When you see the work of Sam Rodriguez, you can't help but immediately feel the vibrant, oscillating sense of raw pride he so effortlessly illustrates. His work is purposefully layered like a "topographical map"; he confidently shows every color, every stroke, and every line proudly on each piece like a badge of honor. These layers are a sort of journey through his work, in the end, giving them life. What I especially love about Sam's work is the energetic, cultural diversity. He has a knack for instantly taking you on a walk through a typical Bay Area neighborhood in his paintings; the beautiful mix of rich cultures and people give the city color and you can almost hear the people he draws and paints. Sam's currently busy making major moves in the industry and in typical California style, he's doing it with true ease. Sit back, relax and read more.
TH: For those who aren’t yet familiar with your work, can you tell me about the kind of art you make and where you draw inspiration from?
SR: I make illustrations that are inspired by people, graphic design, and fashion. I illustrate/design magazine covers that don't exist :) haha!
TH: Can you tell me more about your beginnings as a graffiti artist? How has the graffiti world impacted you as a working artist?
SR: Yea I was a graffiti writer from 1994 to around 2003. I learned the importance of originality, style and dedication during this time. We used to risk our lives to paint, I wasn't really the type of graffiti person that did legal walls. Myself, and people I hung out with were more on the vandalism side of it. I used to bus hop...(tagging, and scribing on public transportation). We used to do high rooftops, freeway signs, train bridges, etc. Sometimes, I would have to run from the police, gangs, or get into beef with other graffiti writers. One time I got chased by a German Shepard police dog! These years were risky, but also very therapeutic for me because of some hardships I had growing up, it's how I dealt with them. The takeaway from this time period for me was that there weren't going to be any challenges from there on out that I could not meet in regards to building my life or art.
TH: As a fellow San Jose native and WOC (Woman Of Color), I have always admired and loved the diversity that is so beautifully expressed through your work; I’m a huge fan of your “topographical” style with typeface design. Why do you believe it is important to highlight POC (People Of Color) through art and how do you feel that positive, culturally-diverse imagery impacts the art world?
SR: I'm pumped that you're from San Jose! Drawing/Painting different types of people is important to me but not for political reasons. I believe that in order to be original as an artist you need to apply a set of ingredients unique to your life experience. I grew up seeing different shades of people, and styles, so being a portrait artist, that influence needs to be shown in the work. Myself, I am Chicano aka American of Mexican Descent. Our people and food comes in many blends, and shades, so this aspect of my work is just self-expression. The same goes for my choice in typography or other design elements, I am very much a sampler when it comes to putting a composition together. It's also the time period we're in. Back in during the time when you had aristocrats and royals from Europe commissioning portraits the natural output was going to be a bunch of paintings of caucasians. This has dominated Art history because those have been the players in the Arena. They were painting what they saw/were, and now i'm painting what I see/am. Now we all have access to creating media, so new perspectives are being revealed.
TH: How did you come up with the unique idea of juxtaposing facial portraits with typography, "Type Faces"?
SR: Thank you! Going back to my thoughts on originality. In order to come up with your own style, I believe you need to be a combination of ingredients unique to you and/or your interests. For a long time during my graffiti and later into my college years, I had a strong interest in lettering, and portraits which is what I continually crafted. However, most of the time these were separated or side by side. Even in graffiti, if I painted a character it would not be fully integrated into the neighboring letters. They would be side by side which is what you traditionally see on walls. Back in those days, thinking was not as expansive and free-flowing as today's design/art approach. Not sure why, but that was my experience. After constantly experimenting, learning, and questioning what my voice could be, I finally put all of these interests on the same space. This is how I came up with "Type Faces." I finally realized that originality came down to what I mentioned in the beginning here, the combination of ingredients unique to myself and interests.
TH: Can you tell me about a recent project you’ve worked on? Were there any challenges and if so, how did you overcome them?
SR: I recently did a design for a limited edition beverage can release. I can't say the name because it goes out next year, but the challenge is one that I like and am familiar with. That is, translating my work into commercial products. It is important to come into a project like that with 100 percent intentions on collaborating with the brand. They were interested in my voice, so I felt confident that my 'look' would remain in tact. Communication from my end and theirs is how this was kept in line. That way we could work together and come up with a direction which both sides were happy with. It's important to understand their intentions, and my own. The best solution for these kinds of projects is not to get too emotional, or egotistical and to approach things with a logical sensibility.
TH: Do you have any advice for artists looking to make that ‘leap’ into the freelancing world?
SR: Find your voice first. If it is unique, chances are there is a spot out there for you that has not been filled! Learn how be business saavy. Don't expect people to 'Discover' you, meaning there isn't someone out there searching for us, so put your work in their face like a hustler! Nobody owes you anything, even if you're the most talented person in the world. Before I freelanced, I worked lots of different non-art jobs. I don't come from money so it was a necessity, but those experiences taught me work ethic and discipline which I carry into my process everyday. Lastly, it's going to be tough and there will be many let downs, but if you sacrifice club night outs, and other indulgences, and stick to your craft, eventually you'll be doing this full time.
TH: What do you know now that you wish you would have known 10 years ago?
SR: For 5 years after I graduated college, I did not pursue my career as an artist. I thought it was an unrealistic goal because I didn't come from a place where I saw career artists. Part of what held me back was rejection from art directors and my own limiting doubts about how there wasn't a place for me in this field. I have no grudge towards people who have rejected my work because I know that what I was doing at the time was work that they already had artists for. I now know from experience that it is necessary to carve out your own place in the world. This is also what makes you a stronger artist since it means you contribute something new to the table. I eventually got back into the arts in 2011, and became full time in 2014. Had I known this back then, I would have started earlier.
TH: Who do you admire and why?
SR: Wow, this is tough, I admire lots of people. Off the top right now, Muhammed Ali comes to mind. I like his work ethic as a boxer, but more importantly, I like that he was the boxer and public persona that he wanted to be. He owned himself and his path.
TH: Final question...if you could sit down and have a coffee (or tea, I’m not judging) with any person, musician or athlete you’ve drawn, who would it be and why?
SR: I would have liked to have a coffee at Prince's studio while he was at work with his people. Not necessarily with him, but as a student, observing the process.