Artist offers enlightening worldview with ‘Pop-Aganda’ exhibit

June 6, 2011 | Arts, UToday
By Vicki L. Kroll

Arturo Rodriguez worked on a poster in the Center for the Visual Arts.

Arturo Rodriguez worked on a poster in the Center for the Visual Arts.

There’s a cartoon dog sitting on a rock in Arturo Rodriguez’s painting titled “The Lonesome West,” which gives a tip of the hat to Frederic Remington’s “The Cowboy.”

Another painting borrows and shares the name of Winslow Homer’s “The Gulf Stream” with Rodriguez adding a smiling vulture watching the boater who is riding on rough, shark-infested waters.

The UT associate professor of art uses comedic creations to convey his messages.

“Making art that has humor allows more people to access the work,” he said. “A lot of dialogue and thought can be had through introspective humor if it’s layered so people can access the different levels.

“If they like it and think about the image enough, they’ll make connections.”

Rodriguez connected with cartoons after leaving Cuba with his parents in the Mariel boatlift in 1980. He was 7 years old then and watched Betty Boop and vintage animation from the early 1930s in the family’s new home in Miami.

“I don’t refer to myself as a Cuban, and it’s not accurate to say I’m American or Cuban-American either,” he said.

His artwork — paintings, prints and mixed media — explore exile.

“I like to take paintings you might see in a typical American home and add some of my earliest memories of U.S. life: cartoons,” Rodriguez said. “I try to integrate imported influences into the culture that is my surrounding reality.”

“The Gulf Stream,” oil on canvas, by Arturo Rodriguez

“The Gulf Stream,” oil on canvas, by Arturo Rodriguez

Sometimes inspirations are more literal.

During a visit to Cuba in 2004, he was struck by his cousin’s reaction to watching a child play with a remote-control boat at a hotel. “My cousin said, ‘If only I could shrink,’” Rodriguez recalled.

Moved by the memory, Rodriguez put together an installation piece, “Sueños” (“Dreams”), that features a video of a boat and a fish tank to create a surreal aura.

“I want them to think about the impact of other cultures, take away a sense that we’re all immigrants except for native peoples, and become more aware of the rest of the world,” he said.

Rodriguez’s work will be on display this month in an exhibition titled “Pop-Aganda” in the Madhouse Gallery, 1215 Jackson St., Toledo. An opening reception will be held Thursday, June 9, from 6 to 9 p.m.

The free, public exhibit can be seen Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Thursday, June 30.

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