Huddling in the front seat of a loaded down pickup truck filled with miscellaneous art supplies, tools and papers, Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada and I sit, staring off onto his plotted out parking lot pattern to talk about his larger than life, “Terrestrial Series” portrait he completed in San Antonio for Contemporary Art Month (CAM). Painted directly onto the back parking lot of the Christopher Columbus Italian Society, located at 201 Piazza Italia, Rodríguez-Gerada explains the premise and inspirations behind his larger than life horizontal portraits.
As a personal guest of former VIA and Museo Alameda Chairman, Owner of Muñoz and Company and political advocate Mr. Henry Muñoz, Rodríguez-Gerada explained his journey to San Antonio and beyond. “I first met Henry at the Smithsonian Gallery National Mall where I was doing a male portrait titled, ‘Out of Many, One’, which was composed on six acres of land next to the Reflecting Pool and by the National World War II Memorial. Henry saw the work, liked what I was doing and we were familiar with each other from other meetings at the annual Miami Basel art exhibition, so he invited me down to San Antonio to commission me to do some artwork inspired by the people of San Antonio and their own unique diversity. Henry is so passionate for his city and its people, that it was a project I knew I wanted to be a part of,” he says.
Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada’s signature portraits are often acres long and wide, visually seen in whole only by satellite imagery, drone photography or multi-storied building views. A sort of “contemporary portraiture” that pushes the limitations of traditional portraits, Rodríguez-Gerada’s wants the audience to experience his artwork on many levels; from being able to walk into the artwork, become part of the experience, or see it from above through photography via online; on our computer and cell phone screens. He feels this is all part of his artwork, the physical presence of the piece in the surround environments, how people interact with it and how they perceive it through image.
Born in Santa Clara, Cuba Rodríguez-Gerada and his parents fled the Castro regime and ended up in North Plainfield, New Jersey. At 19 he moved to Manhattan and emerged as a post-graffiti art commentator and social artist. Rodríguez-Gerada dropped out of Jersey State College to pursue a career in fine arts. He never feared he would need a degree to achieve his dreams of being a successful artist.
“If you shoot for the stars you will at least reach the moon”, he says.
Rodríguez-Gerada had many hardships along the way, including fathering a child with a severe neurological disorder. Financial strains of this medical condition affected his family. “Dealing with his condition was a financial whirlwind. Our son was on a cocktail of seizure medicines which put him in a vegetative state. In Barcelona, Spain I found alternative treatments for my son, so I moved my family there.”
Once in Barcelona, he took an almost 6 year “hiatus” from art to deal with his family. In 2006 he started to work on some original ideas, pushing the envelope of his previous post-graffiti, ‘culture-jamming’ social artwork.
“I wanted to push the limits of contemporary portraits,” he says. “These kind of monumental images are a powerful way to talk about the moments…the moments in time. Every one of my art pieces are based on a place, and I go to places to tell a story.”
With the “Terrestrial portrait” of a little girl named Nyssa Gomez, Rodríguez-Gerada addresses the diverse populations of San Antonio. He explains that there has been a spike in the births of girls in San Antonio which will have numerical effects for the future of the city. He is also intrigued by parts of San Antonio that are not delineated by racial divides; something he sees throughout the world in his travel –Belfast and the Middle East.
He points to a newly poured concrete patch on the parking lot, left of the truck cab. “There is where archeologists think the first San Antonio settlement was,” he said. “When you look back in history everything is interlaced, interlocked with interchanges of cultures”, he explains. “I want to celebrate who we are today… I want to give homage to that.”
“Nyssa was picked at random, a sort of artist lottery,” he says. Rodríguez-Gerada saw Nyssa and thought her profile reflected an accurate depiction of the “New San Antonio.”
“I want you to take away that this portrait can be any little girl, anyone from San Antonio; enjoy her content gaze, its intent… you can feel she is from a nurtured family, her parents are engaged with her personal development. I am painting her portrait here at the beginning of San Antonio – the original settlement.” Her face will be visible from the highway interchanges to the left of the parking lot downtown and will face the new San Pedro Creek development project (development headed by Muñoz and Company).
“This is the future of San Antonio, facing the past,” he explains. “There is so much growth in San Antonio, so much diversity and it keeps getting bigger with more and more innovation.”
As an artist I have a duty to embrace cultures, there is a need to reflect, no one gets to choose where they are born… if we look deeply, deep down, we are all the same.”
Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada completed his San Antonio portrait in three days and wrapped up his sojourn in San Antonio with an artist discussion at the Alameda Theater, hosted by Muñoz and Company on Sunday, March 29, 2015.
For more information on Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada and his large scale “terrestrial” portraits, visit www.jorgerodriguezgerada.com.
© Gabriel Diego Delgado