Roach and Nia Danielle Lovemore Rutledge on Queer Friendship
Nia Danielle Lovemore Rutledge and Roach posing with their collaboration
Rochelly Elias (Roach) and Nia Danielle Lovemore Rutledge met in highschool in Lawrence, KS shortly after Nia moved there from Tulsa, OK. They were around 15 when they sat together at a lunch table, and Roach tried to make conversation by asking Nia what she thought of Alexa Chung.
“This was prime time of 2013 Tumblr,” Nia said.
What started as a little conversation sprouting from Tumblr discourse blossomed into a long and fruitful friendship.
“Knowing Rochelly has completely changed me as a person,” Nia said. “Had I not met her, I would not be the same person I am today.”
“I would not be making art,” Roach added.
The two Lawrence-based artists told the story of their meeting between bursts of laughter. Their narration appeared a happy symbiosis as they filled in what the other missed and smiled as they spoke.
“I think Rochelly and I were always undeniably weird and gay and liked art,” Nia said. “We didn’t even need to come out to each other. It was always a direct connection.”
The two exchanged drawings of pin-up girls and passed notes with Velvet Underground lyrics. Roach recalled how Nia encouraged her to use color in her work and hyped her up. Their content converged on one subject in particular.
“I’ve always loved drawing women’s bodies,” Roach said.
Nia too shared in this passion, once even getting into an argument with a high school art teacher about the nudity in her work.
“I never really realize how controversial nudity is until I show it to other people,” Nia said.
Now, many years since high school passed, the two are free to depict what they want how they want to.
Nia and Roach recently collaborated on a four-panel graphic story titled: “The Swampy Love Story between Fire Fairy & Mystery Mermaid.”
The artwork is as much a testament to their friendship as an exploration of eroticism and platonic love. It reads like a map of their artistic growth and an alter to queer representation.
And about Tumblr… that oft-forgot blogging platform did more than stoke the flames of their friendship, it was also a source of early influence for both Roach and Nia.
“Tumblr really influenced my art,” Nia said. “It really influenced the idea of curating a certain aesthetic.”
Nia described the different phases her blog went through from neon lights, to disposable cameras, and evolving into a depository of all things vintage lingerie, burlesque, and erotica. These last subjects are still present in Nia’s work which often takes nude female bodies as its subject matter.
In “The Swampy Love Story” a shapely, bare-bodied mermaid (a stand-in for Nia) reaches out to a sparsely-clad fairy (a stand-in for Roach). The fantasy swampland is replete with flowers, vines, and leaves as voluptuous as the female figures themselves.
Roach and Nia both stress the importance of producing the representation you want to see.
“There isn’t much representation of bigger women in drawing,” Roach said. “I’m just sick and tired of seeing the representation of skinny white women in drawings and art. Because I feel so distant from that. And also it's usually fine art — I just want to see cute cartoons, cute illustrations of diverse women with diverse bodies loving each other.”
The love is clear between the two when they speak and in the mythical reflection of the four panels where the two fantasy-figures call out to each other in a reciprocal siren call.
In their art, they look free, perhaps because the process of making the work was so freeing itself.
“I love making art because no one can take that away from me,” Nia said. “Even if I’m on an island by myself, I’ll be making sand dune drawings.”