FREDDY RODRÍGUEZ: My name is Freddy Rodríguez, and I’m an artist in the exhibition “Our America.” I came to the United States in 1963. It became a very important year in American history. In 1963, many, many things happened, and I’m part of that all of a sudden and now being at the Smithsonian, it increases that as part of the history of the country, of my life. Here, on my own, I just went to school to study art, I paid for it myself. What is interesting about my becoming an actual artist is that I never went to museum in the Dominican Republic before and had never seen actual art in my life before because at the time there were no museums there, and I go to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and I see works by Mondrian, and I see also the Rothkos and the Pollocks. All of a sudden, I embrace this art with no background at all, serious background, and I started learning more about especially geometric art, which is my beginning as an artist. I was a minimalist, if you can believe it, probably the only Dominican to ever to work in a minimalist tradition, but I always work with color. I’m a natural colorist.
Then, I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology, and I majored in textile design, and the color theory for art design at the time was very intense because the limitation of the industry. You had to really know what you did with colors. So, I combine all these things and then created some very beautiful, colorful paintings, and some of them are now in the exhibition “Our America.”
At the beginning, I was making paintings that were untitled because at that point my only interest was just to paint, but then little by little, like a couple of years, I started giving the title in Spanish. Already I started, even though I’m approaching art from the latest movement in New York – basically I see myself a part of the New York school – I had to put part of my own history into this. In the beginning, it started with Spanish titles. Some of them I’m taking from literature, something that had had a big influence in my career, especially the Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar.
From then I said, “I’m moving on” and giving titles like “Danza Africana.” That’s one of the paintings in the exhibition, “Amor Africano” and “Danza de Carnival.” These are all the paintings that related to my background from that point of view, so I’m dealing with contemporary art, but I’m also able to put content into it, into abstraction. That’s something that very few artists were doing, especially American artists. At the time, they we’re saying, “what you see is what you get,” but in my case it goes a little beyond that. It’s you see it, but you see the titles, and then you see that there is something else going on here.
The other thing that I wanted to do was I never signed my paintings in the front because I didn’t want people to just point and say, “oh, that’s a Freddy Rodríguez.” I wanted them to get close to the art and look at the art and ask themselves questions about the art. Then, if they can see the label on the side and see that is done by Freddy Rodríguez, it’s a whole different thing, which we all do, we always want to know who the artist is. I didn’t want to call attention to my name, I wanted to call attention to the art.
Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art presents the rich and varied contributions of Latino artists in the United States since the mid-twentieth century, when the concept of a collective Latino identity began to emerge.