Surf Nicaragua: The Nomadic Work of Paul Rodriguez

By Paul Rodriguez.

In Partnership with Mexicali Rose Media/Arts Center, a grass roots communitarian organization dedicated to providing free access to artistic media for the community youth of Mexicali, Baja California.

Paul Rodriguez is a migratory visual artist producing a colorful, natural array of work utilizing different mediums to a striking and beautifully arresting effect. The alluring basis of his work is the liberty Rodriguez has chosen to exercise in his daily existence. Previously a commercial photographer established in big cities in the United States, Rodriguez packed his two bags and set out to explore and discover his roots and future work in Central America and Mexico. That sense of bewilderment and dazzling simplicity on the road permeates his multifaceted work.

Born to a Tejano father and Puerto Rican mother living by the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Rodriguez's multicultural upbringing would become essential in the search for his own particular identity. "I am Puerto Rican and Tejano born in the U.S.A. on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. My grandfather was from El Salvador, a real wild man, but I never knew of that culture until I found myself living there," states Rodriguez. Although cultural and artistic opportunities were scarce in the region, Paul gravitated towards photography and video in his teens. Rodriguez would also discover his muse around this time, one of his life's truest passions: surfing.

"I want to surf a wave where I die," installation, 2013.
"I want to surf a wave where I die," installation, 2013.
Untitled by Paul Rodriguez.
Untitled by Paul Rodriguez.

"Surf culture is very 'bro' in a way, very hetero. I am queer and Latino, so it was not easy to relate to some of the culture surfing carries along with it. I enjoy the overwhelming feeling surfing can bring to a person, where if something goes wrong, you can seriously injure yourself. It's a very elemental, powerful force," states Rodriguez. Upon finding himself wanting to be in the water most of the time and charged with artistic inclinations and influences, Rodriguez faced the decision to leave home by heading westbound.

After a stint in New York, California seemed like an ideal destination; a community that could truly satisfy Paul's artistic desires and anxieties. After receiving a BA in Film from CSU Fullerton, Paul became involved in the artistic community in Los Angeles as a photographer, a place where he could truly develop his craft and possibly make a living doing what he loved. Still, the perils of becoming encapsulated as a commercial photographer weighed heavily on Rodriguez, artistically and economically, even as Paul was producing very particular and original portraits of filmmakers and musicians such as Harmony Korine, Dennis Hopper, Crystal Castles, No Age. It was after this period in his life that Paul decided to move back to Texas before setting out to produce work on his own terms in Central America and Mexico.

"No Age"
"No Age"

Traveling to Central America would help Paul get in touch with his roots as well as find his voice as an artist. The colorful landscapes and retreat from urban living experiences bestowed a luscious palette upon the artist's work and outlook on life. "For the past year I have been living out of a suitcase (two backpacks really). Before that nowhere has been permanent since leaving Los Angeles about two-and-a-half years ago," states Rodriguez. "Every place I go to, I consider how I relate to it in a cultural context. I am fascinated by raw land, language variances, nature and the ocean." Rodriguez views travel as influence, not as studio. Whether in search of the perfect wave in Nicaragua, gathering coconuts as meals, simply walking to the mercado and going to get something to eat and trying to stay fit, life comes first, and the work is inspired by this driving force. "When I am outside of cities I am not concerned with producing work. My focus is on staying healthy and living."

SS from Paul Rodriguez on Vimeo.

"I don't think about what is abstract or not. An art space is an empty room. I am interested in creating works that completely change the perception of a space by using light, color, and video," affirms Rodriguez. His process identifies deeply with the elements and local influences around him, transforming the gallery space into a natural, engulfing and nostalgic environment via installation, painting, photographic and digital media. Sensibility, discovery, appreciation, assimilation and remembrance all travel around his work beautifully.

"Azul," 2012 video installation, Preteen Gallery, Mexico City.
"Azul," 2012 video installation, Preteen Gallery, Mexico City.   

Rodriguez's travels have shaped his work, best expressed in the portability assigned to it. "Freedom is the most important thing to me. It feels good. It is not possible for me to have a studio since I am not in the same place for more than a few weeks or days," affirms Rodriguez. "So for right now making video work and site specific work/installations is what I am doing. I have the benefit of just leaving a place when I am done with it." This freedom of creation and curation might mistakenly be labeled as a temporary design, but Rodriguez's work leaves an indelible impression on the viewer that transcends time.

"PMA," Cardoza Fine Arts, Houston, Two Person Exhibition with Donna Huanca.
"PMA," Cardoza Fine Arts, Houston, Two Person Exhibition with Donna Huanca.   

The influences of surfing and nature, of travel and liberty, are accurate drop in points to explore Rodriguez's fascinating output. As in nature, part of the thrill of Rodriguez's work is the challenge of getting lost in it. "I think nature produces the most beautiful objects. I like to work with flowers, skies, mountains, and the ocean. Anything that has lots of color. I take photographs or videos of those things and go from there," states Rodriguez. "I also work with fabrics and paper objects that I find in places I am in."

"Period" by Paul Rodriguez.
"Period" by Paul Rodriguez.
Untitled 2012.
Untitled 2012.

Paul Rodriguez recently produced a solo show at Mexicali Rose Community Gallery entitled "Asexual." Engagingly gorgeous video and photographic works dot the landscape created by Rodriguez in association with local curator Julio Torres Salcedo. His involved work with aerosol and mixed media on smashed mirrors fuses texture and danger with titles such as "No Fear, Lola, Prussia, Papi." "I was born a male. Homosexual, heterosexual, both are boring. Sex is strange, fun, boring and always available. Humans are limiting." In life and love, Rodriguez is forever a wanderer.

"Asexual" solo show at Mexicali Rose.
"Papi" at Mexicali Rose.
"Papi" at Mexicali Rose.

The work of Paul Rodriguez can be seen on his website. His "Asexual" solo show can be seen at Mexicali Rose Community Gallery throughout April 2013. Paul returns to his home base of Los Angeles before heading out to Nicaragua to produce a show entitled "Palace."


Dig this story? Sign up for our newsletter to get unique arts & culture stories and videos from across Southern California in your inbox. Also, follow Artbound on Facebook and Twitter.

Story continues below


We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading

Full Episodes