PARK SLOPE – BKLYNER first met artist Nancy Rodrigo back in September at the 10th Annual 10th Street Block Party and Art Exhibit in Park Slope.
Rodrigo and her partner, fellow artist Janice Pullicino, hosted an exhibition outside on their driveway featuring some of their own artwork as well as work by local artists and neighbors. It was a friendly affair and Rodrigo was kind enough to invite us for a peek inside her studio.
Rodrigo is a native New Yorker, born in Manhattan and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens. She studied art at The National Academy and attended workshops in the 80s at the New York Feminist Art Institute and Empire State College. Her work has been exhibited in galleries in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and Soho.
While primarily an oil painter, Rodrigo uses various media to express her “visions of alternative worlds,” according to her artist’s statement. Her early paintings in the 1980’s examined her coming out as a married, lesbian mother in her twenties and explored the isolation, oppression, and fear that women experience.
In the 1990’s she began working with found objects, creating collages inspired by antique photographs she discovered. Constructed with wood and mounted onto canvas, these works explored family dynamics, feminism, LGBTQ/gender issues, illness, war, and climate change, according to her artist’s statement.
Rodrigo began this series of work when she first moved to Park Slope. “When I first moved here, I started the ‘Collective Memory’ series, which are paintings, assemblages, shrines built around old photos I was finding on the street,” she explains. “People were throwing out old photo albums, so I started collecting them.” She says she still finds and collects discarded pictures and continues to make these types of works today.
“The passage of time is palpable here, we’re surrounded by architecture that is a reminder of how swiftly that time goes,” she notes. “I imagine how these streets were like with horse and carriages, and that inspires me, like living in a museum. Now we just need to preserve it.”
“Life experiences and the natural world,” are what ultimately inspire her work, she explains. Since moving to Park Slope in 1991, Rodrigo has transitioned through four bodies of work, “It’s always evolving,” she says.
The artist moved to Park Slope from Queens with her son, Jonathan, because the neighborhood had good schools, was close to the park, was easy to navigate, and at the time, had affordable rents. Another selling point for the neighborhood was its large LGBT community, “As a lesbian mom, I was seeking community with other LGBTQ parents who settled here in the 80s and 90s,” she recalls.
Unfortunately, over the years, that community has gotten considerably smaller as “most have moved out to other neighborhoods or left the city,” Rodrigo explains. The artist adds that gentrification is partly to blame.
“Gentrification has destroyed this neighborhood, as it’s destroying our city. There was a large Latino and African-American community, and they’re almost all moved out, fleeing rent hikes, predatory developers, and landlords,” she says. “The condos have created a higher density population, so schools are overcrowded, there are traffic jams on Prospect Park West—everywhere, traffic and congestion where there wasn’t any. The expansion of Methodist Hospital will create even more congestion to an already crowded area.”
“We used to have a lot more independent businesses, but those are disappearing too because of high rents and the shift in retail behavior,” she laments. “The neighborhood has changed,” she says of her 26 years in Park Slope, “It’s more homogenized and wealthy. A great city needs all of its people.”
Rodrigo’s more recent work has dealt with personal losses and the current political climate. “During the presidential campaign, I began drawing more detailed biomorphic compositions, intricate bone and branch hybrids that twist and morph,” she says. She’s titled these drawings and paintings the “#Clusterfuck” series.
One oil on canvas entitled, “Under Threat” focuses on universal dangers that put women’s lives at risk. “The layers reveal malevolent images, all festering underneath—patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, and how they are a living, pulsing blood supply to our nation,” she explains. Rodrigo says she envisions it all “biologically, like a giant organism,” adding “We’re at a tipping point in this nation’s, actually, this planet’s history, and we have an opportunity to steer it in a healthy direction, or take it all down,” she cautions.
Rodrigo is currently working on multiple projects. She’s particularly excited about a series of oils on wood panels that she describes as “a more detailed examination of the surreal world I inhabit.”
When she’s not busy creating new artwork herself, Rodrigo teaches private art lessons. “My art practice and ‘day job’ are a hybrid practice, which I really love,” she says. “I’ve created a life where art is my life, not a job.”
Earlier this year, Rodrigo was accepted as a member of SOHO20, a non-profit, artist-run organization promoting women artists. Started in Soho in 1973 and currently located in Bushwick (since 2015), Rodrigo describes SOHO20 as “more than a gallery, we’re an incubator for feminist art and activism….I like to think of it as a feminist art militia.”
SOHO20 will be hosting its 2017 Annual Benefit and Party next week, Tuesday, November 14, and Rodrigo has donated three paintings for the event. Ticket prices range from $50 to $650, with all tickets above $250 including a piece of art. Ten-percent of all ticket sales will go toward Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria relief efforts.
Rodrigo’s work will also be included in a group show at SOHO20 in January 2018, and the gallery will host a solo exhibition of her work in the spring.
SOHO20 2017 Benefit
Tuesday, November 14, 6pm to 9pm
56 Bogart Street, Bushwick