Alfredo Rodriguez, Art of the West, March-April 2015

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March/April 2015

For All Fine Art Collectors

Alfredo rodriguez

A Different PersPective By Vicki Stavig


lfredo Rodriguez bemoans the loss of  personal interaction, a casualty of the  evolution  of  technology—computers,  cell  phones,  and  social  media—that,  while  increasing the speed with which people communicate, has put a distance between them.  You can’t shake a hand or share a hug while  tapping out letters on a keyboard. So  it  is  that  Rodriguez  focuses  on  people  interacting  with  each  other,  whether  it’s  an  old  man  reading  to  his  grandchildren,  or  a  young  man  teaching  his  siblings  how  to  carve. During the first part of his career, he  painted colorful scenes of Native Americans,  cowboys,  and  mountain  men,  along  with  an  occasional  scene  from  his  native  Mexico.  Today,  he  is  consumed  with  capturing  scenes he describes as more intimate, more  important. “My  current  work  is  about  what  life  has  taught  me  during  the  past  10  years,”  Rodriguez  says.  “I  have  lost  my  mother,  a  brother, and my beautiful daughter Ana. All  these  misfortunes  have  helped  me  see  life  from  a  different  perspective.  We  need  to  focus  on  relationships  with  the  people  who  are important to us.” Many  of  the  relationships  Rodriguez  captures  continue  to  center  on  people  of  the  past,  but  his  paintings  have  become  softer.  “My  paintings  are  becoming  more  subdued  with my colors,” he says, adding that he has  moved from using strong colors of the Navajo  clothing to more grays, siennas, and umbers.  The  skills  Rodriguez  has  mastered  and  the  success  he  has  achieved  are  the  result  of dedication and determination. In fact, the  only art instruction he has had were six onehour classes when he was a young boy. Growing  up  in  Tepic,  Mexico,  Rodriguez  was  one  of  nine  children.  The  family  was  poor  but,  when  he  was  4  and  asked  his  mother  if  she  would  buy  him  a  sketchpad,  42  ART of the WEST • March/April 2015

Ready to Ride, oil, 36˝ by 24˝ “After an extended period of time away from his horse and saddle, this cowboy is anxious to saddle up and go for a long ride.”

she  scraped  together  enough  money  to  make  that  purchase,  along  with two pencils, for Christmas. Two years later, she bought him a set  of watercolors and, within a few years, his parents managed to pay 60  pesos for six lessons from well-known Mexican artist Santiago Rosas. Rodriguez says he was devastated, when his parents could no longer  afford  to  pay  for  his  studies,  but  he  followed  Rosas’  advice  to  study the Old Masters and all the art books he could get his hands  on and to visit museums and galleries. “He also told me to practice,  practice, practice,” Rodriguez says. “That’s what I’ve been doing ever  since—making mistakes and learning from them.” In  1968,  a  tourist  from  Texas,  noticed—and  purchased—one  of

Three Frustrated Miners, oil, 24˝ by 36˝ “This painting depicts three prospectors searching for gold during the California Gold Rush of 1849. Those who came early had the opportunity to strike it rich in the gold fields, but the large majority of miners were less lucky and often returned home with nothing more than an experience filled with frustration and defeat.”

Rodriguez’s  paintings,  which  had  earned  first  prize  at  a  local  show,  and  was  so  taken  with  it  that  he  made several trips to Mexico to buy  more  of  his  paintings,  selling  them  in  the  United  States  and  returning  to purchase more. “He would bring  me black-and-white photos of Native  Americans,  and  I  would  paint  from  them,” Rodriguez says. “I loved John  Wayne  and  Western  movies,  and  I  already  was  painting  the  Mexican  Indians that live around the Sierras.  I was fascinated by the colorful costumes they wore.” Tired  of  the  constant  traveling,  the  Texan  urged  Rodriguez  to  move  to  the  United  States,  which  the  young  artist  did  in  1975,  after

completing his high school studies.  When  Rodriguez  applied  for  a  visa,  the  American  consul  in  Tijuana  did  not  believe  him,  when  he  said  he  was an artist.  “He  asked  me  to  do  a  painting  in  order  to  get  a  visa,”  Rodriguez  says. “He gave me a black-and-white  photo,  and  I  went  home  and  spent  three  days  painting  a  16”  by  20”  portrait.” When he returned with the painting,  the  official  still  wasn’t  convinced, so Rodriguez completed it in  front of him. “I think they still have it  there,” he says with a laugh. Once in  the United States, he quickly made a  name for himself.  “God  has  been  helping  me  from

day  one,”  Rodriguez  says.  “I  never  had  to  look  for  work;  people  would  commission  me  to  do  portraits.”  Within a year of moving to the United  States,  he  got  the  break  that  would  launch his career when Ed Trumble,  chief  executive  officer  and  founder  of the Leanin’ Tree publishing company,  purchased  some  of  his  paintings and featured them on greeting  cards. In fact, today several of those  paintings are included in the Leanin’  Tree Museum in Boulder, Colorado.  By  1979,  Rodriguez  was  able  to  purchase  a  home  in  Corona,  California,  where  he  lives  with  Cheryl,  his  wife  of  31  years.  From  there, he often drives Highway 49 to  northern California, the route taking  him  to  the  Mother  Lode,  the  geographic  center  of  California’s  gold  rush.  “It  extends  from  Melones,  near  Sonora,  in  the  south  nearly  to  Auburn in the north,” he says. The sleepy towns along Highway  March/April 2015• ART of the WEST


