Texan sculptor George Rodriguez discussed the cultural messaging of his artwork with the LMU community during the KaleidoLA speaker series on Friday.
For the past seven years, the LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts has hosted the annual KaleidoLA speaker series to highlight professional artists and their diverse backgrounds. To show support for the Black Lives Matter movement and political unrest, this year’s series will solely feature BIPOC and LGBTQ artists.
“This fall, KaleidoLA is seeking to meet the moment,” said Karen Rapp, the Director & Curator of the Laband Art Gallery.
Rodriguez fits perfectly into Rapp’s requirements, making him the third artist of the program. Born in the eclectic border town of El Paso, Texas, Rodriguez brings his Latinx identity to light through his powerful themed series shows.
Growing up with four older sisters, a mother and many aunts in a large Mexican-American family, Rodriguez emphasized the patience and love he learned from his predominantly female surroundings.
“I was very nurtured. I would listen to a lot of conversations rather than partake in them. I think I’m a very patient person and I would like to accredit that to having four older sisters always talking in front of me,” said Rodriguez.
His quiet calmness has positively influenced his art, especially within his chosen medium of clay sculpture, which requires both endurance and serenity. Creativity was nothing new to the Rodriguez household, as his mother worked as a seamstress throughout her life.
“In regard to decoration, the way that my mother worked with your hands really influenced some of the ornamentation and decoration that I use, specifically in the dresses that she would create.”
Although his work has always depicted his Mexican-American culture, his work has highlighted political topics since the 2016 election. Growing up in a border city, Rodriguez echoed his passion for open borders and the struggles he faced after the Trump Administration’s strict border security came to life.
“A lot of my community was being marginalized and kind of vilified in a way that nobody should nobody should feel,” said Rodriguez.
Feeling frustrated with this racial mistreatment, Rodriguez created The Sanctuary Series. This 2017 show highlighted a group of large clay sculptures, specifically men and women from marginalized groups.
“Probably one of the best things that came out of that show was the fact that I had the opportunity to work with the student body at [University of Texas-El Paso] and go back to the place where I started, and feel like I am giving back to the community,” said Rodriguez.
The Sanctuary Series was not the first time Rodriguez utilized the help of a community, as he offered the same opportunity during his Reflect and Gather project in Seattle in 2019. From high school students to senior citizens, Rodriguez invited locals to form and paint over 6,000 tiles for his installation.
“I want to make my artwork accessible to as many people as possible. When I can bring high school students, college students, senior citizens — all these groups that don’t typically get to go in and out of artist studios — it lets them know that [art] is available and it humanizes the process,” said Rodriguez.
He also spoke on the financial struggles of pursuing art, as the industry is not known for lucrative income. Although he has accumulated success as an artist, he still dedicates time to applying for grants and even has an additional job teaching at Temple University.
“You’re not going to be rich as an artist,” said Rodriguez. “If it’s a passion and you want to be secure, you have to work a lot. There is no retirement plan.”
Through his speech, Rodriguez highlighted the long journey he faced to get to his current standing, emphasizing the importance of process.
“I want students to know it takes time. I was a very eager student, and I wanted things to happen very quickly, but it took time and persistence for this to develop,” said Rodriguez. “It gets easier [at] some points and then it will be challenging again, but you just have to keep going.”
This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Loyolan and is reprinted with permission. The original article is available here.