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Gamaliel Rodríguez La travesía / Le voyage

  • Exhibition

  • On view now
  • MASS MoCA

Gamaliel Rodríguez’s large-scale works on paper imagine landscapes inspired by the two-fold character of his native Puerto Rico, which the artist recently described as a mix of “beauty and chaos.” Merging industrial and natural environments, Rodríguez depicts abandoned structures surrounded by verdant greenery — which he often renders as an aerial view. Devoid of a human presence, the overgrown buildings have a dystopic yet familiar feel, prompting mis-recognitions by viewers reminded of locations in their own hometowns. Though the artist’s subjects are fictitious, they are inspired by the accumulation of manufacturing projects in Puerto Rico established and ultimately abandoned by US companies lured by tax breaks and cheap labor in the mid-20th century.

Rodríguez is currently working on a new 60-foot work on paper for MASS MoCA’s Hunter Hallway. Inspired by his experience of North Adams and its post-industrial landscape during his time in the museum’s studio residency program, Rodríguez’s drawing conflates the repurposed architecture of MASS MoCA’s large, former-factory complex with architecture of Puerto Rico and other locations from around the globe.

Using felt, acrylic, colored pencil, and ballpoint pen, Rodríguez skillfully renders his hyper-realistic landscapes in rich blues and purples that are simultaneously seductive and unsettling. Mari Rodríguez Binnie, art historian and art professor at Williams College, connected the blue ballpoint pen so prevalent in the artist’s work to its role as the quintessential bureaucractic tool. It is indeed an overwhelmed bureaucracy (and mountains of certificates and forms) often blamed for blocking local entrepreneurship in Puerto Rico, which is overly dependent on outside investment. The pen became ubiquitous in the same period during and after WWII that witnessed “Operation Bootstrap,” the government’s efforts to diversify its sugar-based economy and bring modern industry to the island.

About the artist
Rodríguez was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico in 1977. He received his BA from the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, San Juan Puerto Rico in 2004 and an MFA from the Kent Institute of Art and Design in the UK in 2005. He attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2011. He has participated in numerous residencies and fellowships such as The MacDowell Fellowship in 2012 and The International Studio & Curatorial Program Residency in 2013. In 2016, Rodríguez had a solo exhibition at SCAD Museum in Savannah, Georgia which featured Figure 1737, a 45-foot long ballpoint pen drawing. He has also exhibited his work at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, San Juan and the Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York. He is represented by Nathalie Karg Gallery, New York.

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Gamaliel Rodríguez, Figure 1839: La travesía / Le voyage, 2019-20
Acrylic, ink, ballpoint pen, colored pencil, and gold leaf on Arches paper mounted on panel
96″ x 720″ (8′ x 60′) / each panel 8′ x 4′

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