September 15th, 2021
Ceramic artist Horacio Rodriguez is known for confronting hot button political and cultural topics and transforming them into powerful, sometimes playfully ironic, works of art. The last time we spoke with Horacio Rodriguez, it was January of 2020. Quite a lot of change has occurred worldwide — politically, culturally, and otherwise — since that date. Wondering how the tumultuous events of the last two years may have inspired and influenced the work of an artist with such culturally and politically powerful undertones, we sat down for a conversation with the artist
In our conversation, Horacio Rodriguez offers us greater insight into the cultural and political influences of his work, from his familial ties to the Spanish Civil War to his volunteer efforts surrounding the modern day US-Mexico border crisis. What better way to start Hispanic Heritage month than through the insightful, powerful words and art of Horacio Rodriguez as he reminds us how art can enact real change and give voice to the voiceless.
Gallery MAR: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us! I believe the last time we chatted was in January of 2020. Quite a bit has happened since then, so we thought it would be a good time to catch up and see what you’ve been up to since. First off, in our last conversation, you were about to wrap up your art show “Subversive Souvenirs” at the Granary Arts in Ephraim, Utah. How did that go?
Horacio Rodriguez: Wow, that seems like a long time ago! That show opened in October of 2019 and went until January of 2020. It went really well and was well received. I did a lecture out there at Snow College and met some great contacts out there, so it was a great experience.
Gallery MAR: I’m glad to hear it! I know the last time we spoke, you had also received the Morales Teaching Fellowship. Is that fellowship still ongoing?
Horacio Rodriguez: No, the Morales Teaching Fellowship at the University of Utah finished, but I received another fellowship out of Arizona State University called Mellon Projecting All Voices Fellowship. I received that in April or May of 2020, right in the middle of… the mess. This is not a teaching fellowship, but instead a fellowship that focuses on offering me funding and support so that I have time to make and create new work.
“The thing that I like about ceramics is the permanence of it. You know these objects are going to outlast you by thousands of years.”
– Horacio Rodriguez
Gallery MAR: So how has having that fellowship during COVID been?
Horacio Rodriguez: It’s been pretty crazy. We all shifted to the new models of Zoom meetings and Zoom studio visits, which was a little disappointing, because I had really looked forward to going back and forth between Utah and Arizona to work with the other fellows in the program and to be a bigger part at the University. Regardless, it’s been really good, and all of us fellows actually met and got together this past August. The fellowship is still ongoing and finishing up at the end of the year in December.
Gallery MAR: That’s exciting! Could you paint us a picture of what follows this fellowship? Is there a culminating exhibition, for instance?
Horacio Rodriguez: So the fellowship has led to a lot of exciting opportunities. Just today, I was talking to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art about a potential show out there. I currently have three other upcoming shows. The first show is going to be the same show that I took to the Granary Arts, called “Subversive Souvenirs.” I’m going to have that show in Jackson Hole, Wyoming at the Center for the Arts in October. Then I’m doing another show at Ogden Contemporary Arts, curated by a professor from Weber State and an artist here in Ogden. Then in January of 2022, I have a show at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. It’s one of the biggest art venues in Utah, so I feel honored to have my work there.
Gallery MAR: Wow, it sounds like you have a lot on the horizon. It makes us all the more honored to represent you and your work! So what about ceramics in particular really spoke to you? What is it that you feel led it to be your preferred media?
Horacio Rodriguez: Well the thing that I like about ceramics is the permanence of it. When we look at other cultures, we know all these things about them because of the ceramic objects that are left behind. They tell stories from their culture. So when you make these objects, you know that they’re going to outlast you by thousands of years.
They’re still finding pieces even today, and it’s just incredible. I was hiking in Cedar Mesa in southeast Utah, and we came upon this cave. It turned out to be an Anasazi cliff dwelling. We found pottery shards and corn husks and the grinding stones that they used to grind their corn. It’s just incredible to me to find these pieces. Some of them are 900-1200 years old. They’re remnants left from cultures that we know very little else about. All we have left are their ceramic objects.
Gallery MAR: How do you feel that the power and meaning behind ceramics as an art form has changed over time?
Horacio Rodriguez: Well, I think that ceramics and pottery have matured as a media. I think that in the beginning, it was really looked at purely as craft, and not as fine art. Now, we can be engaged and involved and talk about issues and tell stories and have perspectives using ceramics.
I think today especially, people are open to seeing that art can be more than just painting or drawing. Instead, it can incorporate a lot of different mediums. I feel like my background with photography, digital art, and ceramics has come together, and I’ve been able to create these pieces and these processes that nobody was really thinking about.
For instance, one of the processes that I use with the pre-Columbian figures uses all of those backgrounds. I start with the original pre-Columbian object, thanks to my relationship with the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. I then 3D scan the pre-Columbian pieces and do a 3D print from the scan. From there, I start the traditional ceramic techniques of making the mold, slip casting, and making multiples from that cast. Finally, I add the flowers and the gold lustre and the different surface techniques that make my work look like my work.
