Agua Dulce: Ochun Asleep | Oil on canvas | 19” x 15″ | 2010 (Tatiana Olga Collection)
The Artistic Son of Ybor City
A Creative Exchange with Dr. José Rodeiro, prompted by Mike Foldes
Florida-born painter José Rodeiro sat down with Mike Foldes on the terrace of the Hurricane Restaurant at Pass-a-Grille Beach, Saint Petersburg, Florida, for an in-depth interview about Rodeiro’s new art-making life along the Gulf Coast. As they drank and clinked their Mexican beers, they could hear the far-off rhythmic pattern of squat translucent green waves peaking in foam and slapping the hard wet shoreline — on the whole, another fabulous mirage imagined by Rodeiro. Foldes began:
Q) What do you want from your art? Why do you do it?
A) Like most artists, I create in order to persist, endure, live, remain alive and satiate desire. The creative process is an ecstatic, entranced, and visionary march to a point where imagery no longer needs any further creative intervention (from me). Art is knowing when to stop; thereby, releasing the image to its public, who Baudelaire and others believe to be the “real” author. This blissful process allows me to live at peak creative capacity. Yet, astonishingly, once I reach the point where my art stands sufficiently independent of me, in a word, “done,” instantly all my boiling artistic aspirations, inspiration, and all my “new” hopes and desires turn immediately toward my next work, while slightly glimpsing in my mind and heart around the corner whatever newer works are awaiting (new imagery temporarily in need of my hand(s) and eyes). Of course, the primeval artistic hope (since the beginning of art) is always that the new work will surpass the old. Thus, as an artist, I live in a world of “Next!” Perhaps, at the height of his Aix-en-Provence years surrounded by bunches of unfinished oil paintings (each drying at a different rate), Paul Cezanne, by slowly working on several sets of works in batches, must have felt this same sort of delight and creative anxiety.
9/11/2001 | Oil on canvas | 48” x 36” | 2001
Q) When I look at your overall oeuvre, you appear to create paintings in several distinctive styles that, at first glance, seem somewhat unrelated. However, upon closer inspection, your images reveal a subtle circuitous (incidental) unity or contextuality, comprehensively running through your various styles. What are your chief stylistic directions?
A) I have always valued artists that explore a wide range of styles and technical approaches in their creativity (aka art making), such as Milton Glaser, Pablo Picasso, Francisco Goya, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, Joni Mitchell, Ben Jones, Woody Allen, as well as others. To answer your question, I would list about nine distinguishing styles that reveal either my theoretical or aesthetic concerns or my technical interests as a painter. I’d characterize or categorize them as follows: 1). The grand manner style as delineated within Nicolas Poussin’s “Theory of Modes,” i.e., featuring grand themes painted in a grand style, etc. My interest in the grand manner affirms my fascination with the original intention of Post Modernism in the late-1960s and early-1970s as defined by Charles Jencks and Umberto Eco, which I view as “Radical Post-Modernism.” 2). Amnesis images, which reflect my interest in the revolutionary aesthetic theories of Bolivian poet Dr. Nicomedes Suárez Araúz with whom I’ve collaborated on numerous artistic ventures for many years, e.g., Amnesis visual art prompted the invention of 3). the Amazar in Barcelona in the mid-1980s. As you view my work, each of these specific stylistic transformations are visually divulged, manifesting intricate interconnected relationships between each of my artistic styles. For example, occasionally I explore 4). Neo-neoPop Art avenues that underpin my collaboration with various members of the Neo-Latino group, who examine Neo-neoPop themes, such as Raúl Villarreal, Gabriel Navar, Sergio Villamizar, Ricardo Fonseca, Nicola Stewart, Julio Nazario, and other Neo-Latinos involved in Neo-neoPop. Also, via my initial artistic collaboration with Sergio Villamizar, I’ve gratefully noticed evident indications, every now and then, of the appearance of 5). The duende in my work, an aesthetic inspiration astutely elucidated by Federico Garcia-Lorca in his famous essay on duende. I’ve noticed that certain genres also elicit specific stylistic trajectories, e.g., 6). bodegones (still-lifes); 7). landscapes, seascapes and vedutes, or 8). In terms of pigments used to create all these varied styles and concomitant images, I utilize primarily five types of media: oil, acrylic, gouache, watercolor, and ink. Media also lends itself to style, i.e., Marshall McLuhan’s idea that, “the medium is the ‘massage.’” And, lastly, 9). Primordialism or Neo-Shamanism, which is an idea first expressed by Charles Hayes, Christopher Tara, and Alan Britt. Primordialism (or Neo-Shamanism) places nature and the natural world at the core of a new animistic shamanic aesthetic derived from Immanentism: the art of the superconscious. It is the style that I am pursuing at this time. Especially “now,” with so much talk of impending doom (rising tides, thermonuclear war, a global rise of intolerance and totalitarianism, genocide or even a potential holocaust, etc.), I see Primordialism or Neo-Shamanism as a new form of survivalist art, beckoning an aesthetic and spiritual delving into art’s deep dark prehistoric roots filled with sublime creative inspiration derived from Amnesis lacunae.
