John Rodriguez | AADL Black Lives Matter Muralist
Following the Ann Arbor District Library's Call for Artists in 2020, AADL installed a Black Lives Matter mural on the south side of Library Lane on Friday, May 21 featuring the works of eight artists.
Below is our interview with muralist John Rodriguez.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: My name is John Rodriguez. I'm a 44-year-old Afro-Caribbean man who was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and raised in Inglewood, California. I am an eight-year resident of Ypsilanti with my wife and two boys. I attended UCLA for college where I graduated with my bachelor's degree in political science. I currently work at the University of Michigan as a project manager in the Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences department.
Q: What's your earliest memory of making art and your earliest memory of being affected by art?
A: My earliest memories of making art are from working on a paint-by-number painting. I remember meticulously taking my time to get all of the colors correctly painted and then being so proud of the horse head portrait that I finally completed. From then I was fascinated by cartoon animation, art in books, and even the newspaper comic sections. I doodled on everything and enjoyed the mental space and separation that drawing and painting created. It was a space that was quiet and calm, a space that I could control limited to only my imagination and skill.
Q: Tell us about your mural and your art.
A: This is my announcement that I posted on Facebook:
I’m titling the piece Blessing, acrylic, on an aluminum panel. Black people are a part of the fabric of Michigan culture. We bring beauty and culture and serve as angelic beings blessing the land, animals, lakes, and each other. We can not be separated. With open arms, we are inviting you to welcome us (black people) and all that we bring. The sun and the shirt are painted with metallic paint that is illuminated in the sunlight.
I thought about how African fabric patterns have specific cultural meanings. The patterns are not simply beautiful, but they provide information about the wearer. Whether they are royalty, warriors, or merchants. Some patterns are native to various parts of the continent. When Africans were enslaved and brought to the Americas it would be impossible to separate how they would impact the culture of what would be. Our food, music, speech, intelligence, and creativity would forever be intertwined with the new world.
Today, we as Black Americans, are fighting for what can be best described as a full opportunity to be accepted and valued. Not for what we can produce, but for who we are. The boy is modeled after my oldest son who is 8 years old. I chose him because of his dark brown skin. He represents all BIPOC people in Michigan. His arms are open which provides both a narrative of welcome and of vulnerability. I gave him wings so that it would elevate his character to the point of being angelic. Overall, the viewer might consider if he, as the angel, is providing all of this texture and color. With the sun shining with gold color, so is the shirt that he is wearing. Michigan is represented in two ways. Primarily the white-tailed deer and the imagery of water being a land of many lakes. The buck is taking a strong stance. It is a mature buck with large antlers as his crown. This idea is meant to invoke the strength and life that is present.
This piece took about four months from concept to final. Since I work full time, most of my work is accomplished in the evenings or weekends. I also try to get my sons involved in the process. I chose to use acrylic paints because it is a super versatile medium that is quick-drying and also very vibrant. I am also a fan of the metallic paints that are available and use them to add a different dynamic to the painting.
I begin by sketching concepts using the Procreate drawing app on my iPad. I spend time thinking about the message I want to send and piece together a few concepts. Then I run my ideas through my circle of friends to see how they feel and what they think about my ideas. After I feel good about the concept. I start to develop a close to final draft. Once that is ready, I start the process of painting on the panel. I also allow myself room to make improvements as I'm inspired to do so.
AADL Black Lives Matter muralist interviews:
- T'onna Clemons
- Quadre Curry
- Demario Dotson
- John Rodriguez
- Jaleesa Rosario
- Rachel Elise Thomas
- Curtis Wallace
- Avery Williamson