Agnes Scott College recently acquired a painting titled, “Night Sky” by artist, Rocio Rodriguez. The painting is currently located outside of the Career Counseling Offices. I conducted an email interview with the artist to answer some of my questions about her painting.
Lola Clairmont: This work seems to be influenced by Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” How do you think the allusion to Van Gogh contributes to the tone of your piece?
Rocio Rodriguez: I was not thinking about “Starry Night” when this piece was conceived but I understand why you might ask that question. People see a big, blue night sky in a painting so they immediately associate it with that very iconic painting. This is how this painting “Night Sky” was conceived:
In 2006 I was looking at many photographs that were taken by American and Iraqi soldiers during the Iraq war. I researched lots of internet sites where soldiers posted their pictures and videos. I was very interested in this because the war was happening and here in the United States our government was controlling the images that we were allowed to see. For example, we were prevented from seeing soldiers being brought back home in coffins. I was a teenager during the Vietnam War and that war was basically ‘presented’ on American TV. Meaning, every night we would see what was going on, on the ground in Vietnam, body bags, casualties and so on. So, it was very different experience with this conflict and I was disturbed by the lack of visual information that we as citizens had access to. So, this prompted me to do research because I was interested in making paintings and drawings that somehow referred to this conflict, the war. I made various drawings and in one I included the sky but it was drawn like half of a blue bowl on top of the page (very abstract drawing with linear elements at the bottom). What prompted that specific drawing was that I was thinking about the night sky in the desert and the fighting that went on out there. I don’t know if you have ever been to a desert but the sky is enormous, beautiful, and very clear at night. At that time I was looking at pictures of all these dead soldiers strewn in the desert, some were still in their trucks/vehicles burnt some were lying on the ground. There was a particular picture of an Iraqi soldier that I kept looking at. Anyway, I remember one day having a very difficult day of research–I had seen a lot of graphic images and I turned off the computer and went outside to sit on my steps. Nature can be comforting and I wanted to clear my head. It was night and I looked at the Atlanta sky and I thought about those bodies laying out there in the desert. And I thought that even when life is most difficult or horrific one can find beauty. I thought of that dead man lying out there and a beautiful night sky above him. That is how the idea developed.
Lola Clairmont: From what I have seen of your more recent works, they seem abstracted and non-objective. Why did you choose to paint this piece with a subject?
Rocio Rodriguez: My work has been non-objective for some time but often it is rooted in various things that are present in everyday life, or events. In 2006 I was developing new work and decided to go back to representation and see if it could bring something new into my work. It’s like taking a detour and going down a different road you might say, to see what I could find there. So I did some paintings and drawings that were less non-objective and included some representational images that alluded to the war. I see abstraction and representation as a continuum…sometimes I express myself directly sometimes I don’t.
Lola Clairmont: I read about your process of using digital means to help you manipulate and recreate your work. Did you use a similar technique with this piece?
Rocio Rodriguez: Yes. I took information from my drawings and I made a study for the piece in the computer much in the way that one would collage elements if you weren’t using the computer. I also referred to the man in the desert and used him in the painting.
Lola Clairmont: I noticed that many of your pieces’ titles deal with themes of nature and war. Do you feel that this piece has been influenced by one of both of those themes?
Rocio Rodriguez: “Night Sky” is definitely about the war, and of course nature because of the landscape and the sky. You have a dead man laying in a landscape with a huge, sky above him. He is so little and the sky is so big…I think you can find the metaphor here on your own. I don’t like to give everything away.
Lola Clairmont: Why is the figure alone?
Rocio Rodriguez: Why do you think the figure is alone? Would more figures have made the painting better? Would it have clarified something else in the painting for you? If there were more figures how would that change the meaning of the work? What can be said succinctly? Sometimes simplicity has more visual power and clarity.
Lola Clairmont: For this piece in particular, with what would you like the viewer to leave?
Rocio Rodriguez: I don’t think about the viewer when I paint. Meaning, I can’t predict how this painting will affect different people or how others will react to it. I only concern myself with what I want the painting to be and if it satisfies my needs as an artist–what I wanted to present and how to execute it.