San Jose-based artist Sam Rodriguez was kind enough to find the time for an in-depth interview. I first met him earlier this year, when he was visiting LA for the Sesame Street group exhibit at Known Gallery. Brandon Shigeta was shooting his sketchbook for Hypebeast, so I got to see some of Sam’s work up close and in person. He created some sketches on the spot too, which was nothing short of impressive. Since then my appreciation for his artistic abilities has only increased. Sam might be best known for his intricate “dissected faces,” but he’s really versatile, and employs a wide range of media and styles. Scroll down to check out some of his recent work and find out what makes this talented creative tick…
Where are you today? I’m at home in my room which is also my art/design studio.
What are you working on? I’m working on a painting that will be reproduced and printed on eyewear frames in collaboration with a new company named Look/See.
What was your first introduction to art? First was introduced to art through Looney Toons and album cover art.
When did you decide to pursue it as a career? I decided to pursue art as a career in my early 20’s. I’ve had several jobs since I was a kid, at places doing ‘regular’ work, cleaning, selling, hauling etc. I guess I realized I wanted to pursue art as a career when I first learned that it was a career choice. Growing up, no one ever mentioned this option, and I didn’t know anyone who had a career as an artist. Once I knew it was a possibility, I thought I could pursue it myself…why not?!
Did you study art formally or are you self taught? I learned on my own, and have also received a formal education. The first years of my learning experience were through graffiti, and later I decided to go to school. I don’t think you can ever know enough, and I have much to study and accomplish still.
How would you describe your personal style? I do make an effort not to stick to one style, but I guess in someway it’s one’s own identity, and you’ll never shake that aspect. I try to make each piece relevant to the moment. In my experience, I’ve learned that style constantly develops and is relative to many factors including time, space, and the content you’re working on. This is just like us as people, in that it involves a transformative process. With that said, my personal style is, and may always be, in progress. I think it’s much more helpful for viewers to describe their impressions of mine or anyone’s style in that they see it with a unique perspective.
Are there any themes or concepts you’re exploring in your art? Yeah, I’m working on an ongoing series that I’m very excited about. The body of work studies questions and ideas of classification and identity. I am intrigued by visual and social catalogues and their relativity to one’s own experience and learned perspective. I have observed this in so many aspects of day-to-day living, as I’m sure everyone else has in their own way. For example, here in the U.S., I am legally considered “Hispanic,” in Mexico, I am an “American,” and to some folks, I’ve been considered Middle-Eastern, European, and even part Asian! Visually, the perception of one’s identity, or how we identify with a given sight, changes from one perspective to another. There are countless ethnicities, cultures, genres, styles, chemicals, and elements that have meshed together throughout world history, so fusion literally drives the universe. This has inspired me to paint study portraits of dissected faces using visual ingredients and cues, similar to a land map and all its imposed borders.
What are some of the major highlights in your work/portfolio so far? Major highlights in my work for me are the most current paintings that I’m working on. That’s my personal opinion, but viewers may think other projects are more highlight-worthy. Again, it’s all about perspective.
Can you talk about the LA Metro Jefferson station installation and how that came about? The L.A. Metro Jefferson station installation was a huge project for me. This is one of three major permanent public art pieces that I was commissioned to do. In this project, the station is situated between south central L.A. and USC campus, so it is very diverse and dynamic.
Many of us travel in two ways while using public transportation; both physically and in our mind’s eye. When we look at something, we may be seeing a face, a light pole, perhaps somebody’s shoe, but simultaneously what happens is a mental picture. To capture the nature of public transportation is to crop different and small moments that form together to tell a story.
I wanted to weave a visual narrative that included fragments of building facades, vintage rail cars, human figures, and fictional characters. Each art panel is visually divided by the silhouette of bike frames, resembling the layout of a comic book. I drew on imagery associated with bicycles, to emphasize the human powered modes of transport along the line. Each panel is an invitation to engage the mind in a playful fantasy along the route between starting point and destination.
Where do you find inspiration? I find inspiration from many different things, and this changes all of the time. The most important sources of inspiration for me are music and photography. I really enjoy National Geographic photographs in particular.
Besides your own personal art, you do a lot of graphics too, right? Yes, actually, graphics are my main source of income, and I guess you could say my “regular job.” But the great news for me is that this is also just as fun as my personal art. I’ve been fortunate to work with awesome clients that help with creating interesting concepts.
What have you got planned moving forward? Moving forward, I would like to continue exploring the topics in identity that I mentioned above. I think it can manifest into various types of exhibits and published media. I hope that I can work on it in collaboration with other fields, including anthropologists, historians, journalists, photographers, and other media.