49 beckon Rodriguez, and it is there  he finds the models he uses for his  paintings of miners and pioneer people. “The place I like to visit the most  is Columbia, which is a state historic  park,”  he  says.  “It  has  a  living  history  museum,  where  they  still  preserve most of the buildings of 1849.  They  still  have  the  same  bars  and  saloons as in the 1800s, and the city  hotel  still  has  furniture  from  1849.  I’ve  been  going  there  for  the  past  seven years.  “Over  the  years,  I  have  found  people there who are living like they  did  in  the  1800s.  They’re  happy  to  model for me, because I try to have  a  relationship  with  them  and  their  families.  We  become  friends  first,  and then they become my models. I  want  to  capture  not  only  their  likenesses, but their personalities.” Rodriguez takes equal care when  creating the backdrops for his characters.  “Most  of  the  time  I  try  to  pose  my  models  in  the  location  I  want  to  paint  them  in,  so  I  can  see  everything is there—the light, shadows, and rocks—so everything goes  together  well;  everything  is  in  harmony. Every time I paint a model in

Grateful Hearts, oil, 16˝ by 24˝ “An old couple gives thanks to the Lord, not only for the food provided, but for their long lives and countless memories. A grateful heart is a happy heart.”

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Lessons With Grandpa, oil, 36˝ by 24˝ “I really enjoy depicting relationships in my paintings, especially interactions between small children and elder members of the family. This painting reminds me of my grandfather, when he would sit with us on the porch and read stories to us. He loved sharing his knowledge with people, especially the young. It’s sad to see that, in this current electronic world, we seldom see scenes like this anymore.”

March/April 2015• ART of the WEST


Sharing the Light, oil, 40˝ by 30˝ “’If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it,’ someone said. I think the title of this painting is self-explanatory. While one child shares the light from his lantern, the old man shares with his great-grandkids the ‘Light of the World,’ one of the many ways Jesus is described in the Bible.”

46  ART of the WEST • March/April 2015

The Toy Wagon Maker, oil, 24˝ by 30˝ “As Christmas approaches, this young cowboy shares his skills in woodworking with his siblings. He also is passing on his trade to the next generation.”

my  studio  and  add  in  the  scenery,  it’s  a  struggle  to  get  the  light  and  shadows  right,  so  I  prefer  to  go  to  the location I want to portray. “Maybe  I  have  an  old  man  and  a  couple of children. I put them in my  van, and we travel to the location, so  I don’t have to incorporate pictures.  It’s  so  much  more  authentic.  They  look like they really belong there.” In  his  quest  to  incorporate  authentic scenery into his paintings,  Rodriguez  packs  up  his  paints  and  heads  outside.  “Plein  air  painting  only is practice for my larger works,”  he says. “I don’t go often but, when I  do, it’s a delightful day. I usually take  9” by 12” panels and do quick painting sketches and color studies. I also  take photos; I have hundred of photos  of  models,  clouds,  trees,  rocks,  and mountains.”

The  focus  on  relationships  has  brought  with  it  a  change  in  how  Rodriguez paints his scenes. “It has  improved my style,” he says. “I think  I’m more realistic than I was before  and  can  capture  expressions  of  the  characters  I  am  trying  to  portray  better.  If  it  looks  unfinished  to  me,  I  keep  working  on  it.  It’s  very  difficult to determine when a painting is  done. It’s done when I can’t improve  it any more.” Rodriguez  says  the  best  part  of  being  an  artist  is  getting  up  in  the  morning, going into his studio, and  getting recharged and inspired to do  the  paintings  he  enjoys.  Coming  in  second is seeing a red dot on one of  his  paintings,  which  indicates  that  “someone  was  willing  to  pay  thousands of dollars for it,” he says.  Rodriguez  sold  his  first  painting

in  1964,  when  he  was  about  10,  to  an  uncle  for  20  pesos.  He’s  come  a  long  way  since  then.  Today  his  paintings are included in prestigious  shows, as well as prestigious collections, including that of Gene Autry’s  widow Jackie.  He  is  quick  to  praise  Santiago  Rosas  with  setting  him  on  the  path  to  a  successful  career  in  fine  art.  He  offers  up  the  same  advice  he  received  from  Rosas  to  up-andcoming  artists,  with  this  addition,  “You have to love art and be willing  to  have  hard  times.  If  you  are  passionate  about  it,  you  will  make  it,  because  people  respond,  when  you  do things with passion.”  Vicki Stavig is editor of Art of the West.

March/April 2015• ART of the WEST


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