Anna Noelle Rockwell - by Kallisti

Detail: Corset/Suture
Detail: Corset/Suture

Anna Noelle Rockwell's commercial illustrative résumé reads like a who's-who of the San Francisco fetish elite. She has done work for Eric Kroll Photography, Ltd., Bondage A Go-Go, Dark Garden Corsetry, Urban Decay, So What?, So Hip It Hurts, and numerous logo and tattoo designs. She is currently illustrating a book about urban equestrians ("horses, not fetish!"), and is an accomplished equestrian herself.

Rockwell brings a strength to her gallery work that is both overt and sublime. From her portraits to her latest projects including a burgeoning and evocative Tarot, her images bespeak something that is at once beautiful, tangled and perhaps painful. Her subjects evoke the myth that the state of the soul is made apparent on the flesh, and by utilizing models and subjects with varying levels of body modification (from scars to plastic surgery) the sense of drama is heightened to a nearly feverish degree.

    "I have been involved in the fetish community as a model, art director and artist for a number of years. I use images involving bondage, fetish and pain as metaphor for a transition between external and internal worlds. I am especially interested in the inherent conflict encountered when using such potent content and the various layers of meaning which follow."

A veteran of many states and countries, at 29 she currently resides in San Francisco. Having attended the S.F. Art Institute and the Parson's School of Design, NYC she left those schools respectively and took up at Bennington College in Vermont to major in anthropology. Her thesis at Bennington was entitled "Perforating the Soul: An Ethnography and Analysis of Modern Primitive Counterculture." Ironically, it was here that her passions for the arts were renewed, and she began to approach her work from a different perspective.

    "While I was attending Bennington, I spent most of my energies researching the whole modern primitive scene from an anthropological perspective. These studies prompted a series of portraits involving people's tattoos and piercings. I am very much interested in the symbolism of pain....what it means to the 'victim' and to the onlooker...'To have pain is to have certainty. To hear of pain is to have doubt...'(Elaine Scarey's The Body In Pain). "

Her portraits of involuntary wounds can rub the eye raw, and yet her technique does not ignore the emotion of the subject. These are not merely impersonal documentations, they are stories of flesh wounds told from the inside out.

Martyr, Power, Beauty
Triptych: Martyr, Power, Beauty
    "You see, more so than manufactured scars(tatts and cuttings for instance), 'natural' wounds produce an immediate story of origin along with recounts of the healing process and often recall their reaction to the wound. Memory becomes a great game player in the future(and simultaneous past) of these narratives. Great stories of accidental initiation, tragic memories of auto collisions, humorous tellings of skinned knees...I often find tragedy retold with an edge of humor to temper the memory."

And more specifically:

    "The triptych 'Martyr, Power, Beauty' is a social piece...a bit of observation mixed with commentary. The first was a portrait of a friend during her female crucifixion performance. The second set, the mummified body of a rape victim left for dead in Ciudad Juarez (right under the border bridge) and the last, a woman undergoing a face lift. The power of perception became the inspiration for combining these. The reactions from the outside? Most people are shocked by the first, silent to the second and "yuk" to the third. Granted, even more have no idea what the hell I was trying to paint as I purposely left it a bit in the abstract....I don't want to produce shock art. It's not my thing...that's why I like to paint these subjects a bit more like an abstract...still retaining a beauty in the object that is the painting -- the painting becomes about process and paint and itself."
8 of Swords
Tarot: Eight of Swords

The Tarot series on which she is collaborating with Nina Baldwin is a foray into symbolism that is uniquely compelling. From recognizable imagery to unusual and elaborate retellings, this Tarot has a lush mystique all its own.

    "Nina Baldwin and I have been working on the deck for a couple of years now. They've proven to be much more complicated and labor intensive than I first imagined. I figured I could knock a deck off in a couple of years but I find the cards don't appreciate being rushed! Nina works on the history, meanings, content of the card and then I take this information and translate it into the visual/symbolic world. It's a great venue to play with symbolism and audience's readings of such. Sometimes things show up which I had never noticed and other times the most obvious thing, like the crown on the monkey in the 'empress' goes unnoticed. It's as if people create their own reality which would make sense from a reader's/initiate's point of view, I suppose. Nina says the cards must be working if they are eliciting such responses ... spooky. The card's nature gives permission to be translated individually and personally and no one feels as if they're 'missing something' due to ignorance. By the way, these cards are quite large, averaging about 7' tall by 4'. Nina and I are joking about doing helicopter readings in a field when they're done! Anybody have a whirly bird they'd like to loan?"
    The goal of the deck is mutating...a fetish deck wouldn't allow for certain depths of translation so we've been a bit freer with our goals now. It's going to be a heavy deck."

