There’s more than one way to paint a landscape, according to California-based artist Samuel Rodriguez. Referring to his digital portraits as “cultural landscape paintings,” the graffiti artist turned illustrator likens his creative process to that of a rap artist sampling their favorite beats.
“In [my] cultural landscapes, I replace trees and lakes with symbols and identity,” Samuel says. “It's interesting to see the endless variants that each individual carries; however, in the case of my portraits, these characters are fictional and based on samples from our cultural landscape.” Spliced with digital runes and cryptic symbols, Samuel’s luscious, painterly work marries the traditional portrait with 21st century cyber-speak. Plucked from the cultural landscape, blue and bleached hair make an appearance, along with berets and unisex baseball caps.
With a background in graffiti, Samuel has an eye for contemporary culture outside the mainstream. “I was a graffiti writer from 1994 to around 2003,” he says in a recent interview with Talenthouse. “I learned the importance of originality, style, and dedication during this time. We used to risk our lives to paint; I wasn't really the type of graffiti person that did legal walls […] sometimes, I would have to run from the police, gangs, or get into beef with other graffiti writers. These years were risky, but also very therapeutic for me.” No longer putting his life on the line, Samuel nevertheless creates vibrant work humming with gestural movement and digital squiggles.
Like a plein-air painter dashing down a landscape, the Chicano artist interprets his surroundings through a self-expressive lens. “Our people and food come in many blends, and shades,” Samuel says, referring to Americans of Mexican descent, who have largely been left out of traditional portraiture. He continues: “Now we all have access to creating media, so new perspectives are being revealed.”
“We used to risk our lives to paint; I wasn't really the type of graffiti person that did legal walls.” — Samuel Rodriguez
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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