Before Louie Rochon started creating whimsical, opinionated sculptures he hit a suicidal rock-bottom.
Having made and lost more than one fortune in both real estate and marketing during the booms of the early 1980s and early ‘90s, Rochon had an epiphany.
The idea to walk across America occurred to his “foggy little mind” while driving through the Arizona desert.
At the time, Rochon was dealing with the turbulence of an undiagnosed bi-polar disorder, steadily smoking two packs of cigarettes a day and was 30 pounds overweight.
“I was disillusioned and burnt out,” recalled Rochon. “I had lost myself and had developed an attitude of apathy.”
Rochon decided taking a very long walk was the answer and boarded a plane for Miami in September 1996. The plan was to walk the 5,200 miles back to Seattle.
He did it and it took him a little more than two years and left him with an incredible story of adventure.
But this would be no ordinary media-grabbing gimmick. Rochon had been inspired by a man named Jim Jenkins who started a non-profit organization called Children with AIDS of America.
“I just knew that I had found the worthwhile cause that I had been looking for,” Rochon said. “I had found a cause bigger than life itself — a passion filled me once again. I was coming alive.”
Rochon speaks of that period in his life as a kind of life-saving experience that transformed him emotionally.
“It revitalized my faith in the goodness of people,” Rochon said. “I realized that there is only a very small percentage of people that have hate.”
After he successfully completed the walk and exposed more than 90 million people to pediatric AIDS awareness, while raising tens of thousands of dollars for various AIDS organizations, Rochon spiraled into an unforeseen post-traumatic depression for a period following the high of his walking accomplishment.
The depression lasted more than four years. It involved debilitating lapses into extreme alcohol and drug use that almost killed him, he said.
“Having lived through this period of time, I assumed there was more that
I needed to do in this life,” said Rochon.
Rochon decided he needed to express himself and looked for an outlet. He knew he couldn’t go back to the high-pressure days of the real estate trade and marketing work.
So, remembering his boyhood dream of perhaps one day becoming an artist, he found himself at the Langley Library looking at books on art.
He checked out papier-mâché artist Dan Reeder’s book entitled “The Simple Screamer,” which was a step-by-step manual describing how to build papier- maché monsters.
Rochon has been making his own papier-mâché sculptures since 2002. He worked out of his gallery/studio in Ocean Shores before moving up to Whidbey Island for good. He has a private studio in Langley and creates mainly from October through June.
He was recently commissioned to create a piece for a Native American visitors center in Colorado and is becoming a darling of the whimsical art circuit. He’s since sold a large number of sculptures from his “fish-head” line.
But it’s the opinionated pieces that excite Rochon the most.
“My work is tongue-in-cheek,” said Rochon.
“I have a voice and have a responsibility to say what’s on my mind. The role of the artist is the expression of an opinion,” he added.
Most of Rochon’s sculptures are colorful parodies of his life experiences. Some even have hidden messages like the piece “E-Scape.Com,” which shows a monster at a computer keyboard reflecting Rochon’s earlier fast-paced, high-stressed business life. If you read the keyboard on the piece backwards it warns: simplicity; escape while you can before you are sucked in.
Rochon is candid about his struggles with depression and substance abuse and is decidedly self-deprecating in his humorous treatment of the subject.
He recently sold a very large, two-headed dragon sculpture that he named “Bi-Polar.” One head is angry and fierce-looking, while the other puppy-like and happy.
“I sold that one to an executive of a company who entertains psychologists and drug-makers in his home,” Rochon said.
Another piece he named “Road Rage” and depicts a lady senior citizen driving a radical sportscar with golf clubs in tow, while “flipping off” a fellow driver. That piece was a big hit with local seniors who actually came by the busload to see it when it was on display at the Artists Co-op Gallery, Rochon said.
He said it was inspired by an elderly friend who resides in Langley and has an intolerance for the summer tourist drivers.
Tolerance seems to be the one thing that Rochon has plenty of — especially when it comes to his own life. He has learned that, for him, a rich materialistic life is not enough and that being able to express his opinion with humor through art is a great gift.
Rochon is currently at work on a book about his walking adventure and the aftermath of overcoming depression which he calls, “The Long Walk Home.”
Rochon is impassioned by all he’s been through and still slightly amazed.
“Do what you can do and it can affect 100 million people,” Rochon said.
You can see Rochon’s work at www.rochonsculpture.artspan.com.