People's reactions to Rockwell's work is varied but as she states it is ironically her fellow equestrians and those of the less "hip" crowd who often present the most interesting critiques. While grateful for the observations of her peers, they tend to drown their gut reactions in high-brow vocabulary, losing touch with the visceral in learned rhetoric.

Detail: In Regret of Memory
Detail: In Regret of Memory
    "That's the goal, to engage the audience's attention long enough, through the image alone, to pull their thoughts into the content or more into the abstract - whatever it is the artist is trying to accomplish. This is assuming the artist has a clue of intent...I often doubt mine. Especially when memory begins to filter through, hence the painting 'In Regret of Memory'."

Her work has appeared in numerous venues, both group shows and solo. They are variously entitled: "Sex Objects" (La Luz de Jesus in L.A.), "The Horse In Contemporary Art" (The Merrin Gallery in Half Moon Bay), "Art of the Corset" (111 Minna in S.F.), "Queer and Kinky Danger: A History of S&M and Kink Art in S.F." (S.F. Gay and Lesbian Historical Society), "Ouchfest" (DNA Lounge in S.F.), "Halloween" and "The Tarot, Some Bodies and a Fetish" (Roderick's Chamber in S.F.) and Discovery's "Beyond Bizarre" for German television, among the many and sundry.

Anna Noelle Rockwell
Photo: John Carey

On top of Anna Rockwell's rather impressive résumé, she has also modeled for a plethora of distinguished photographers. Early on she modeled for [Sex Goddess, Inc.] Annie Sprinkle which later led to working with Eric Kroll where she appeared in his famed book "Fetish Girls" , as well as Kroll's latest book. In addition she has appeared in Richard Kern's book, and Charles Gatewood's upcoming publication. She has also worked extensively with Steve Diet Goette, John Carey, Niki Haynes, and Rebecca Horne.

    "I worked closely with Eric for years and still consider him the insidious influence towards my involvement in the fetish scene proper, and one of my greatest supporters in general. The seeds were there before and I had always hung with the fringe--working the LA Goth scene in the 80's, the NYC club/bar thing, whatever hip and groovy world struck my fancy(yawn). I never labeled myself in the fetish world until it became obvious. I took it for granted that everyone wore latex (it was just another "ID" fashion spread, baby!)...even though I was only 15 when I stuck together my first outfit out of a pick-up tarp. I thought it all perfectly normal!"

On the subject of Fetish:

    "The mainstream is so much more receptive and so much closer to the perceived underground now. However, the taboos still exist and the "hardcores" still bite their tongues (pardon the pun) to keep from coming under the gun of prejudice. I think the fetish thing may have peaked now. The fashion is still too weird to compete with the Gap and the practice is still too confusing and wrought with tension to allow for distant reactions and the maintenance of comfortable boundaries, although folks really into the scene often create parallel suburbias they just flip (or is that switch?) one rule for another--and remain equally conservative in their reality."

For now and the near future, Anna Rockwell is working on her Tarot ("with Nina Baldwin doing the intellectual stuff"), has a comic in the works, and is planning a new series entitled "Horror of the family (family portraits reminiscent of 70's horror films)." She has moved on from being studio manager of Eric Kroll Studios, to doing art direction for fetish videos in L.A. And she is always and ever continuing with various illustration projects.

Also available is a line of greeting cards, sure to agree with the darker contingent. A couple of the paintings, 'The Emperess', 'New Year's Wound', '8 of Swords' for instance are available in postcard/greeting card format. As well as some lithos planned for the future.

If she were a twee, what twee would she beee?

    "A spooky one."

Gallery I:  The Portraits Gallery II:  The Tarot

Anna Noelle Rockwell
P.O. Box 170717
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 273-1363

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