Angel Sewell is a traveling artist who works and lives out of her RV with her business “Poor White Trash” painted on the side for all to see.
TSIBV caught up with her to learn more about her life, how she became a traveling artist, and why she includes some *interesting* phrases on her vehicle.
I’m really curious about your background. Can you give us the short version of your life story?
I was raised on both sides of the Georgia/Florida line. I spent my first 10 years mostly in and around South Port, Florida, and at age 10 me, mama, daddy and my brand new brother moved to Desser, Georgia on Lake Seminole. My daddy tended woods and my mama worked off and on when and where she could. I have bounced back and forth across the line most of my adult life. I’ve done a lot of different jobs both before and during my art career, and I hope the folks I worked for remember me as a good employee.
How did you become an artist, and how would you describe your art to someone unfamiliar with it?
I’ve made some of my best decisions when faced with adversity. I see that looking back now.
I worked 90-hours a week managing a t-shirt shop on Panama City Beach. We sold airbrush at the store, and in the winter we were closed. I told the airbrush artist I could sell his art during the winter if he would go 50/50. He did, and it’s been my hustle ever since.
I’ll go a step further in transparency here. I wasn’t into the art at first. I was good at sales, but as I grew and learned, I started to see that the air brush artist was consistently not giving his best. His work ethic was non-existent. I was frustrated. So I made up my mind I would learn how to do it myself. And I did. My customers paid me to learn.
Somewhere around this point is where I truly became interested in art. I was adamant about teaching myself and having my own style. I chose to learn by freehand, eyeball, and guestimate rather than learn a tape measure. I should learn a tape measure, though.
I don’t use lettering brushes. I use foamies and rollers. Mine don’t look like other people’s cause I don’t use what most of them use. This makes my art fun, vibrant, and artsy.
How did you end up being an artist on the road?
When my world I’d worked so hard on crumbled, I got a beat-up pick-up truck and parked in an empty driveway of an empty beach rental house. For three days I cried. I cried while I was awake, and I cried while I was asleep. I didn’t even try not to. It’s just really all I felt like doing. But on day three I noticed I’d pretty much quit crying and felt some better.
I made a list of what I had to work with. My art, my brain, reputation, truck, dog, and my legs. That was my list. I found my value and my worth in the process. It was the first time I’d ever seen it for myself. That’s when and why I decided to become famous.
My truck had one headlight smashed out with the side mirrors kicked off. But the motor was good and the tires weren’t too bad. I decided to travel. My trucks had always been painted up and attention getters, but I took it to a whole new level with Poor White Trash.
You’ve said in past interviews that the “Poor White Trash” name for your traveling art business comes from being called that when you were a young girl. How did you come around to embracing that term and making it your own?
The woman who said it was always good to me. Her actions never did fit how those words sound. Her beef was with my parents, and she probably never knew her daughter told it. So, I just didn’t realize it was supposed to scar me. I heard it off-and-on over the years often enough to catch up to speed on its implied meaning. What could have been a curse spoken over me blessed me instead. I am an artist who challenges people’s perception. I make folks laugh, but I also bring awareness.
Don’t judge. The same people who assume I’m a druggy or a prostitute because of what my vehicle says are the same people who would park by a church van and assume it’s a church van and not kidnappers.
You’ve been painting windows, murals, and signs for over thirty years with the goal of selling your art in every state. How much further do you have to go to accomplish your goal?
I honestly don’t know. I’m getting close to finishing it up, though. I doubt there’s ten states left.
What are the ups-and-downs of life in a 1983 Toyota Phoenix Motorhome?
Well, going from living in pickup trucks with my dog for years to an RV is a big improvement on space. And mine’s real good on gas. Me and my girl Speck are very happy. In fact, she’s getting a baby brother in a few weeks. It’ll be less room in the RV but worth the crowding.
