I first heard of Sam “Shorty Fatz” Rodriguez as one of the designers for Cukui Clothing. Sam has branched out as an individual designer and caught my eye as a fine artist painter. In 2012, I connected with him again when we painted for PowWowHawaii sponsored by Montana Colors. After that great event, I slated him for my newest show, The Composite Knowledge, I’m curating for the 1AM SF Gallery. The show also headlines with Jaybo Monk and Poesia Transcend, who I’ll be interviewing in my next blog entries.
MB: Tell me about how you decided to do art as a career? What made the jump from designing for a design firm to going solo?
SR: As far as I can remember, I’ve always been passionate about art/visual communication and decided to pursue it as a career/life choice about 15 years ago. It didn’t really come into fruition until recently because I wanted to explore my options and learn as much as I could.
Beside my personal art, I’ve been involved in different fields to support my family, from graphic design, public art, industrial design and illustration. I have had the opportunity to work in both a corporate setting and as a contractor. The experience has taught me a lot and given me much insight, including a good work ethic, and clarity as to what type of work I want to pursue when opportunities arise.
The experience has also enabled me to discover my own voice. My main source of income is from graphic design and permanent public art projects, but it is slowly beginning to make the transition into creating more personal work.
MB: I’m digging the portraits that you do. How do you decide to select the people you paint or do sketches of? Are they all people you know? Are are they local SJ heroes?
SR: I look at these portraits as a sort of exercise and study. First off I am working on an ongoing series that is sort of anthropological in that it involves studying the mix of visual signifiers in humans. Obviously the work isn’t going to make any scientific conclusions, but for me it’s playing with ideas and notions of identifiers that we seek based on our perspectives. So really what I’m doing is drawing dissections. Each portion of the face I’m sketching is assigned textile patterns, organic or geometric shapes, various skin tones, etc. The method that I’m inspired by is diagrammatic drawings that industrial designers employ. I break down a subject matter into simpler geometric forms to understand how it is telling the view that it is a form in the first place. However the approach is much more of a freeform that includes more organic shapes and combines traditional portrait studying. What I like about the idea of diagrammatic drawings is that you break down a given subject. This is what I’m doing in my work both technically and conceptually. So in affect there is a mixing of shapes colors and techniques and these methods work to highlight my intent much further.
I choose faces that I’m interested in drawing at that moment. Some of the people I draw I know, and some I don’t. Who the people are isn’t the main topic in the work, although it can be if you see someone you know! But really I’m interested in seeing portraits as sort of landscape in identity, and I use these faces as vessels to impose different visual cues.
MB: I dig the letters you do for graffiti writing. Can you speak to the mindset of when you paint graff versus the work you do for gallery? For example, I do hints of the techniques I do for letter fill-ins on some of my canvas work. Is it the same for you?
SR: I used to put up certain borders between graffiti and gallery work but lately that distinction has become more irrelevant. I’m much more interested in this new series I’m working on, and if that manifests itself in a gallery or a random wall then that will work fine for me. I actually haven’t done much traditional graffiti art lately, although I love viewing it and will never lose that. I wouldn’t say I’m a “retired graffiti artist”, but I like to go with my gut and when I become fixated on stuff I tend to be obsessive. One thing I don’t like to do is stick to one style or genre of anything because then making art just becomes so full of rules.
But without a doubt I believe my past experience in graffiti and everything for that matter is helping to inform my present and future. With that said, I’m positive that graffiti exists in my work somehow. I do recognize the amazing revolutions and innovations that are currently happening by many in graffiti art, but personally I’m veering off into a detour.
MB: You have an interesting technique of combining the geometric (diamond-ism) shapes with the shapes of the faces of your portraits/content in your work. What is the process that goes through your head when you blueprint out the combo of shapes to layout of a portrait face and deciding composition?
SR: Lately I’ve been going through a process of creating thumbnails, then hitting the finals with paint. I spent a lot of time doing more improv work in the past, but I also worked in settings that depended on structure. So as of now, I’ve combined both improv and structure whereas the structural improv happens mostly in the sketches, but still does carry into the painting with colors and final decisions.
I begin by drawing a very loose sketch of the face and from that I then will section off into portions. After that I usually will start dissecting visual information of the face. This is done by isolating the key factors that tell us how to view it. For example if there is a highlight or shadow, I will go ahead and isolate those somehow. The next step from there is to assign specific attributes to those different shapes which ranges from textile patterns, skin tones, organic or geometric shapes, etc. Blueprint, as you called it, is a good word for it.
MB: You do an awesome job of conjuring up images of asian, Mexican, Indian, Americana and at the same time recognizing the landscape of the Bay Area. What inspires your cultural concepts?
SR: I am constantly inspired by new things everyday. As of late I’ve been really inspired by South and West African, Native American, Mexican and Japanese textile work. But my goal is to broaden my reference library of world textile patterns since my intent is to study the many visual cues of human identity. I agree and am happy to say that the works do recognize the landscape of the Bay Area because our population naturally signifies the mixing of identity in many ways, including ethnicity, race, and sub-cultures. Personally this homogenization is why our verbal slang is so interesting and influential. But these concepts can be found everywhere and cultures/nations like Mexico for example and beyond are completely based on this type of complex mixing.
MB: Any other influences you’d like to credit?
SR: Shout-outs to the people that have supported me throughout the years, thank you. Shout-outs to all the old school Bay Area graff heads who took some chances and pioneered some shit! Some of whom are still working and have been since I was in diapers, including yourself and one of my favorites, TWS crew. Can’t forget Poesia, who is influential not just in graff, but art period. King 157, Zen, Picasso, Twist, Kose, Dream, and so many that I unfortunately can’t think of at the moment. You all taught me how to mix and keep an open mind in the first place. Special shot outs to Raj Jayadev of Silicon Valley De-Bug, and Josue Rojas of what was back then called Pacific News Service. Thank you for helping me to realize that art was something I could actually pursue. Shout out to Aaron De La Cruz, Jasper Wong, Barron Storey, Brian Eder, Cherri Lakey, Reydiem, Orly Locquiao, Bu Nation, and especially, especially, especially, my daughter Dekye Dawa.