George Rodriguez | ARTIST INTERVIEW
George Rodriguez | In Conversation
Foster/White Gallery: Clay is a very tactile and mercurial medium. Does the fluidity of this medium inspire your work?
George Rodriguez: The responsiveness and tactile quality of clay feels like an extension of my hands. I’ve played, worked, triumphed and failed with it for the last 16 years. I enjoy the imprints I leave behind, the roughness of the sand or grog, and the ease with which I can press into a form. I also enjoy how this material can serve as a mimic and take on the visual quality of most textures.
This material does inspire my work. Clay gives me a bracket in which to problem solve and explore. I’m constantly being surprised and humbled by it and although I feel nurtured when working with clay, I do not feel beholden. I’m always looking at other materials and media too.
F/WG: Your Zodiac Head series have elicited an overwhelmingly positive response. What about these series has yet to be asked?
GR: The zodiac series has been so much fun to think about and make. I think one of the reasons it has been so well received is because of the familiarity, simplicity and history of the narrative. This is a story that transcends culture even if some of the original narratives have been lost. Many different cultures around the world have similar stories and ways of organizing their understandings of origin and existence. There’s plenty from this series that I would love to explore further. Right now, I’m working on a collaborative iteration of the series that incorporates other artists’ responses to/interpretations of the original idea. I’m looking forward to collaborating with, teaching, and especially learning from a group of artists working outside of my own discipline.
Rodriguez's first Zodiac series at the 2018 Seattle Art Fair
The artist is pictured with studio assistant Liz Wiegand and Donal Murphy of Foster/White Gallery
Pieces from a Zodiac series awaiting their final firing
F/WG: Did you find that living in the Pacific Northwest influenced what you sculpt?
GR: One of the most revelatory things about living in the Pacific Northwest was how much I am influenced by and love the desert. The PNW is one of my homes but the desert is in my blood.
F/WG: What is the specific significance of the unique surface patterns and decorations you have been using in your recent works?
GR: I tend to use a lot of flower decoration in my work. The flower is a symbol that spans different cultures and is used for all different types of celebrations. The flowers act as a focal point or treat to the viewer. They’re a “thank you” from me for investing in looking at the piece closer and longer. From a distance the ornamentation is texture and pattern, upon closer inspection, the individual flowers reveal themselves. Flowers have a life cycle that is in some ways analogous to the process of looking at, seeing, and getting to know a work of art more intimately over time--the work can blossom and expand with more attention and curiosity from both the maker and the viewer. Another way of looking at it is that flowers have a relatively short lifespan, whereas ceramic is a medium that can last for centuries. There’s something poetic in the fact that maybe the flowers on these works could last forever.
With the zodiac pieces I chose to stay away from flowers and look at other ornamentation that could stand in for hair, fur, and feathers. Each texture is made specifically for a particular animal.
Part of Rodriguez's 2019 exhibition Reflect and Gather at Seattle's MadArt Studio
F/WG: How do you define community and your artwork’s role in fostering community?
GR: I gain so much inspiration from the people around me. People that know me have heard this over and over, but I received a life changing travel fellowship in 2010. This fellowship showed me just how interconnected we are as people and how small the world really is. My community is composed of people with whom I have an interchange of ideas, and lots of conversation. I prefer in-person contact but virtual connections are also wonderful.
I hope my artworks act as a catalyst for conversation. It is through listening and sharing of stories that people can understand each other and we need that more than ever.
“I’m the year of the dog, what’s your zodiac animal?”
“I love Boy George, I grew up emulating his style.”
“I love the sound those tiles make as I walk on them. It was completely surprising.”
Rodriguez behind a mask with Mexican American Gothic in progress
Image taken at the Archie Bray Foundation, Helena, MT
F/WG: Can we use our creativity during this quarantine to strengthen our communities?
GR: The biggest thing to do right now is let your community know that we are in this together. My partner has been creating mail art and sending it to her people. I’ve been singing karaoke over video chat. I say play to your strength and keep it fun. Our creativity doesn’t have to look like it did before social isolation.
George Rodriguez, Mexican American Gothic, ceramic with glaze, 90 x 60 x 30 in.
To learn more about George Rodriguez and see available works please visit www.fosterwhite.com. Stay tuned for his exhibition Urban Guardians, rescheduled for August 2020.