Ceramic artist George Rodriguez and Magic Gardens are a perfect match

Rodriguez Magic Gardens
Mark Markley

When Mexican-American ceramic artist George Rodriguez set up shop at Magic Gardens for his ‘In Unison’ exhibition, it was a match made in heaven. South Street’s renowned Magic Gardens is dedicated to community engagement and Rodriguez’s creations follow a similar path.

The ceramicist’s ‘In Unison’ “constructs a bridge between the past and present through symbols and imagery tied to his personal histories,” as well as the spirit of collaboration and community, all depicted elegantly through spirit animal heads, guardian figures, tomb sculptures and shrines that portray his ancestors as ancient relics.

Metro sat down with Rodriguez to learn more.

What was the light that guided you from El Paso to Philadelphia, and more specifically to Magic Gardens?

I moved from El Paso to Seattle to pursue a Master of Fine Art in ceramics at the University of Washington. After 12 years in Seattle, I moved to Philadelphia in the Fall of 2019 to take an artist in residence position at Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple.

Though I have roots in El Paso and Seattle, Philadelphia has been home for 4 years, and I wanted to show my work here because I am part of a large community, and it always feels good to get recognition from where you live. The Magic Gardens is a visual marvel, and since the first time I visited, I connected to the smattering of Mexican folk figures throughout the gardens and its richly decorated and mosaic surfaces.

What made you start and continue with ceramics as an aesthetic base and material art form? How do ceramics speak to you?

I love how tactile and malleable clay is. Clay records your fingerprints, is a complete sensory experience and it has a long, cross-cultural history. I first discovered clay for myself in undergraduate school in 2004 and I haven’t stopped since. Ceramics keeps me humble, connected and always learning.

What about your current work connects you to the vision of Magic Gardens?

Parts of my own artistic practice align with the mission here at Magic Gardens—specifically the site’s commitment to community engagement though education and sometimes participation. Art is most powerful when the community can find themselves in it and feel invested and I hope my work can build those connections.

How did you come to the concept of ‘In Unison’, and its use of guardians, living and dead, within this piece?

‘In Unison’ speaks to collaborations between living artists and the way that we must work together to create something beautiful we can all agree on. The animal heads in the exhibition were a year of labor between 14 artists to produce the series titled ‘El Zodiaco Familiar’. 

‘In Unison’ is about working with your ancestral histories and contemporary experiences to present something new yet familiar. It is also about working together as a global community. Los Guardias are figures that empower us in our daily existence and into the afterlife. El Trono del Pueblo is a throne meant for everyone to see themselves in.

Can you talk about how your personal traditions as a Mexican-American are wound through everything that you build?

I have always been proud of my family and where I come from. Growing up on the US Mexico border, I witnessed first-hand the joy, food, family, art, and culture that moved effortlessly, in both directions, across the border. I’ve always used my art to depict my lived experience.

As an artist and as a gentleman, is there a credo by which you choose to live and work?

Be patient and kind to yourself, to others, to your art and to the space you inhabit. We are all interconnected and everything we do extends beyond our sight.

For more on George Rodriguez, visit georgerodriguez.net