Q) Your work is infused with historical references that may often be overlooked by a casual observer. With this in mind, how should someone approach your work with something other than an eye toward color and composition?
A) As a visual artist, my works’ primary concern is emotion, feeling, and symbolic meaning. Hence, when creating art, although amusing and “interesting,” intellectual content, narrative (historical references), and aesthetic theory(ies), while undoubtedly necessary to an over-all image, are always, for the most part, in my work, secondary or tertiary concerns, promoting iconological discourse, art historical commentary, and ruses for circumventing the usual dull mundane formal critiques. When confronting a work of art, formalism is usually the audience’s main crutch. And, in my opinion, they are wise to rely on it. Because, in truth, when painting two-dimensional visual images, my creative process (or method) imbues color (hue), tonal values (tones) and other formal elements of visual art with symbolic significance and emotive meaning, transporting my imagery into immanent realms that are instantaneously both poetic and musical. Thus, when presenting my image to viewers, I hope to communicate (or share my vision of) something completely unanticipated, profound, sublime, or arising from Amnesis’s lacunae-riddled depths. Or resulting from extremely rare encounters with a duende — or occasionally angels, or more often, than not, muses. For visual artists, a completed work of art remains, in the end, a surprise encounter between each viewer and the unique individual intuitive vision being viewed.
Q) So, your subject-matter’s success depends on formal composition?
A) Basically, when I apply color (hue), tonal values (tones) via concomitant gestural (“painterly”) effects or even non-gestural effects (i.e., smooth flatness), at length, through my unique manipulation of the formal elements-of-art, I fashion a personal visual language that enigmatically evokes emotion(s), feeling(s), and symbolic meaning(s). And, as stated above, my imagery employs a musical interplay of both color harmonies and contrasts, inhabiting classic triangular compositions. And, without formal composition when staging my provocative figures and historical narratives, all my erstwhile subject-matter would collapse into meaningless chaos without a strong pictorial (visual) composition, revealing vibrant dancing push/pull(s) of color, tonality, and the other key elements of art. Too much overt subject matter is especially noticeable whenever an image lacks a sensible, functional, and instinctive awareness of composition. Accordingly, all pertinent artistic subjects in an image (i.e., iconology, iconography, narratives, historic themes, topics, etc.) require an inherent (in-born) artistic command of color (hue), tonal values (tones), or gestural (“malerisch”) effects, or even non-gestural effects capable of conveying both artistic emotion and aesthetic ideas, “visually” paralleling Aristotle’s version of Anaxagoras’s nous as simultaneous (or concurrent) “thought/feeling(s)” or “feeling/thought(s).”
Q) You spent much of your career in a classroom teaching art history. Where does art history fit in with much of the work that is getting attention today created by artists who may have taken art classes, but whose references may be limited to life experience?
A) In my opinion, as a discipline, Art History is integral to the training of visual artists. In fact, in terms of current art education for visual artists, all curricula should be well-grounded in the study of Art History. I believe that it would be highly beneficial to human civilization and would be the best way to quickly resuscitate 21st Century art from its general wide-ranging malaise, which, at present, is contaminating the art world with a plague of anti-art as a substitute for art. Sadly, today, often, the very idea of authentic hands-on “human” creativity is disparaged (probably because the term “creativity” indirectly implies “creation,” or “creator,” thereby shockingly associating art making with “divinity” a la Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Along with the current disavowal of visual art’s historic bond with spirituality, noumena, and metaphysics, additionally, today, the role of feeling in art is disparaged. During this sad period, throughout academia and the art market, an overemphasis on anti-art is prevalent. Numerous contemporary artist rehash early 20th Century Dada ad infinitum, fostering entrenched and “endless” Neo-Dada conceptions; or they regurgitate variations on Marcel Duchamp’s readymades (found objects) ad nauseam, or clog venues with manifestations of aformal hyper-conceptual art, ranging from the most anti-visual to the most anti-visceral, amid a plethora of machine-dependent art forms. All of this interminable silliness is done without comprehension of manual creativity (human mastery). Hardly anyone dares to create viable visual art in its total form (in its true “entirety”), thus, only a part of art (“P-art”) is currently tolerated. Never art in full artistic panoply; instead only a fraction, or a mere part remains as detritus of visual art’s once glorious Phidiasian totality. Yet, according to Gestalt theory, “A whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.”
