ARTIST INTERVIEW

WALTER

JOHN

RODRIGUEZ

 

By: JC Rodriguez

“EVERYTHING I MAKE IS BORN OUT OF A PARTICULAR FASCINATION WITH ABSURDITY. IN FACT, I AM VERY INTERESTED IN EXPLORING QUESTIONS THAT EXPOSE HOW INDIVIDUALS CONTINUOUSLY TRY TO ADAPT TO THE DEMANDS OF AN UNFAMILIAR ENVIRONMENT."

- RODRIGUEZ

 

Straight from the artist....

I am from Havana’s semi-rural industrial municipality of “El Cotorro” where I grew up until age 14. I spent much of my childhood running around dusty streets, climbing trees and playing baseball with complete disregard for the extreme poverty that surrounded me. My house was small and I never had a bedroom for myself but I knew every neighbor and I had tons of friends. Daily life was slow and simple but my big dreams to be an artist never diminished when I discovered I can seek empowerment through creativity. I took it upon myself from a young age to problem-solve and learn how to work with my hands. Limited exposure to soviet-era animated shorts and classic American cartoons along with the Cuban variety of cartoon heroes became a heavy influence in my early creative process. My curiosity for anything related to art and pop culture made me look for international influences through literature, TV and rare magazine clippings. It mattered greatly because it offered a fresh alternative to the reality of having no access to the outside world. Once in the U.S. I lived briefly in Union City, NJ where I went to high school. From there, I went to The School of Visual Arts to study Illustration graduating in 2002. Since then I have enjoyed a successful career as an art educator but I remained focused on making art and following my lifelong dream to be an artist. Since 2008, I have exhibited frequently in NYC and NJ, completed residencies, curated multiple exhibits, had two solo shows and have enjoyed gallery representation in art fairs among other things.

How did you get started in art, what's your earliest memory?

I grew up catholic. Interestingly, the church building I went to as a child in Cuba is an 18th century Spanish baroque structure that houses many lifelike and life-size statues of agonizing saints who are depicted in the midst of some torturing experience wearing actual garments and human hair wigs. A particular statue of a kneeling Christ with a real crown of thorns and blood all over carrying a cross and wearing a purple robe was my favorite. The iconography was that of a horror movie but I never focused on the darker side. To me these statues were exquisite works of art that offered inspiring realism in its details. Every detail was fascinating, from the glass eyes to the smallest drop of blood, the expressions and the poses, all of it gave me reason to observe and learn from all the anonymous master artists who made them.

Who inspired you to become an artist?

My older brother was my earliest inspiration. We used to spend a lot of time together and that gave me an opportunity to witness his talent as an artist. He could draw really well then and he made it look effortless. To me, he was my idol and the epitome of cool because he was very much into pop culture and had the coolest style and made incredible drawings on the front cover of his school notebooks. I particularly remember a very detailed drawing he made of E.T. that impressed many of his friends. As his younger brother, I discovered that making art like that was a way to be cool and fit in. After my brother there were many local artists who made an impression on me growing up.

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE SUBJECT MATTER?

Most recently, I have been working on a series of over 40 paintings called “Power Isn’t Love” in which I intend to reference contemporary American identity through known portraits of our founding fathers. As ubiquitous as their image may be, their legacy remains elusive to most Americans. While their iconic legacy elevates their image to a monumental level, they may also appear far removed from our collective consciousness. The founders are significantly respected for their extraordinary heroism that set them apart, but they were as human, conflicted and vulnerable as my depiction of them intends to reveal in these portraits. The viewer might be able to identify the individuals in each painting despite the fact that their faces are distorted, altered and other times irreverently tarnished. These choices I make to depict their features is meant to project the effects of indifference that we may perhaps feel towards these men. As Americans, we revere their image so much but perhaps we do not know them well enough. We defend and uphold the constitution they drafted. We educate our children about the values of the Declaration of Independence. We quote strictly from their written thoughts, and often proclaim that our founding fathers provided a government structure that carefully guards the gift of democracy. My new series “Power Isn’t Love” aims to identify our democratic roots in order to investigate where we are now as citizens with American democracy.

Everything I make is born out of a particular fascination with absurdity. In fact, I am very interested in exploring questions that expose how individuals continuously try to adapt to the demands of an unfamiliar environment. My figurative images combine a process of expressive brush strokes with the energy to channel personal reflections, a specific state of mind or a collective fabricated vision. I thrive to express deeper interpretations of traditional concepts to examine how they might still hold true today.

Who would you say is the biggest influenced in your art?

I let my own thought process influence my work. I wouldn’t attempt to develop an identity as an artist if I chose to let other artists influence me. I do however understand that I am preceded by a substantial amount of art history and technique that has indeed informed my own creative practice but that does not constitute an influence over my conceptual choices. Those are my own. 

 

However, I do admire many artists for something that I consider unique about them. For instance, I admire Joseph Beuys’ humanism, Andy Warhol’s accessibility, Francis Bacon’s depiction of futility, Albrecht Dürer’s exquisite perfection, Velasquez’s realism, Gustave Courbet’s social consciousness, Goya’s darkness, Picasso’s genius, Basquiat’s freshness, Sigmar Polke’s iconoclasm, Gilbert and George’s sense of humor and Schiele’s fragility among others. The list goes on.

IF YOU COULD HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH ANY ARTIST, DEAD OR ALIVE, WHO WOULD IT BE?

I’d love to go back in time and spend an afternoon with Francis Bacon. I’ve watched some of his interviews and his conversation is like a powerful lesson in life and a capturing story all in one. Where he staged his interviews was just as interesting and important to elevating his dialogue. I imagine us both in some London pub having full understanding of our capacity as painters to fill our minds with surrounding imagery and pointing out ordinary occurrences that would start every new round of conversation. I would ask him questions only to provoke his eloquence. Few artists spoke with such intelligence and insight into the human condition. 

 

I also want to play some chess with Marcell Duchamp.

WHAT DO YOU WISH TO ACCOMPLISH WITH YOUR ART?

My objective is simple. I wish to create art that may serve as a refuge to people in search for inspiration. I want my work to have a healing function for those who need answers and can see their own thoughts projected through it. People who identify with me work have often already thought of the ideas depicted in my drawings and paintings. I am most successful when I grab their attention with an image that has made us connect spiritually or intellectually. That is all I want to accomplish. 

WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU SAW THAT REALLY INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE?

The recent exhibit by Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim Museum in New York was spectacular! She is a singular artist with a deep spiritual universe hidden behind each brush stroke and color choice. I couldn’t wait to go home and start new work.

More Art by

Walter John Rodriguez

@walterjohnrodriguez

 

 

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