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My name is Tony Rodrigues, and I am an art installer

My name is Tony Rodrigues, and I am an art installer

March 18, 2016 // by Jonathan Duck

Tony Rodrigues is our most experienced art installer at MOCA Jacksonville, and I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his past, present, and future.

Tony Rodrigues b
Image courtesy of Jonathan Duck.

How long have you been installing art, and how long have you been here at MOCA?

Oh jeez. I don't know. Off and on for many years. Officially, I was doing some installing and transporting for a gallery that represented me in Atlanta. This was right after college. I graduated in 1991, so I guess I would have been working with that gallery in 1992 or '93. I mean, these were more like small gigs, though. I started installing larger shows when I was represented by the Spiller Vincenty Gallery on the Southbank here in Jacksonville, and then I've done some handling and transport work with The Cummer Museum here in town as well. At MOCA, though, I think the first installation that I did was Balance and Power, which was early 2009.

How did you get started in all of this?

When I was in college, there was a student gallery, and fine art studio majors were expected to do at least one solo exhibition before graduating. This exhibition was all on the student, so I was responsible for patching, painting, hanging, and lighting my own show. There were also some critique classes that had an emphasis on creating work ready to hang, and final presentation stuff as well like labeling and titling. That was sort of the beginning of it all.

Tony Rodrigues c
Image courtesy of Jonathan Duck.

Where did you go to college?

I went to the Atlanta College of Art, which was part of the Woodruff Arts Foundation. However, it was some years ago that it was absorbed by SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design. ACA is no longer a functioning institution.

And what did you go there to study?

Actually, I went originally to be a painting major, but I ended up taking a lot of photo classes. I really liked the photo department there, their critiques and things. I was learning black and white film printing, and some nineteenth century non-silver processes. I really took a liking to the photo history, because I didn't know as much about it, and the fact that it was sort of its own subgenre of art history. In photo critiques, we discussed more about pictures, imagery, and content than in some of the painting critiques. And you could actually cross major at ACA, so I took a lot of drawing, some film classes, independent studies, painting, and mixed-media classes. It was a really interdisciplinary education, but at the end, I basically had all the credits to qualify as a photo major, so I got my BFA in photography.

Is the art that you are doing now informed by that interdisciplinary education?

Yeah, that's fair. I use printmaking in different ways. There is some mixed media there. The photo department that I was in had this culture of appropriation with not so much of a Pop sensibility, but more of tangible aesthetic of Dadaism with a southern tinge. [Tony is talking about art movements that you should go look up.] Appropriation is a big part of my work, you know, re-photographing photographs and even creating new content that looks back at appropriation. I do a lot of work that looks like it could have been a random snapshot that is older than it was.

Tony Rodrigues d
Image courtesy of Jonathan Duck.

What did you do before you started installing art?

As a kid, I did the regular old mowing lawns thing and was a busboy/waiter. After college, I played in a few bands in Atlanta. I rolled burritos. I did some exterior landscape lighting. I worked with an electrical contractor for a while. I did a lot of general handy work. I worked with a florist on the side, in like a staging capacity for events. I also worked as a photo lab guy, before digital photography was really a thing, doing some black-and-white and color printing for mostly professional commercial photographers. And also a little event photography on the side. It's a rich tapestry of previous work.

Do you have a favorite art exhibition that you have ever seen?

Ever seen? Wow, I don't know. It's a long list, man. I mean, when I travel and stuff, I always go to some sort of exhibit. It would be difficult for me to pull a favorite. I appreciate work from so many different times and disciplines. I went repeatedly to Prado in Madrid to see Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, Goya's “Black Paintings,” and all the Velázquez. Also down the street from there is Reina Sofia, where Guernica is. I remember seeing Antoni Tàpies' paintings there for the first time. I also remember being blown away on my first visit to the Hirshhorn in, like, ninth grade, or the Whitney, Guggenheim, or MOMA. Seeing all of their permanent collections and stuff. The Gerhard Richter retrospective at the MOMA was super-impressive. I mean, those are just some examples, but there's probably something at almost every exhibition that I really like. I don't think I could ever pick a favorite.

What would be your favorite exhibition that we have put on here?

There have been a lot. The short list would include: Balance and PowerTradition Redefined, which included Radcliff Bailey, an artist I went to school with, and Mildred Thompson, one of the professors at ACA when I was there; Shared Vision, which was a great joy for me to work on and was really impressive; I also really like the East/West: Visually Speaking, where I got to stretch some really big, impressive paintings that had been shipped from overseas. I mean, those are the ones that come to mind.

Do you have a favorite art installer experience that you could share with us?

Nothing specific, really. The fun thing about being an installer is all of the different experiences we get to have. I mean, maybe during the East/West show we had to stretch some paintings that had been laid out in Chinese customs. They appeared to have been stepped on, and we talked about it with the gallerist in China and got the go ahead to try and start cleaning them. That was pretty anxiety inducing, and a memorable experience for me.

Tony Rodrigues e
Image courtesy of Jonathan Duck.

If you could be any inanimate object, what would it be?

A reading lamp. Yeah, sure … a reading lamp.

When you are not installing art, what are your pastimes?

I try to practice studio time even when there is nothing, like, red-hot cooking. I try to stay disciplined about that. Other than that, I ride the bike, walk the dogs. I have a wife and four dogs. I also teach at the jail. It's a painting class for juvenile inmates who are being prosecuted as adults. I do that through the Cathedral Arts Project.

I bet that's interesting.

Yeah, it's not boring usually.

Have you had a lot of what you might consider as success stories with that program?

Yeah. It's constantly in flux with the amount of students I have. I mean, some I have for longer terms. Some are in and out of the class for disciplinary actions. It's always a really fluid environment. We just did an exhibit at the Cathedral Arts Project main offices last year of their work, which was well received. And actually someone I know in Nashville, Tennessee, is doing an exhibit of prisoner art work, and he contacted me to ask if we could send some works to be included in that. We are ironing out the details on that right now with Cathedral Arts Project. So yeah, we have brought a lot of awareness to our program, and we are maybe trying to expand it.

Do you have any projects that you are excited about right now?

I'm excited about this large-scale “mural” that I'm doing for Deutsche Bank in one of their new campuses. I'm going to be working with fine art screen-printer George Cornwell, and we are going to do some direct printing on the wall. It will be a combination of paint and print right on the wall. The area is in this break room, so the interaction is supposed to be sort of playful and will include some absurd, cute little animals and outdoor sports motifs. It's going to be just a little bit strange but happy. I've also got an upcoming show at Rain Dogs. The show is called Painting Is Stupid and opens April 1. It's just a group of my recent paintings that aren't really congruous in style or execution but are more about relevance in content and validity in purpose.

Man, you are a busy dude. I will make sure to be at your opening. Thank you so much for sitting with me today. I really enjoyed picking your brain.

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