Although to be fair, many art works affixed to digital technology are magnificent, exciting, and enjoyable. And, I admire work by many digital masters, i.e., Charles Hayes, Chuck Haupt, Sergio Villamizar, Ricardo Fonseca, Efren Ave, Marcos Chalachan, George Rivera, Angélica Muñoz Castaño, Gabriele Viertel, Hugo Morales, Irene Koronas, Daniel Y. Harris, and countless others. Nevertheless, I fear that so much of what passes for art in the 21st Century is disproportionately machine-made, inhuman, dehumanized, and mechanical. Oddly enough, there are scientific scenarios wherein all electricity temporarily ends — at least for a short interval. A dire form of this phenomenon occurs approximately every 760,000 years, or so. Shockingly, if electricity vanished for a brief period (a hundred years), imagine young people conversing with the people around them or experiencing the visible world more, or Trump not tweeting, as well as all portraiture hand-painted, and epic films grand manner paintings, and visual art re-assuming the mantle of “Art as Art.” My greatest hope is for visual art (without a cataclysm) to return to being more visceral, visual, manual, masterful, and artistic.
To return to your point about the role of art history in my work: art historian, Leo Steinberg argued that, “All art is basically about art.” Hegel believed that studying the history of something (anything) is the best way to learn how to do it. Hence, the best way to learn how to paint is to study the history of painting. Or, Picasso’s famous line, “The mediocre artist borrows, the great artist steals.”
Tapas at Marbella | Oil on linen | 51” x 48” | 2007
Q) You have been actively involved with the We Are You Project International, including being one of the original members. In fact, we met at the WAYP exhibition at Wilmer Jennings Gallery Kenkeleba in 2012. Can you explain a bit about WAYP and its importance in the world of Art today?
A) In New York City in 2005, Dr. Carlos Hernandez (who, at that time, was serving as President of New Jersey City University (NJCU)), and Mr. Mario Tapia (President and CEO of Latino Center on Aging (LCA), New York City (NY)) and Duda Penteado (the Brazilian-American artist and community-activist in Jersey City (NJ)) forged the We Are You Project (WAYP), which coalesced as a significant Latino entity in June 2005 when Penteado simultaneously used for the first time “We Are You” as a title for an art work, poem, and a song. In fact, the song was put to music by renowned composer Hiram Colon, and it was sung by singing-sensation Sophia Angelica (from the Dora The Explorer television show). From these three initial Penteado works (which were completed in 2005) sprang the inception of WAYP. My involvement began when Hugo Morales (President of The Council on Hispanic Affairs (CHA)) encouraged my participation around 2008-2009. Hence, in April 2010, this revolutionary triumvirate (Hernández, Tapía, and Penteado) initiated a large-scale Latino Conference at NJCU, focusing on Latino culture, including a panel moderated by Dr. Carlos Hernández entitled “Art as a Catalyst for Social Change: ‘WE ARE YOU,’” consisting of Penteado, Dr. Sara Gil-Ramos, Fausto Quintanilla and myself. Swiftly, this event snowballed into the We Are You Project International exhibit at Wilmer Jennings Gallery (Kenkeleba), Manhattan in 2012. This highly-successful art show sprang from the hardwork of WAYP’s steadfast Exhibition Subcommittee, chaired by Penteado, which at first included Raúl Villarreal, Roberto Rosado, and myself. Within a few months the chairmanship fell to Villarreal, and after a few years Ricardo Fonseca took the helm and other members filled the ranks: Sergio Villamizar, Willie Baez, and Monica S. Camin.
The most important thing is that between spring 2010 and fall 2011, under the moniker “The We Are You Project International (WAYPI),” the subcommittee promptly identified a brilliant and extensive cohort of outstanding coast-to-coast “2-D –oriented” Latino visual artists as well as an internationally celebrated array of poets. The selected visual artists and poets derived from seven (“7”) prominent national and international 21st Century organizations and other sources, including: 1). An earlier NYC metropolitan-area group known as “The Neo-Latino Art Movement,” named in 2003 by Cuban artist, Raúl Villarreal, which consisted of: Josephine Barreiro, Hugo Bastidas, Gerardo Castro, Williams Coronado, Olga Cruz, Hugo Morales, Lisette Morel, Dr. Isabel Nazario, Julio Nazario, Monica S. Camin, Sergio Villamizar, Ricardo Fonseca and myself. Interestingly, the Neo-Latinos are recognized art historically as the first major art movement of the 21st Century, and they are still very active. The key point is that many of the “original” 2003 Neo-Latinos artists by 2010 joined WAYP. But then again, WAYP also attracted Latino artists from 2). The La Ruche Art Contemporary Consortium (LRACC), which was founded in 2004 by Rosado, availing WAYP of such Latino visual arts giants as José Acosta, Nelson Álvarez, Willie Baez, Pablo Caviedes, Carlos Chávez, Rosario D’ Rivera, Gabriel Navar, Elizabeth J. Montelongo and myself. 3). Texas provided three topnotch Tejano masters: Joe Peña, Rolando Reyña, and Jimmy Peña. 4). Northern California’s vibrant art scene furnished: Mel Ramos, Gabriel Navar, Patricio Moreno Toro, Efren Ave (a.k.a. Efren Álvarez) and Elizabeth J. Montelongo. 5). Rutger’s Center for Latino Art & Culture and its 21st Century Transcultural New Jersey Initiative supplied Raphael Montañez Ortíz, Roberto Márquez, Dr. Isabel Nazario, Julio Nazario, Hugo Bastidas, Raúl Villarreal, Marta Sánchez, and myself. In addition, WAYP soon added 6). a group of outstanding independent visual artists, including Jacqui Casale, Maritza Dávila, Priscila De Carvalho, Fernando Goldoni, Ana Rivera, Jesus Rivera, and, of course, Penteado. And by 2012, Alan Britt, one of America’s most esteemed poets launched the We Are You Poetry Project comprised of world-class literary figures, i.e., Colette Inez, Michael Foldes, Steve Barfield, Alberto Blanco, Carmen D. Lucca, Gabriel Navar, Bina Sarkar Ellias, Silvia Schiebli, Gloria Mindock, Lilvia Soto, Alex Lima, Pablo Caviedes, Flavia Cosma, David Ray, George Nelson Preston, Dio-Genes Abreu, Carmen Valle, Grace Cavalieri, Katherine Sanchez Espano, and Penteado.
