Rodney Cuellar’s drawings are born out of his performative studio practice on the New York City subway system. While traversing underground tunnels in fitful, rowdy and often jam-packed subway cars, he can be found generating meticulous drawings with a ballpoint pen.
The origin of his evolving, visual vocabulary began with his interest in the skeletal architecture of a deteriorated poppy seed pod that recalled the design of a Gothic cathedral. The pod, itself a bulbous form, is capped by an orifice resembling a sphincter. This single object led to further explorations into the complexities of biomorphic forms and textures, as well as human orifices and the delicate foreskin that surrounds the glans.
Broadening his relationship to drawings and source material, Rodney floods the walls of his studio with images culled from magazines, books and the internet. These images read like snapshots from the dreamworld of the artist. They suggest a distinct time, space, mood, gesture, light and shadow. To achieve an expanded use of scale and materials, he applys the same lexicon and techniques he developed to accomplish a drawing on the subway. Works incorporating sumi ink are an example of this approach.
Rodney’s drawing practice is a result of his collaborative nature. His performative past as an athlete and vocal musician culminates in being most inspired and productive when engaging with other people. Following an education in art and art history at Rice University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he worked for director, designer and artist, Robert Wilson.
Rodney developed his skills as a collaborator by creating set and costume designs for the theatre company, Tooth and Nail, that he co-founded and ran in Salt Lake City, UT. He also designed for various Off-Broadway and regional productions. Upon returning to New York, he expanded his focus from theatre to drawing and extended his practice to include commuting time on the subway.
Rather than embrace the romantic notion of the artist working alone in the studio, he adopted the subway passengers as his involuntary collaborators. This imposed collaboration with the passive subway audience stimulates his drawing practice.
Rodney is also committed to an ongoing collaboration with painter Tim Doud that began over 20 years ago. His role as subject has developed over time, and he makes all decisions regarding what he wears, the pose, the lighting and the title; while Tim decides the composition and emphasis. Each painting is drawn from life and takes many sittings over the period of a year to complete. Rodney is both content creator and performer. The performance here has always been one of multiple identities, but in the most recent bodies of work, Rodney explores his masculinity. He considers the ways in which men in our culture are conditioned to perform their gender and ethnicity and makes choices beyond these boundaries. He reveals how he would present himself in daily life were our societal rules less restrictive.
American, b. 1965, Houston, Texas, based in Brooklyn, New York