During this past month, a lot of people in my life have been talking about art: what is it and what makes an artist an artist? For whatever reason, this dialogue has been pushing my buttons because I don’t think it’s something that can be quantified so generically or that is borne so much from words and conversation as in the manual acts of process, example, practice and evolution.
To me, life is the greatest form of art. A person who is truly living their life and achieving the balance that comes from an equally fully-realized sense of self (ego) and a sense of place in the universe (oneness and connection with all humanity) is a masterful creator just as much as an artist who spends all their waking hours sequestered in a wooden box with their block of marble.
So I am always utterly impressed when I meet someone who walks this line with the authentic essence of grace –grace being one of our most precious and yet rare human traits. Painter Adam Rodriguez is the epitome of this for me and what astounds me even moreso is that he treads this tightrope wire place from the young body and mind of a twenty-two-year-old. (A twenty-two-year-old going on timeless wise old soul.)
My first encounter with Adam’s work came three years ago in the California desert while we were both presented in a group art show. It was here that I encountered his hyper-realistic and technically excellent painting of a pregnant woman being torn apart by apes, which left me speechless with its political and social overtones. Shortly thereafter, I read an essay of his that accompanied a painting about our rapidly vanishing resource of clean water and again, I was stunned at his consciousness at such a young age. A few years later, while sharing space on the dance floor at the Joshua Tree Music Festival, I came to know him more as a young man of boundless energetic frequency and a solid, concrete identity whose connection to the spiritual was as powerful as his connection to the canvas.
We recently spoke about his journey as an artist.
I painted recreationally my whole childhood until senior year of high school when I had my first official art class with a powerful art instructor. She inspired me to discover and dedicate myself to my creativity and curiosity about art.
Where did your conscientiousness come from?
Actually, it’s still a question to me as to what spawned my sensitivity and grasp on imagination. Neither of my parents are geared artistically. I mean, they aren’t adverse to the arts; they just never instilled any kind of artistic influence in me. It was just something that came about on its own (maybe through the influence of Bob Marley’s teachings or always being around my grandma playing classical piano when I was a kid). I would draw and paint when I was young but never with the intention that I wanted anything greater from it, I was just constantly curious as a child, flexing my imagination any way that felt necessary. Drawing was more of a tool to get my energy out. Now, that I am fully conscious of what creativity means to me as an individual and what it means on a sociological and cultural level, I am now immersed in my personal practice as well as my goal of becoming a functioning artist and advocate in my society.
My spiritual journey, so far, has been a conundrum of ideas and theories I’ve had to sculpt and chisel at in order to find my true position or understanding. From an early age in elementary school, through freshmen year of high school, my mother had me enrolled in private schooling at a Christian academy. Those years offered me the opportunity to address my spirituality but I had been easily indoctrinated with the dogmatic beliefs of the Christian church. As I got older and into high school, I started to use my own discernment about questions I had regarding religion, moral values, and the origin of life. Learning about the wonders of science during junior year of high school transformed my whole comprehension of what I thought life was. To me, science ruled all and my notion of anything spiritual or metaphysical was completely vanquished. Now, at 22 years old, trying to maintain my childlike inquisitiveness, educating myself about the world and opening up to mystery, I have been led to the ancient practice of yoga. Having decided to practice yoga initially for the physical benefits as far as balance and strength, I discovered it was doing something more to me, something to do with a spiritual responsiveness or mental alignment of inner self. Through yoga, I’ve learned to harvest my spirituality and enforce my self-appreciation, simultaneously working to dissolve my egos. As a result of this so-called awakening, my artistic inhibitions have been less and less of a concern, and I am no longer reticent or embarrassed about what people may think. I can draw and paint freely.
What makes you paint?
To me, life has always been a mystery, drawing and painting has been my means of declaring my own reality. Any form of art, whether it’s cooking, playing music, theatre, literature and creative writing, dancing, or whatever – if you are productive somehow, you give value to your time alive.
In the arc of your overall career so far, how has your subject matter evolved?