Most Significantly, from 2012 to the present, the landmark initiative known as the “We Are You Project International (WAYPI) dominated North America’s Hispanic art scene through a series of group, as well as individual, art shows in concert with group and individual poetry recitals and major publications (encompassing events in Manhattan, Jersey City, Harlem, Oakland, Framingham/Boston, Colorado Springs, Union (NJ), etc.). In order to understand why WAYPI came together, it would be valuable to examine the official mission statement available in WAYP’s Website: http://www.weareyouproject.org/directors-message .
Q) How do you think Art in America will transform, if it will transform, under the Trump Administration? What role will artists play in maintaining a voice of reason in the face of what appears to be a misaligned Conservative ethic?
A) We need to keep everything in perspective. The over-240 year history of the USA is marked by many painful moments, many are far far worse than now. For example, every battle fought during the Civil War pitted Americans against other Americans in orgies of violence, wherein (over the brief course of four years) around 700,000 American died and many more were either physically and/or emotionally crippled. Plus, the dark and painful legacy of that war lingers, in a furtive way, underscoring much of what happened in 2016. In addition, USA is secretly haunted by the fact that slavery endured in America from the 16th Century until 1863. Or, the litany of abuse, betrayal, and genocide that Amerindians have endured. Or, the continuing Civil Rights struggle, which persists. Plus, the tragic list of US Presidential assassinations and murders of other key US leaders, each of these deaths frayed the fabric of our democracy. The several early 19th Century acts of treason committed by Former US Vice President Aaron Burr, across Louisiana territory, Spanish Florida, and Mexico, as well as his murder of Alexander Hamilton, are probably on a par with whatever Russia’s gaudy attempts at infiltration, manipulation and control “are” or “might be.” In fact, throughout our brief history, many far worse outrageous demagogues of all stripes have grasped at power and raged against The US Constitution, including Aaron Burr, John Brown, Al Capone, Carrie Nation, Huey Long, Fr. Charles Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, Roy Cohn, Richard Nixon, and other “Bad Hombres.” Yet, The US Constitution and The Bill of Rights courageously and steadfastly protected the American people. Even Washington, D.C. was set on fire by British troops.
What gives us (Latinos and Latinophiles) strength is that during the American Revolution, Latinos led by Vice-Count Bernardo Vicente de Gálvez fought the British along the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, aiding Washington’s final victory over England. Latinos have fought for the USA in every war and (right now) comprise a large cohort of our frontline fighters in the current wars. Yet, throughout US history, many times, Latinos have often suffered ethno-racist bigotry, especially, for one reason or another, during the Texan War, Mexican War, the War of 1898 and surprisingly now! Five years ago, ten years ago, everything was fine, everything was calm and peaceful — suddenly Latinos are very confused and upset.
Regarding the role of visual art among today’s most powerful US leaders, perhaps covering surfaces of walls and furniture with gold adds little aesthetic value and is reminiscent of Canadian artist Terence Koh’s gold-painted excrement, which Koh sells for $500,000 a poop. Yet, a wall around Canada to prevent Koh’s enormous US success is still on the back back-burner. Nevertheless, following this rich vein of comedic ore-stuff, if comedy is the most difficult art form to realize, then, apparently Alec Baldwin, Kate McKinnon, and Melissa McCarthy are the most inspired “performance” artists on Earth (at this time), digging deep in themselves to find a Goya-esque Gargantua, Pantagruel, and other Dipsodes. In terms of visual art, there seems to be a visible competition in the Oval Office to see whose Heideggerian Being first achieves the final version of Ivan Le Lorraine Albright’s “Portrait of Dorian Gray” based on Oscar Wilde’s novel. Another barometer for what is in store for the arts is the fate of the old glamorous Bonwit-Teller building on 5th Avenue, where Salvador Dali launched his US career by crashing through a glass fenêtre. The old Bonwit-Teller building was adorned with interesting Art Deco works, which were callously destroyed in order to build a puerile pile of black glass boxes, despite a promise to the Metropolitan Museum to protect the historic works. Thus, to answer your question, art, culture, and civilization may not be a priority. But, don’t despair; remember that some great artist like Emile Nolde, Richard Strauss, Kirsten Flagstad, Ezra Pound, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Leni Riefenstahl, Gottfried Benn, Francis Picabia, Arno Breker and others fared well during the Third Reich. However, due to innate insight into life, empathy, love, and sensitivity, for the most part, between 1928-1945, 98% of artists refused to collaborate, and many were imprisoned, executed, or died in the camps.
