OCEAN SHORES – Don’t be afraid when you enter the Rochon Sculpture Gallery.
Unlike wide sandy beaches, pounding surf and cries of gulls, nature’s gifts to calm the psyche, ex-Whidbey Islander Louie Rochon’s papier-mache creations throw a one-two punch before flipping your amusement switch.
The artist opened a gallery and studio here in December. He warns it may not be suitable for young children and narrow-minded adults.
“I work in the studio in the back. By the time I run up front, I sometimes, literally, see them hurrying back to get into their car,” Rochon said.
It may be the work that greets them at the door. “The Critic” is a wild man reaching out of an abstract painting on the wall to grip the life-size critic by the throat, lifting him off his feet.
“It’s my warning piece. Basically it’s me, my attitude about constructive criticism.”
Not everyone will appreciate Rochon’s sense of humor, and a few wood carvings in the gallery are sexual in nature.
Rochon’s life has been on a roller coaster, up with three successful careers, making a couple of fortunes, and walking across America raising money for pediatric AIDS programs; down with losing a couple fortunes and the three D’s: divorce, depression, drinking.
This century, he decided to become an artist. In search of an art book in a Whidbey library, Rochon discovered “The Simple Screamer,” a book on making papier-mache monsters.
He decided to build one.
“About halfway through the light bulb came on: ‘Wow, I’ve found my medium. Anything I can perceive, I can build.’ It reminded me of ‘South Park.’ I have creative liberty to poke my finger in any topic that interests me.”
With the encouragement of Lee Wexler, professor emeritus of fine arts at California State University, he plunged in full time.
Rochon and his son moved to Ocean Shores and opened the gallery. Large letters on the windows read: “Welcome to the strangest little art gallery in Washington.”
If you make it past Rochon’s early warning system, meet “Bi-Polar,” an elaborate two-headed dragon. One head has cocker spaniel ears, big blue eyes and a droopy little tongue. The other has little drips of acrylic drool, pointy ears and catlike eyes.
“I suffered (clinical) depression all my life,” Rochon said. “The two-headed dragon is a great image. I could have made three or four heads and it would apply to me on certain days.”
Then there’s Granny in “Senior Road Rage.” The model, a retired Whidbey Island school teacher, has a sweet personality, Rochon said.
That’s a far cry from his papier-mache version, developed after she confided that one of her little character flaws was flipping the bird to slow-moving Whidbey tourists. “Senior Road Rage” is an out-of-control Granny in a hopped-up golf cart.
“Her hand is actually coming through the windshield and it has a bright pink golf glove on it. … Everybody relates to that. I sell a lot of postcards with that one.”
Rochon’s new line is a delightfully stylized series called FisHeads.
“I’m selling them faster than I can make them (but) I don’t consider it real art. It’s a craft; cute, fun, playful, colorful and affordable.”
The artist is working on completing enough large pieces for a New York City show.
His current project is an eagle with a 12-foot wing span “that’s going to irritate some people, but art is an opinion. It will have monstrous red, white, and blue stylized wings and a tiny little eagle brain and monstrously ornate talons with big fingers holding two fish nets overflowing with oil barrels.”
Irritation doesn’t faze Rochon; nor does the challenge of big-city critics.
“I just want to give it everything I’ve got. I can’t control the outcome. After New York, I’ll either be the next greatest thing since Andy Warhol … or I’ll make you a hell of a deal on a bunch of big papier-mache stuff.”
Rochon Sculpture Gallery photos
LEFT: “Bi-Polar” is a two-headed dragon. “I could have made three or four heads and it would apply to me on certain days,” Louie Rochon says.
BELOW: Former Whidbey Island resident Louie Rochon is in his fourth career, as artist.
Rochon says his FisHead series pays the bills but it will be his large papier-mache creations he’ll take to New York.