, and it doesn’t seem to slow us down.”
Roswell said she’s encouraged by the improvement she’s seen in the local art scene in recent years.
“In the last four years since we’ve been together, it’s grown a lot,” she said. “It used to be a traditional Southwestern scene. Now, there’s a lot more low-brow stuff, a lot of artists who are doing their own thing. And in spite of the juxtaposition between the low-brow and high-brow scenes, we’re all friends, and we all accept each other’s works.”
Roswell earned a measure of validation for her work earlier this year when her piece “Outlook” earned “Best of Show” honors in the “Gateway to Imagination” national juried art exhibition at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park. That award certainly pleased her, but she refuses to let a little taste success unground her.
“You don’t see this type of work every day, so winning an award for that kind of work was exciting,” she said. “But I’d rather let the art speak for me.”
The funny thing about that award, she said, was that she accidentally destroyed the piece when she photographed it through a complicated technical process for submission to the show. It was only with Rocket’s help that she was able to bring it back to life, she said, laughing.
“So all the struggle I had with it was worth it,” she said, smiling. “The end of that story is, don’t give up.”
That’s something Rocket doesn’t have to be told. In addition to “The Simple Seven,” Roswell said her husband possesses an artistic drive that’s virtually impossible to extinguish, making him virtually immune to the dreaded “art block” and a reliable source of inspiration to her.
Rocket’s work at Crash Music, for instance, features 73 pen-and-ink drawings that cover a good portion of the south wall of the cavernous former movie theater. But that only scratches the surface, he said.
“Once I saw them hanging in one place, I became obsessed with having enough to cover an entire wall,” he said, grinning. “I want to grow this installation into … a monster.”
Rocket calls those works “The Bone Yard” because the drawings are intended to serve as the inspiration for a series of paintings. In that respect, these works are merely the skeleton for more fully realized work that will be completed later.
“So, I guess I’m building a bone yard – just in time for Halloween,” he said.
Roswell’s plans for the future are no less lofty. She’d like nothing more than to discover and popularize some wild, out-there color that hasn’t been used up until now.
“I like a lot of vibrant colors,” she said. “And I like using a flat color against a candy color. But there aren’t enough colors in this world. We need more.”
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If You Go
What: Opening reception for an exhibition of new work by Robb Rocket and Roswell
When: 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23
Where: Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. in Aztec
For more information: Call 505-427-6748 or visit crashmusicaztec.com