George Rodriguez is a Seattle-based artist whose large-scale ceramic sculptures explore concepts of identity, community, and protection. His work has been featured in exhibitions at Seattle Art Fair, the University of Texas at El Paso, and Foster/White Gallery. Guardian, his first solo museum exhibition in the northwest, was on view at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art earlier this year.
George first became interested in working with ceramics while attending college in his hometown of El Paso, Texas. He initially wanted to study graphic design but says he fell in love with clay’s potential during a required introductory ceramics class. “I thought ceramics was mostly like pottery,” says George. “That class showed me that I could make sculptural work too, so it really just opened up my world.”
George moved to Seattle to pursue an MFA in ceramics at the University of Washington. This change in scenery marked a turn in his work; he began creating more pieces that emphasized community and connection, and the equipment at UW allowed him to work on a larger scale. “When I arrived [at UW] and I saw this big kiln that I could stand inside of, the first thing was like ‘okay, I need to build something that can fit this kiln.’”
“I really like building large because it’s very physical – I have to move around the piece instead of sitting at a table,” says George on why he continues to create large-scale works. “I like the engineering part where I have to figure out how the clay can support itself and not collapse and not slump and potentially not crack. And I have to ask for help which is a nice thing.”
Many of George’s works also incorporate decorative elements and repeated shapes inspired by traditional folk art, a technique he first started to develop by mimicking embroidery patterns. “There’s a line [in James Trilling’s The Language of Ornament] that says, ‘ornamentation is meant for pleasure,’ which I think is really beautiful,” says George on why he continued working with decorative elements. “Its sole purpose is to be pleasurable, to be something you can look at and admire.”
In 2011, George received a Grants for Artist Projects (GAP) award to help him purchase materials and cover processing expenses for his work. He had spent most of 2010 traveling abroad as part of the Bonderman Travel Fellowship, and says the funding from the GAP award allowed him to reestablish his artistic practice in Seattle. “I came back with nothing except for a place to work in Seattle, which was really big,” he explains. “[The GAP award] really just allowed me to continue to make work and not have to focus on supplementary jobs.”
George also received an Artist Trust Fellowship in 2015. Funding from the award allowed him to focus on preparing works for an upcoming show, but George says, receiving the award also had an unexpected benefit. “[The other Fellowship recipients and I] all got together and formed this really nice clique,” he explains. “I got to meet a few other people that I’m still really close with. We put on a show together for art fair and we support each other at openings. It formed this really nice community of other visual artists.”
This past spring Guardian, his first solo museum exhibition in the northwest, was on view at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. The large-scale ceramic sculptures in the show were inspired by traditional temple guardians, something George has been fascinated by for years. “These relics could depict people or they could depict deities or things like that, but they’re not about the people they’re depicting or the gods. They’re about us that are interacting with these statues.” he adds, “I like how we can make the decision of ‘This is a companion piece that is guiding me through something’ or ‘This is warning me of some danger.’”
George recently presented a series of vessels and wall-mounted works inspired by Mexican culture and the Chinese zodiac at the 2018 Seattle Art Fair. He is also working on creating pieces for upcoming exhibitions at the Museum of Northwest Art and the Haley Ford Museum in Salem, Oregon.
George’s advice for artists considering applying for awards such as GAP and the Fellowship is to “Get your work samples together, make sure they showcase your artwork as best they can, and just apply. I applied multiple times before I received an award, so I understand that jurors have different tastes, so one year you might not get it but the next year is all different people or a group of people looking. Don’t take it personally [if you aren’t selected], but if you don’t put your name in the hat, then you can’t get one.”
To learn more about George and his current work, check out Foster/White Gallery’s website.
Megan Gallagher is a writer from Redmond, Washington. She has been writing for the Artist Trust blog since July 2017 and loves learning more about Washington State’s arts communities.