Portraitist Kaye Rogers, who specializes in painting humans, is a community-centered artist.
Canvassing local connections, artist Kaye Rogers brings neighborhood memories to life through specialized portrait work. His colorful art style — inclusive of both humans and pets — has driven a growing number of valuable customers in the city, according to Rogers.
Moving to Rogers Park in 2022 from Houston, Rogers said he sought change while initially being drawn to Chicago for its public transportation system. Before receiving a Master of Fine Arts from The University of Texas at San Antonio, Rogers said he had to learn to navigate the social struggles of accepting his artistic gift while still in school.
Harboring a creative talent rather than athletic abilities, Rogers said he realized his instinctive talent for painting and drawing fairly early on. Yet, he said he felt his talents were incongruent with the stereotypical expectations of him as a Black man.
“I think people sometimes expected me to be good at basketball,” Rogers said. “I’ve had a basketball in my hands, and it’s like my hands send me the message that, you know, ‘This is not supposed to be your hands.’”
Ever since he could remember, Rogers said he has had these visionary talents. Working on his abilities in middle school and high school, himself and his peers soon recognized the raw talent he had, according to Rogers.
Rogers said he typically specializes in human portraiture, using social media as his main avenue for reaching potential customers. As he got to know the interests of the greater Chicago area through neighborhood Facebook groups, he recognized the high demand for art with customers’ pets. In October, he grew his audience by offering pet portraits.
Using mainly alcohol-based markers and colored pencils, the 31-year-old artist said he allows himself creative freedom with color schemes. Customers can send Rogers a few reference photos, and he said he has been fully trusted in the process.
Rogers’ impact has resonated with customers like Heidi Valenzuela, who said she has been eager to send in photos for more drawings.
A Rogers Park local, Valenzuela owns pieces capturing her two English bulldogs, and she said she has also utilized Rogers’ talent as gifts for family members. Since reaching out in early December, Valenzuela said she has commissioned over 10 pieces.
“His art’s very whimsical and very sweet,” Valenzuela said. “I just love the line work and it’s always fun to see different mediums and then go from an actual photo to marker.”
His personal favorite subject to draw is still humans, but he said he has learned just how many dog parents there are in his community that are more than willing to commission a piece. Rogers said he has perfected the technicalities and structural basics of drawing dogs and humans, using his understanding of bone structure to execute a more realistic piece.
Opening his talents to Chicago has expanded his sense of family, Rogers said. With his own family still in Houston, he said connecting with customers and providing nostalgic portraits for them brings him comfort while mitigating his cynicism toward family traditions.
“One of the things that I remember feeling was I had to battle a lot of feelings of sadness when doing these portraits,” Rogers, who described his own family dynamic as “toxic,” said. “Because I was doing a lot of these families for the holidays, and it tends to be a sore subject.”
The sentimentality behind pet portraits has even brought some to tears, according to Rogers. One of his customers, Amy Williamson, said the reactions of her friends when giving Rogers’ work sparked emotional responses. Williamson has given many Rogers originals to her friends who have dogs that have died. The “silliness and love” behind the paintings connect customers to friends in a deeper, more thoughtful way, Williamson said.
“People love their dogs, their cats, so much,” Williamson said. “And when you show them that you acknowledge their love for their pet, it’s really meaningful.”
Williamson said she immediately connected Rogers’ art style and coloring to a close friend who may enjoy his work. Reflecting on the possibilities for Christmas gifts, Williamson said she knew her friend would love the thought behind it.
When commissioning her first piece of her friend’s late dog, Williamson said she quickly learned the impact that Rogers’ pieces could have.
“The dog looked alive and it caught so much of his character,” Williamson said. “So that’s when I went home and started gathering other photos and I’m like ‘Hey, can you do one more? Can you do one more?’”
Rogers said he feels more connected to the community while creating original art for his neighbors. He charges $40 per portrait, offering discounts throughout the holidays. Those looking to purchase a portrait from Rogers can do so through his Facebook.
Featured image by Ryan Pittman / The Phoenix