“I’m trying to tell the stories of people who can’t really speak for themselves.”
Gallery MAR: Well I know that your work contains a lot of strong political, cultural, and religious signifiers in your pottery. How do you feel that that’s changed or evolved over time, especially given recent events?
Horacio Rodriguez: I think that the issues change, so I adapt with what’s happening at the time, and I find the space to tell that story. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the border and making work about the border crisis. When I went to Arizona to meet with the other fellows, I spent some time at the US-Mexico border again, volunteering with a group called Battalion Search and Rescue. They do a lot of search and recovery on the border looking for migrants who are lost. Unfortunately, it’s often more recovery than finding people who are still alive. It was a really, really eye-opening experience, just to be on the ground and see firsthand what the environment there is like. It’s a pretty hostile place, especially in the summertime.
I know that this experience is going to really impact my show in January at the Utah Museum of Fine Art. One of the things that I’m doing with the show is I’m trying to tell the stories of people who can’t really speak for themselves. The Mexico border is a mess right now, and it’s been that way for a long time. It doesn’t really matter what side you’re on politically, whether you’re conservative or liberal, against immigration or for it, the fact is people are suffering and dying, and it’s not right. My hope is that if some of these stories could be told, more people might care about what’s happening, and we could take action and prevent people from suffering and dying in the desert.
Gallery MAR: Wow. Thank you for sharing your experience with us and for sharing those heartbreaking, powerful stories with the world through your work. We look forward to seeing how you give voice to the voiceless in your upcoming show at the Utah Museum of Fine Art.
Speaking of your museum work, I know that the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art just purchased a few of your pieces for their collection as well – two of your Molotov Cocktail pieces. Your Molotov series is fairly new to us here at Gallery MAR. Could you talk to us a little about the inspiration behind those pieces?
Horacio Rodriguez: So back when I was in grad school, my mom and I were researching our family history. We found out that my mother’s dad was a Nationalist rebel in the Spanish Civil War, fighting against Francisco Franco. The Spanish Civil War in the 30s was kind of the advent of the Molotov Cocktails. I started using that symbol from pre-WWII to kind of tell a family history story, because the symbol has both family and cultural significance to me. All of my slip cast ceramic pieces of the Molotov Cocktails are made from Mexican coke bottles. I use them as a kind of blank canvas to tell stories. It then evolved from there. I have now kind of tongue-in-cheek, jokingly named the series “The 1% Molotov Cocktails.” They’re adorned with designer logos and flowers and bright gold accents.
Gallery MAR: I love how you combine your family history with symbols of cultural significance! How about some of the new pre-Columbian pieces you’ve sent to us at Gallery MAR? Could you talk a little about those as well?
Horacio Rodriguez: The “Mayan Relief” is really just a one of a kind piece. I was really drawn to that particular motif. As for the “Colossal Head,” I am again using culturally significant sculptural imagery from Mexico. I use the same process of scanning, 3D printing, and making molds and casts to tell different stories. That piece that you have is the one with the designer logos on it. That piece was about assimilation. If you look at it, you have this brown figure and then you have this new cultural imagery in white “washing down.” It’s meaning may be different than what people assume it is about, but that’s okay with me. My view is that I make the pieces with my own meaning behind them, but then people are able to derive their own meaning from them as well.
“My hope is that if some of these stories could be told, more people might care about what’s happening, and we could take action and prevent people from suffering and dying in the desert.”
– Horacio Rodriguez
Gallery MAR: Last time we spoke, you mentioned being surprised by an overwhelmingly positive reception to your work, even your more politically driven work, like the ones you’ve just described. After the controversies and division within our country over the last two years, has public perception of your work changed at all? Are you still experiencing an overwhelmingly positive reception or have you experienced a more mixed reception of your work as of late?
Horacio Rodriguez: You know, I have found that, generally, there’s still been a very positive reaction to my work. I was particularly surprised to see that in a more rural, conservative place like my show in Ephraim, Utah. But the other side of that is that the people who are coming out to my art exhibitions and shows likely already connected with my work before they got there. So it’s definitely a skewed sample. I love when I have an opening and people don’t know who I am. I kind of just eavesdrop and listen to what people are saying about my pieces on the wall. Getting their true, unfiltered reactions to my work — that’s fun.
Gallery MAR: I’m so glad to hear that. We’ve certainly been receiving great reactions to your work in the gallery. I only have one more question for you today: what currently excites you in the studio?
Horacio Rodriguez: I had made a mold of a boombox back in grad school, and I made a very political piece with that. I like using these relics of my childhood. I was a kid of the 80’s, so the boombox was a big deal when I was little. Now I want to use that boombox mold to make some more fun, brightly colored pieces for Gallery MAR.
Gallery MAR: Well, as with anytime you blend your passion for art, your personal experiences, and your appreciation for culture, we know it’ll be beautiful. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today!
January of 2022 show at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts
Written by Veronica Vale