“I‘ve always felt that the way I make art is very similar to the way pop musicians function,” said Miguel Rodriguez. “Take any given love song. Right? Any given love song. I’ve never been feeling a love song and said, ‘Oh my god I really care about what Taylor Swift is saying to me right now.’ I’ve never thought that. Instead, I think, ‘Wow, this song is really speaking to me. And it’s informing my life. It’s creating a deeper understanding of the way I am who I am.’ So, like, even though all that work is very deeply personal, and it’s coming from my own personal experiences, you want the mirrored corollary emotions—like kindness.”
It requires a certain savvy to make good pop. In music and in art, there are nuances that must be attended to. Beneath any colorful veneer, there must be wit, a hook, something familiar yet innovative that carries depth and meaning. Never Stare at a Ghost is Miguel Rodriguez’s first solo exhibition in over a decade, and just like your fave arena rock act, the hits keep coming.
In the arena of technician, it’s hard to find a more complete sculptural talent than Rodriguez in Las Vegas. His work feels buoyant and effortless, with a dexterous mastery of form. Underlying the soft edges is an elegiac commentary on the vacillations of self.
“I engaged in a certain level of autobiography—autobiography without utilizing self-portraiture,” Rodriguez said. “When I was in graduate school, there was a kind of a pseudo-self-portrait there. For most of this work I wanted to make autobiographical work that really comes in obliquely as possible”.
Throughout Never Stare at a Ghost, Rodriguez conjures up sympathetic imagery out of common iconography. Think of a pillow case, filigreed and supple in a way that would make your grandma’s eyes light up when perusing her favorite bureau, with an image of a bomb dropping on a house glazed on it, and all of the drastic anxieties implied in that dissonance. Or a cookie jar in the form of McDonald’s mascot Grimace, his frown turned upside down.
“If you look at the piece itself, he’s morbidly obese, as Grimace has always been,” Rodriguez said. “He’s always happy. But his name is fucking Grimace. If you look at the piece itself, he is holding a very happy little version of himself. Right? And his gesture is such that he doesn’t need help. He’s pushing everyone away. He doesn’t want that. Right. But then when you open it up, it’s full of sweetness. It’s full of cookies that were wrapped in this dichroic plastic wrapping and so they really sparkle when you open it. It’s speaking to issues that arise from unresolved childhood trauma, or in my situation, it’s more about realizing that as an adult, I experienced significant trauma in my life that made me feel like a little kid again.”
These abstractions of self are as pleasing to the eye as they are wretched in subject. Rodriguez creates work that is hard not to enjoy and doesn’t expect audiences to take the work as seriously as he does. Just like a brilliant set of pop songs you can peel back the layers of each work and find something in common within yourself—or you can just enjoy beat and dance to it.
His work is also featured in the traveling group exhibition Transformers: Reshaping Form and Meaning, on view at Nevada State College in Henderson through January.
Photos courtesy of Miguel Rodriguez.