Your RV really stands out. For example, on the back it says “SHOW ME UR BUTTHOLE!” and “U DON’T HAVE TO BE LONELY @ COUSINSONLY.COM“. What are some memorable reactions you’ve received?
Ah! You wanna know if I’ve seen any buttholes!
Most memorable incidents I’d have to say was either the man who kept screaming I was pervert in a Walmart parking lot with his preteen son in-tow or the cop in Tennessee who wanted to put me in jail for it. Oh, there was also a mayor who tried to run me out of town. And one time this guy was going by me, throwing me the peace sign and rear-ended someone.
What’s been your favorite moment of life on the road?
There have been so many! Probably seeing Maine from a plane’s view. Backpacking North Carolina was beautiful. New Mexico took my breath, too. There have been a lot thankfully.
How do you get customers for your services?
I self promote. I keep my logo trending. I spend most every night in a Walmart parking lot so that while I’m sleeping my truck is still working. People look me up on Facebook, and I get work.
I also go out and knock on the doors of businesses. I hold the phone out with pics of art, tell them who I am, give them my prices, and let them know I don’t take money till I’m done. All of this is done in like 45 seconds. I can usually find work.
What do you like to do when you’re not painting?
Me and my dog Speck backpack two or three months a year. We hitch rides when we get tired of walking. I like to lay on my couch. I love camping. I’m a loner, so you won’t find me often out socializing.
You’ve described yourself as being an “advocate for the poor and destitute”. What are some of the things you’ve done to help others? What would you like to see others do to help serve that mission?
I bring awareness. That’s the biggest way I help. My truck show leaves a town more considerate of the panhandlers, car dwellers, travelers, and the poor in general.
If people focus on having more compassion for our fellow man, the rest will fall in place.
Load a bubble gum machine with quarters. Them poor younguns know to check them for left over change or a forgotten piece of gum.
Go in your general store that has accounts and ask them to put money towards an account for someone who’s struggling.
If you see a mama buying clothes for her kids and hers look worn, throw a twenty in her buggy when she ain’t looking.
If a child is always in dirty clothes, offer to wash for the family or buy the child an outfit ever so often if the parents just let them mildew.
If your neighbor hasn’t worked in a few days, take them a meal or two. Take the elderly lady out to McDonald’s and talk to her while y’all eat.
People often say they don’t give because they don’t trust. Find someone you can trust. You can put good shoes on a youngun’s feet. Ask your school’s guidance counselor or nurse to let you know sizes when they have a child in need.
If you see a family living in their vehicle, don’t judge them. Ask what they need and help if you can. I promise it only makes you a better person. You will grow from it and feel nice inside.
What is your dream project?
I have so many!
A dream project is to have a fleet of RVs driving by homeless to help homeless.
I also want to be able to snatch a family up that’s living in a parking lot and put them in a home while we address their needs, whatever they are.
I want to go into tent cities and treat them like we are missionaries in a third world country, and I’d put Porta Potties near homeless camps.
This is why I have to make it. I have to make a lot of money because it’s returning to the poor, and we have a lot of needs. No matter what I make, the need is so great out here, but I’m confident that I can make a huge difference. I’m willing to work to see it done.
How would you like your work remembered?
I want it remembered for always trying to make a difference for the better. My work was about making mine and my son’s life better in the early years, but it has evolved into so much more.
My art has made so many lives better, if only for a minute. Maybe it was that cancer patient traveling home from chemo that got so tickled at my truck. Or maybe it was them two 10-dollar-a-piece windows I did that bought baby clothes for a young mama. Maybe it was a Facebook follower who sent $800 to a family for Christmas.
I have done as much good with my trade as I possibly could and it’s far from over. I gotta lot of folks I still wanna help but on a much bigger scale.
Ain’t no me here. I am we.
What piece of advice would you give to others?
Follow your moral compass. We all have one inside of us. You can feel it pointing you in the right direction. Go that way.
If you want to follow Angel and see more of her art, you can follow her on Facebook.