The biggest (“bigly,” “big-time,” and “big league” quasi-artistic undertaking will be the proposed giant “huge” border “Wall” from Galveston to San Diego, which (if done on the US-side of the border) will cede the Rio Grande’s water to Mexico (harming farmers and ranchers in the US, as well as killing all migratory and roving land-animals in the region, while quadrupling the monthly death rate of illegal Hispanic aliens inexorably attempting to enter the US). Beyond these aforementioned apparent immoralities, it will also fiscally harm the US economy, encumbering trade with Mexico and Latin America, plus annually costing hundreds of billions to build, to man, to guard, as well as to interminably litigate “Wall-related” lawsuits — (money that ought to be spent building a French/Spanish high-speed rail system from NYC to LA). Plus, if you think about it, more high-paying US jobs are lost to Canadians each year; yet, due to the rising tide of anti-Latino ethno-racism, The Wall is only destined for Mexico’s border.
Homage to Donna Tartt II | oil on canvas | 19” x 24” | 2016
Q) What is your family background? Were either of your parents, or anyone else in your family, artists or musicians?
A) My deepest roots are basically from Cuba, the Canary Islands (Spain), Galicia (Spain), Louisiana and other branches extend throughout much of Iberia, France, Italy with lines in Puerto Rico and (of course) Florida. My various family lines arrived along the Gulf states in the 19th Century mostly from southwestern Europe, some from islands off the coast of Africa, and all of these ancestors arriving via Caribbean islands in the 19th Century. For instance, my Cuban-born grandmother, Juanita Martinez (on my father’s side) was a distant cousin of Leonor Pérez Cabrera, the mother of José Martí, poet, writer and leader of Cuba’s late-19th Century independence movement. Meanwhile, on my mother’s side, around 1890, my Cuban-born great grandfather, Francisco “Pancho” Valdez Ledon was one of three delegates (from an Ybor City cigar-makers’ syndicate) sent to New York City to encourage José Martí to visit Ybor City, Tampa, in order to raise money as well as weapons for Cuba’s revolution against Spain.
Francisco (“Pancho”) Valdez Ledon’s daughter (my grandmother) Rosa (“Nena” aka “Cookie”) Valdez Mira always said that after helping to bring Martí to Ybor City (Tampa), her father accompanied Marti, often serving as a flag bearer. In the intervening time, around the turn-of-the-century in Ybor City, my Cuban-born grandmother, Juanita Martinez (on my father’s side) earned money as a dancer; interestingly, my daughter Tatiana Olga Rodeiro follows in her footsteps, devotedly pursuing dance. My son Manuel Rodeiro is a gifted philosopher, who passionately loves listening to music; this passion (I believe) can be traced back to his Ukrainian great great grand uncle Mykola Leontovych, who composed the famous Christmas song, “The Carol of the Bells.” In the 1930s, my mother Olga Perez (a dramatic soprano) and her sister Norma Perez (a pianist) performed with the San Carlo Opera de Tampa (L’Opera de Florida) under world famous maestra Madame Norma Tina Russo. My father, Dr. José Antonio Rodeiro was a gifted amateur painter and tile decorator. And, his father Alejandrino (aka Antonio) Rodeiro ran a fin d siècle puppet theatre in Ybor City. My mother’s cousin is the late-great Venezuelan musician and singer Jaime Rodriquez of the trio Guitarras Cumanesas. My two sisters (outstanding sopranos in their own right) Joyce Martinez and Irene Hunter, carefully described key members of my family on view on a mural in Davis Island (Tampa) titled, “Una atardecer en la playa de Riazor” (“An Afternoon at the Beach at Riazor”), 8’ x 15’ oil on a wall, 1969. This image is viewable — accompanied by my sisters ‘commentaries in an exciting URL designed by Marcio Dias —at http://www.rodeiro-art.com/gallery/index.php?spgmGal=Grand_Manner&spgmPic=16&option=com_spgm&Itemid=53#?.
Q) What were the influences that shaped your career choices?
