In Unison, an exhibition like no other
George Rodriguez captures his Chicano heritage through ceramic sculpture hosted by Philadelphia’s Magic Garden.
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George Rodriguez is a Philadelphia-based ceramist and sculptor; who uses his work to address his identity and community as a Mexican-American artist through large-scale decorative ceramic sculptures, guardian figures, tomb sculptures, and shrines.
“I feel like drawing and painting were my first introductions,” said Rodriguez to AL DÍA. “[As a] college undergrad, I took an intro ceramics class and fell in love with the material, the medium, and all the possibilities.”
The ceramist earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics from the University of Texas, El Paso, and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Washington. In 2009, he received the Bonderman Travel Fellowship through the University of Washington and traveled to approximately 26 countries in ten and a half months.
“That continues to be the most formative moment in my life and still influences me as a human, but also it seeps into my artwork,” he assured.
The mythological reader has developed “different codes of conduct” that have influenced his work and capacity as a storyteller—combining his Chicano heritage with Thai, Peruvian, Bolivian, Mongolian, Egyptian, Taiwanese, and Indonesian civilization and mythologies, as reported by Craft in America.
Born in El Paso, Texas, his exhibition In Unison is described as a bridge between the past and present through symbols and imagery tied to his personal histories, collaboration, and community. It has three main bodies of work: El Zodíaco Familiar, Trono del Pueblo, and Los Guardias.
El Zodíaco Familiar is a set of twelve animal masks that represent a zodiac sign and replaces an animal of the traditional Chinese zodiac with animals in Mexico. The sculptor collaborated with 13 Mexican and Chicanx/Chicana artists, and each artist decorated an animal that correlates to their birth year.
“I wanted to take the Chinese zodiac story and bring those animals into Mexico,” he explained. “So then, instead of a dragon, it would be a Quetzalcoatl, or instead of a tiger, it would be a jaguar.”
The collaborators used their perspective, folk tradition, and an intimate feeling of collaboration that “create conversations, create a way of working together…that all have individual voices but are one communal sculpture,” assured Rodriguez, who views Trono del Pueblo as his ideal world, where “anybody can go and sit in this throne.”
Trono del Pueblo holds a symbolic significance meant to empower those who can appraise its hidden message: “Anybody can go and sit on this throne,” said Rodriguez.
“You can go and sit on the throne and just feel empowered and then give somebody else a turn, so it is like a throne for everybody,” he explained.
But the artist wanted to provide more— Los Guardias, two figures he describes as a “Luchador and Catrina.”
“It’s like talking to our ancestors,” he said.
Catrina represents the afterlife and those that have influenced us. Luchador symbolizes the community and the “people on this earth that are also protecting us,” the Mexican-American artist said.
The essence of In Unison brings forth “different ways of looking at the world around you and how we affect each other, whether we mean to or not,” the sculptor assured.
His work has been in various exhibitions in museums in the Pacific Northwest, including the Foster White Gallery in Seattle, The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, and the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, Oregon. And can be found in the Eutectic Gallery in Portland and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.
He concluded with a message for aspiring artists to “listen to your heart and intuition” because it is a hard path and “you can't please everybody… because we are all individuals, but if you follow your intuition, then you will find a group of people that appreciate what you do, so just keep going.”
The exhibition began July 21 and will continue through September 10, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens hosts his latest show, In Unison.