Roderick Wolgamott Romero
If you google Roderick, you’ll find that he has multiple lives.
“I’m a sort of treehouse designer, builder, artist," one YouTube clip informed me. The treehouses Roderick builds are magical wonderlands, suspended midway in the sky and revered by customers like Sting and Julianne Moore. And there's also the other life - where Roderick is the co-lead singer of a trance rock musical group, Sky Cries Mary.
But we’re here to talk about his life as an artist, the one who exhibits his exquisite gold lacquered dog paintings and miniature drawings on cigarette boxes.
“Oh you’re meeting Roderick in his apartment? You’re in for a treat,” Lori informs me.
She was indeed, right as always.
Roderick’s small studio apartment on Avenue C, a few steps from The Stand, was as neat as a whistle and a reclaimed wood lover’s dream.
He’s passionate about what drives him to keep creating, to keep making art, but his words are not rushed. Each intonation is full of thought and deliberation.
“I could be an outsider architect,” he says, smiling at the idea, “or an intuitive artist. I come at it from the desire to do it, the need to do it."
“[Lori]’s like a curator, collector. But she’s a collector of stories. She’s encouraging in such a motherly way. She’s nurturing and inspiring. But I’ve never met someone inspiring in a hands-off way. She’s attracted to people who come from the street, and have a street smart."
Speaking of his first interaction with The Stand, Roderick is full of enthusiasm:
"I walked by one night and there were some musicians inside The Stand and I think they had just played, they were musicians that had been in a band that are played at like The Apollo that night but happened to like "let's go to the east village!" you know? and they were french, and so they were playing and I was like what is this? Cause it, you know, was like a little tiny theater on the corner of 7th and C."
Chance connections are created. But these can only come from Lori's constant commitment to The Stand - to be in the same spot, three days a week, throughout the warmer months.
Eight months went by before Roderick would bump into Lori again. From a chance connection comes a simple question from Lori to Roderick, "do you ever make small art?" The following week, Roderick returned to The Stand with six of his meticulously painted cigarette boxes and, with that, he's hooked into the loose community that is The Stand family.
We tried to decipher together what The Stand was all about. Was it purely a place to display outsider art? Was it a place for outsiders in general to converge? Could it be viewed as a means of art therapy?
Roderick is a romantic about what The Stand means to him. Rather than the aloof white walls of an art gallery, he feels The Stand is its own entity, its own art piece. If one were to take a photo of The Stand, there would be no space on the wall and it might even appear as if there's no logic to its curation. Except for Lori's logic. It's a collective/static performance that invites the passersby to take on a bigger role and stay a while. Like the time three French musicians left their gig at the Apollo Theater, wandered down to the East Village, and started jamming at The Stand. Or the times when local poets and artists try out their work and turn The Stand into a miniature theater, just for a night.
In that way, The Stand offers Roderick and many others a chance to reconnect with the spirit of the East Village. With the level of gentrification that has taken hold in the last decade in the East Village, The Stand holds fast as one of the last bastions of old school realness. A place where "yuppies going to the East Village to be dangerous, collide with crossdressing drag queens heading to the West Side." On any given night, he can hang out with his East Village art family whether there are familiar faces from the neighborhood or curious passersby. It is a meeting place where the medium of art allows one to transcend social class and income brackets, mental illness and disadvantage.
As we neared the end of our interview, Roderick agrees to take us on a private tour of a treehouse nest that he built in the El Jardin del Paraiso Community Garden on East Fourth Street in Alphabet City. Despite the damage from Hurricane Sandy, the nest treehouse stands as one of the beloved monuments to the spirit of community and creativity. That treehouse serves as an apt metaphor for The Stand.