A) My arrival in NYC’s metropolitan-area in 1971 stands at the top of my list of life-changing artistic influences, living and working (off-and-on) in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Northern New Jersey for over twenty-five years has profoundly impacted my art. Because I was born and raised in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida, then by eleven years of age (in 1960), moving to Davis Island, Tampa. From a very early age, I was drawing and doing art, to the point that a nun (first grade teacher) at Sacred Heart Academy called my mother and told her that I needed art lessons. So, by the age of six or seven (c 1956 onward), I was apprenticed to Samuello Brocatto, a Florida painter trained at the Art Students League and Pratt Institute. In 1967, I graduated from Tampa’s Jesuit High School, wherein I developed a life-long passion for knowledge and creating art. As a result, I pursued an academic career, eventually obtaining a Ph.D. from the College of Fine Arts, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, 1976, an MFA from Pratt Institute, NYC, 1973, and a BA in Art from the University of Tampa, Tampa, Florida. During this time, I met and married Nuzcha Panasiuk and fathered two children: Manuel (lawyer and philosopher), and Tatiana Olga (dancer and poet).
During these early years, I focused on visual art, poetry, and art history, studying with excellent teachers: Fr. James McLeod (SJ), Lewis Harris, Joe Testa-Secca, Dr. Duane Locke, Elaine DeKooning, Dr. Philip Roddman, Dr. George McNeil, Dr. Nan M. Benedict, Dr. Ralph L. Wickiser, Walter Rogalski, Irwin Hollander, Professor Sidney Alexander, Dr. Barry Katz, and others. By the early 1980s, I began attracting major fellowships and grants, including an Institute for International Education grant; an Oscar Cintas Fellowship in painting (1982); Visual Artist Fellowship in painting, National Endowment for the Arts (1986-7) completed in Barcelona, Spain; a Maryland State Arts Council AiE Grant (1992), and a Fulbright Fellowship Grant (1995) completed at Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), Managua, Nicaragua, as well as other awards. I am the only visual artist born in Ybor City, Tampa, to obtain a Visual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC.
Q) What is your favorite book? Movie? Play?
A) There are two poetry/art theory books that are extremely important to me. I love Federico García Lorca’s “Poet in New York.” And, I love “Amnesis Art” by Dr. Nicomedez Suárez-Araúz. My favorite film is Ingmar Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander” (1982), oddly enough, the film that I hate the most is Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage.” Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is an amazing play! “King Lear” shares with Lorca’s poetry an innate awareness of the duende, which, in relationship to visual art, I’ve carefully explained in a URL (designed by Sergio Villamizar): http://www.duendeart.org/ . Along with duende elements, “Lear” also shares many enigmatic Amnesis qualities. In terms of biography, I recommend Rene and Raul Villarreal’s “Hemingway’s Cuban Son.” And, coincidentally, last night, I reread a powerful poetry book, “Chronicles of a Superstorm” by Michael Foldes with images by Christie Devereaux, a magical visual-poetic mix of Neo-Realism and Neo-Romanticism.
Q) Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what kind of music?
A) While painting in Barcelona, the only music available to listen to in my Sarrià-Sant Gervasi studio were albums by Los Chunguitos singing assorted Rumba Flamenco tracks, I particularly liked when their sisters The Salazars joined in. Of course, I adore the Gypsy Kings, as well. While driving long distances, I like Leonard Cohen’s songs in his aged baritone — circa “Various Positions.” Richard Wagner’s sublime “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde” is magnificent – a perfect work of art. And, much of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s opus is brilliant and sublime, as is Remo Giazotto’s completion of Tomaso Albinoni’s “Adagio-in-G.”
Q) What artist do you go to most often when seeking inspiration?
A) Among the old masters, I greatly admire Francisco Goya, Édouard Manet, Diego Velazquez, and Jan Vermeer. This list reminds me of Argentine poet, Jorge Luis Borges’s assertion that, “All the great artists are reincarnations of the same person.” In this light, when I was a child (like all children born with the gift of imagination) I loved Salvador Dalí and Mel Ramos. What is interesting about that is that they knew each other, Ramos often visited Dalí in Port Lligat near Cadaqués. Notice that Dalí (a la Borges) believed that he embodied within himself three artists: Raphael, Velazquez, and Vermeer.
In my opinion, the most purely “artistic” (artsy) painter that ever lived, who is only concerned with spectacular and angelic visual art is Peter Paul Rubens. With Rubens, all you get is Art; all you see is Art. During his visit to Spain, Rubens was helpful to his younger colleague Velazquez, encouraging the Spaniard’s first trip to Italy. In fact, the clearest distinction between great painting and great art is to contrast Velazquez the painter with Rubens the artist.
Firefighter 9/11/2001 art work | watercolor amazar | 24” x 18″ | 2001 (Collection of Ella Rue)
Q) Fill us in on your distinguished academic career? And, what are your plans, now that you are retired from teaching, and moved from New Jersey to Florida, and able to paint “full-time.”
