Updated: Jul 29, 2020
CSPG and Getty Marrow Undergraduate intern, Haley Vallejo has been interviewing friends and supporters of the center for our blog. The goal of these interviews is to get to know some of the artists that are part of the archive and celebrate their work in the arts and social justice community.
Carlos Rodriguez is a member of the San Francisco Poster Syndicate. Thank you, Carlos, for your time and for all your work in the San Francisco community.
What is your preferred name and pronouns?
Carlos Rodriguez (he/him)
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I grew up in Southern California, and am currently living in Brooklyn
What is your favorite art techniques/media?
Printmaking, bookmaking, and drawing will always hold a special place in my heart, but I really love all kinds of media: ceramic, painting, calligraphy, and music. What's important to me in image-making, and especially in poster making, is the presence of the hand in the image. I respect those Photoshop wizards that can whip up graphics in a couple of hours in front of the computer, but I like the imperfections in my work that make the images breathe.
What attracted you to political art? How did you become politicized and what inspired you to create political art?
I grew up in a politicized family. My parents were activists and organizers. Growing up, they would take us to demonstrations all around Los Angeles. As a young kid, I was heavy into UFW graphics and I used to have a huge Cesar Chavez poster in my room and a UFW Eagle flag. This stuff was all around the house too, so when I began learning to draw, I was trying to jack styles from Diego Rivera and sugar skulls and Simon Silva type stuff. When I was making work in my own style later in college, I was doing Poster Syndicate on the side, and it felt just really natural and fun to me, also kind of like a duty to my lineage kind of deal.
Were you influenced by a specific artist or movement?
There are a few heavy hitters in political art specifically that I always look to for inspiration for sure, but influences can come from all over. I love the 60s and 70s kind of self-published pamphlet aesthetics: Emory Douglas, graphics in the Pa'lante periodical the Young Lords published, the French graphics from the May 1968 protests. One color, super bold, hand-done posters with fat letters and lines full of character. Also Jose G. Posada, always Posada.
From your experience, how do you think the internet has affected the art world?
There's a million different ways and angles to have with this question. I'd say the thing that sticks out to me is just the skewing of ownership over images and the immediacy that's really forced artists to completely change the way image production happens. If you spent 5 years of your life working to create a beautiful painting, working to get a composition and colors just right, and then you have it online, a huge audience may just scroll by it in a split second. There's more pressure to make interesting work that is also constantly changing, but consistent and recognizable with stylistic watermarks. Except that any distinctive and effective styles are inevitably stolen and circulating in the same online spaces. Basically, the internet (or maybe more accurate, the internet plus capitalism) flattened the art world.
What would you say has been one of your favorite pieces?
That's a very hard one. I have a lot of favorites. Right now, the piece that comes to mind is a huge Jose Clemente Orozco mural called Prometheus near my hometown in the Claremont Colleges. It was the first Orozco mural in the states and one of the first times Mexican muralism appeared in the so-called U.S. But history aside, it's a really enveloping and intense piece and uses the weird nooks and crannies of the space in such a beautiful way. I love it, not the most political art, but great.
How did you learn about CSPG?
I actually learned about CSPG looking for summer internships in my Undergrad (while I was doing Poster Syndicate, funny how that works huh!). I did a couple of the Getty's Multicultural Undergraduate Internships and CSPG was one place I really wanted to work at. I think I may have failed the image pop quiz in the interview, así es. Now a lot of Poster Syndicate work is in there and I've yet to visit, hope to make it soon!
Do you have any advice for someone looking to create political art?
I'd say don't make work about communities that you don't belong to unless someone within that community invites you to. Also, use your hands, and make it bold, really bold. Stay true to your feelings about the issue, and make sure people will know those feelings when they see your poster from 30 feet away.
What's the best way to keep up to date with your work?
Right now, nothing really, I have Instagram @carlitosjose but have been pretty inactive. Follow @sfpostersyndicate! *This interview has been edited for clarity This interview was conducted over email by Haley Vallejo