Well, in my own head, my career as an artist hasn’t even started. I still consider myself to be in my “infancy” stages of making art my career. Although, from high school, through studying at Laguna College of Art and Design, until now, my subject matter has been concretely founded on my objectiveness in representing shape and form. The human figure has always been a fascination of mine so, even from a young age, I’ve always had a connection with representing the human form as visually correct as possible. Whether it be the human figure or still life drawings, my foundation has been established on rendering and executing based off of visual fact. As I got older and jaded by art school, diving deeper and deeper into my sketchpad, I realized everything I do, is art! It was only after I watched a documentary on the English painter Francis Bacon, that I gained inspiration in taking my art away from my academically trained techniques to a more deconstructed and simplified way of viewing composition and color. I have always been more interested in employing classical techniques and recapturing art’s functionality in society, for example, as in the Renaissance or Baroque periods but I also understand the importance of modern art and contemporary artists and I am aware of the impact modern art has had on the world and on my creative process.
What do you think artists can impart to the world today?
There’s a great quote by the late Terence McKenna that sums it up for me, he says, “Art’s task is to save the soul of mankind, anything less is a dithering while Rome burns. Artists are self-selected to journey into ‘The Other’, if the artist cannot find the way, then the way cannot be found.” I believe this to be true. I believe artists of all kinds have a responsibility while they are alive to reflect the society they live in and to give back to their society, to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and to work as stewards for the betterment of the planet and the human race. In these times, artists hold great influence over determining which direction life on Earth is headed and it is the duty of the artist to become the guiding force of the people, influencing great ideas or empowering global consciousness.
Where are you at in your life artistically and what are you currently working on?
Right now, about to be 22 this month, having not been enrolled in school for some time now and recently being laid off of my job, I have just completed an album cover art project for a talented upcoming musician named Breezy Lovejoy and his album O.B.E. (Out of Body Experience). Most of my art, leading up to starting on this recent project, has been in my sketchpad so I’m feeling as if I need to be painting more. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz lately, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and a lot of avant-garde jazz musicians too like Eric Dolphy. There is a close connection between my impulses I have as an artist that I’ve found I can relate to in jazz music and in music theory so, I am building off of my own theories as a creator and focusing on new ways to conceive art.
How does the desert land that raised you affect your work?
The desert environment has had a huge impact on me as a person and as a painter, though probably more indirectly speaking. The desert has taught me to appreciate solitude and to find meaning in simplicity. In the desert you cannot complain, you just learn to accept, whether it is the heat or barren landscape, something about living in the desert, it draws you closer to the primal needs of life. And it is in this type of landscape you learn to be grateful for privacy. If my work portrays this sense of privacy, I wouldn’t know.
What themes and subjects currently intrigue you?
I figure while I’m young, it is most important that I am primarily focused on knowing the rules of fine art: how to evenhandedly achieve a portrait or an accurate human body, knowing the laws of composition, or studying masterpieces, and so on. I’ve always thought that once I can accomplish the academic aspects of making art, I’ll have merit to create confident concepts of my own. As a person, I am conscientious of both positive and negative, I am very concerned about life and the world, and it is only natural that my art has seriousness behind it or an organized, deeper meaning. My subject matter reflects my concern for the environment, the human condition, and the evolution of life.
What do you want to contribute to the world in your own space on this planet?
My contribution to the world will be small, one of love and compassion for life on Earth. I cannot decipher the mysteries of the universe but, I can live quietly and wonder about them. In the same way, I cannot change the world and know everything possible but, I can change the way I perceive the world and change my perception of what is impossible.
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY KIMBERLY NICHOLS
Newtopia managing editor KIMBERLY NICHOLS is author of the book of literary short fiction Mad Anatomy, a contributing editor to 3AM Magazine and has exhibited as a conceptual artist throughout California for the past decade. Her non-fiction articles have appeared in magazines and media internationally. She was a founding editor of Newtopia in its former incarnation where she was also a member of the NewPoetry Collective. She is currently at work on her novel Fish Tales: Looking for the Bird with the Golden Feather. She has recently embarked on a journey of study in shamanic and medicine lore and wisdom under a series of respected teachers. Follow her daily beat poetry on Twitter @LITGFOA or her arts and literature blog.