A) Yes, since 1993 until 2016, I worked as a professor within the Art Department, New Jersey City University (NJCU), Jersey City, New Jersey. But, I always kept painting, carefully organizing my time so that I could paint. Generously, my wife Nuzcha and my two children helped me carve out time to paint. Prior to that New Jersey phase of my life, I spent a dozen years as a member of the Visual Arts faculty of Frostburg State University (University of Maryland System), Frostburg, Maryland. In Maryland, I also painted many images. Preceding that, throughout the early 1970s, I held several adjunct-professorships as well as full-time instructor-positions at the following institutions: The Graduate School Program, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY (working for Dr. George McNeil, (Coordinator of Art History). McNeil was one of Hans Hofmann’s greatest students and a dear friend of Wifredo Lam (Cuba’s leading artist). I also worked at New York University (NYU), NYC, NY, working for Lloyd Burlingame, Chair, Design Department, Tisch School of the Arts, covering classes for world-renowned artist Professor Salvatore Tagliarino. During these years, I also taught in Tampa, Florida at four institutions: The Tampa Bay Art Center (which is today The Tampa Museum), University of South Florida’s Art Department, and the University of Tampa’s Art Department, as well as Hillsborough Community College (Ybor City Campus) Art Department. Often in Ybor City, my classroom was graced with the presence of the brilliant painter Malcolm Morley, who was living and painting in Ybor in the late-1970s.
I also taught as a Fulbright Lecture/Research Fellow, Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), Managua, Nicaragua, 1995-1996. And, lectured as a Visiting Professor, Department of Visual Poetics, UNESP (Sao Paulo University, Bauru), Brazil, fall 2011, and as a Visiting Professor, Art Department, UNESP (Sao Paulo University), Sao Paulo, Brazil, fall 2011. And, in Barcelona, Spain, from 1985-1986, I completed my Visual Artist Fellowship in Painting from the National Endowment for the Arts, (Washington, DC). In 1992, I was honored to serve as an Artist-in-Resident within Maryland State Arts Council (A-i-E Program) in Walkersville, Frederick, MD., painting a mural titled “The Ransoming of Frederick,” visible in a URL designed by Marcio Dias: http://www.rodeiro-art.com/gallery/index.php?spgmGal=Grand_Manner&spgmPic=12&option=com_spgm&Itemid=53#? . This work was dedicated by Hon. Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias Jr. of Maryland. Another mural titled “The Landing of Hernando DeSoto in Tampa Bay,” which is visible within Tampa’s Convention Center, at the mouth of the Hillsborough River was dedicated by the late HRH Prince Alfonso de Borbón-y-Dampierre, Duke of Anjou, Duke of Cádiz, as well as a Grandee of Spain. And, in 1990, I completed another mural as Artist-in-Residence for the City of Tampa, which is documented in this URL: http://halvard-johnson.blogspot.com/2013/01/joserodeiro-florida-muralist-in.html , which was dedicated in West Tampa by the Hon. Sandy Freedman, former mayor of Tampa.
Q) What are you working on, and are your subjects things you’ve thought about and planned for a long time, or do you find yourself seeing the world in a somewhat different way?
A) Throughout my life, my artistic images arise from a creative process generated by innate individual intuitive visions that are (in my case) infused by an inherent need to imaginatively create visual-imagery wherein I intently speculate vis-à-vis how nature perchance (conceivably) perceives itself. Correspondingly, my visual imagery is fueled by unexpected creative inspiration fed by what Henrí Bergson described as primal élan vital that (I hope and trust) ignites my individual inimitable creative process. Due to my reliance on creative inspiration and primal élan vital, increasingly, a veritable Primordialism (or Neo-Shamanism) is integrally manifested in my recent imagery. These are two interchangeable terms (“Primordialism” or “Neo-Shamanism”) that best describe my current aesthetic direction, inspiring and propelling my intuitive creative process (aka artistic morphogenesis), gleaning enigmatic forgotten shapes from my Amnesis artistic lacuna, wherein dwell lost immanent labyrinthic Amnesis mental cave-walls furtively covered (or decked) with nearly-vanished animistic, shamanic, elemental or atavistic images. These Amnesis “lost object” images are artistically transposed from my immanent mind into the viewer’s sensate transcendental realm of reality by flatly applying an array of sublime chromatic hues (burnt violets, icy blues, rosy pinks, and burnt orange, or vibrant yellows) as distinct organic or abstract morphogenic shapes that are painted with acrylic or oil pigments upon canvas.
Consequently, by this means, my creative process transmits my mind’s innate individual intuitive vision(s) into numerous visible shapes, forms, and spaces ‒ resulting in an enigmatic musical and poetic push/pull medley of metaphors, symbols, signs, and surfaces. This musical visual jumble activates the dancing 2-D surface of each of my images, whose unique visual push/pull affords subtle visceral, emotive, and synesthetic 3-D, 4-D, and 5-D possibilities evoked by each image’s pictorial continuum, which reveals a jumbled interplay of intersecting hue-filled chromatic zoomorphic shapes consisting of diverse small-colorfield hue shapes, paralleling each image’s rhapsodic life-like chaotic scherzo of disordered patterns, imaginatively presaging twilight or early nightfall along Florida Gulf Coast shoreline seascapes as ultra-zoomorphic beach nocturnes, or dawns, or sunsets. Thereby, expressing the spirit of each subject’s and scene’s essential noumenon (essence of existence) without depicting subjects and scenes as mere materialistic factual objective phenomena. Thus, in my Primordialist Neo-Shamanic art, physical appearance is sublimated and abstracted by chromatic immanentist essence(s) that populate each image’s pictorial continuum.
Stampede at Sunset on Pass-a-Grille Beach 3 | oil on canvas | 22” x 29″ | 2016
Q) Knowing the limits on success that face a person considering a career as a working artist, what would you say is the “reality” they should be prepared to deal with?
A) As visual artists, the biggest problem that confronts us is the fact that a high percentage of contemporary imagery has, for the most part, lost its awareness of the poetic. Thus, far too many artists (at this time) produce art as if it were only a technical mechanical production and not creativity. We owe this failure to five historic and art historic factors: 1). the rise of digital technology, which exalted machine-made ‘screen-based’ media, animation, pictures, visual effects, displays, self-seeking selfies and other forms of hyper-reality favoring these mechanized fads over visionary ‘deep-image’ visual poesy. On every level, the digital revolution damaged and diluted humanity’s capacity for true and untrammeled verbal and visual-verbal communication, as well as harming fine arts’ inherent predilection for individual visionary imaginative fabulations, as well as generally eradicating popular awareness of immanent linguistic imagery, except for the habitual use of Pierre Reverdy’s and André Breton’s theory of discordant imagery in most television advertising, as well as most print advertising. 2). Sadly, the mid-1970s’ worldwide demise of proper liberal arts education stultified humanity’s interest in poetic language, which negatively affected literacy. As the 21st Century unfolded, 3). literature and visual art (even music) contended with the eruption of relentless social-media, text-messaging, tweeting and other digital forms of communication that further reduced, trivialized, and minimized verbal and visual communication, 4). changing language (both verbal and visual) into lugubrious forms of Habermasean Neo-neoMarxist ‘communicative behavior,’ replete with ‘ideal speech communities,’ exploiting snappy acronyms, computer jargon, slang, emoticons, and idiomatic colloquialisms, condensing poetic syntax into glib ‘text-based’ slogans, tags, or pat catchphrases enveloped in favorite fonts, which placed mechanical design above both verbal and visual comprehension. By avoiding strong poetic and imaginative images, 5). popular contemporary verbal and visual language, since 1970, nurtured increasing timidity (fear of others); glaring non-communication, ahistory, anti-imagination, dehumanization, violence for violence’s sake, and is, for the most part, less able to convey beauty, love, sublimity, feelings, emotions, or nous (thought-feelings).
And, without its historic association with poetry, visual art has slid (throughout the early 21st Century) into a morass of “false Postmodernism,” consisting of entrenched hyper-neomodernism, inducing an anti-art malaise set on dehumanizing art by substituting paradoxes, irony, clever antics, and pranks as surrogates for art, affording merely a partial aesthetic that divulges only tiny “p-arts;” but, never the totality of art. From the 1970s onward, the elite within the contemporary art world (and its well-oiled institutions) clung to an array of anti-art dogma(s), which, over the last 40 years, encouraged the overuse of digital technology, almost identical to disgraced contemporary athletes, who abused steroids and growth hormones in order to synthetically enhance their talent. Thus, visual art became subservient to hyper-technology, and remained entrenched in eternal Neo-neoDada, Neo-neoconceptualism, as well as other 21st Century ironic styles, resembling and dissembling Duchampian/Beuysian/Kohian tongue-in-cheek antics, and pranks.
Q) So, then, what should art strive for?
A) What all art has eternally striven for: “the unity in diversity of all things.” For anyone blessed with prolific creative artistic gifts, Art is (for such beings) the enigmatic unifying principle of the cosmic universe. Through art, the tiniest basic molecule, a tiny dot, a drop of pigment can expand into Pollack’s “Number 1 (Lavender Mist),” because (for humanity and for artists), Art is mankind’s secret sanctuary: a portal into divinity and immortality. For artists and their appreciators, works of art (the very intent and process of artistic creation) both vent and encourage Bergsonian creative eruptions, which can endure forever, e.g. Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” any Van Gogh sunflower painting, or any other visual image marked with eternal perfection, including imagery within poems by visual poets, i.e., Keats, Poe, Lorca, etc. The proof of this is Apelles’s grand manner art, because although unseen for centuries, his images remain (for many) the greatest art works ever created, because, like all artists, Apelles’s art continues cosmically assisting, perpetuating, and reinforcing all Creation’s unending creativity (a la Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s idea that any work of art is always a divine re-alliance with God, re-affording the chance to work alongside Him instantly (once again) as an assistant “helping” Him (by God’s grace) during the first seven days of Creation). Paul Cezanne had it right when he counselled Émile Bernard in a 1904 letter, “. . . paint. Therein, lies salvation.”
About the interviewer:
Michael Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
Note: Jose Rodeiro is Art Editor Emeritus of Ragazine.CC. This e-mail interview was conducted in January-February 2017.