Sandy Rodriguez, granted me the opportunity to visit her studio, or rather “test kitchen”, in MarVista, CA. Rodriguez is a long-time Hiromi Paper, Inc. customer who is always enthusiastic about paper and cognizant of the cultural affects of materials on an oeuvre or body of work. Sandy processes a range of organic colorants and earth pigments into inks & watercolors that are then worked onto the Amate paper via pens and brushes. To acquire the necessary ingredients to for the recipes, Rodriguez conducts expeditions into the wildernesses of the the Western United States with Blue Wind School of Botanical Studies and then cross references specimens with contemporary art history of Americas. Some materials that Rodriguez hand processes are native mushrooms, lichens, bark, seeds and insects that have been used for color for generations in the Americas.
Each plant, insect matter, or mineral contains its own properties, uses and histories. For instance, one of the few ingredients that the artist does not forage herself is the insect cochineal which makes its home on the nopales (prickly pear cactus) of Mexico and California, naturally produces a red carminic acid which makes them undesirable to prey. This same acid when properly processed produces a rich red pigment which can be used to for dyes and paints. In fact, as Sandy recounted, the same pigment became a very valuable commodity and was used to dye the redcoats that the British forces donned during the American Revolutionary War. Today, most artists are familiar with the color carmine red derived from the carminic acid of the cochineal.
The surface that Rodriguez gravitates towards is Mexican Amate bark paper, with roots reaching to precolonial times. Although it is unknown when or where in Mesoamerica paper making began, the oldest known piece of Amate paper dates back to 75 CE (that’s about 1,943 years ago!). Once practiced throughout Mexico, the process of making Amate paper was nearly lost post colonial contact as it became banned from practice due to its association with the indigenous ceremonial practices decried by colonizers. Now only several paper making villages remain in the Puebla area of Mexico. Of course this is only a glossed over history of the Amate, but one can see that easily its history is rich and fertile with exploration as it relates to the themes that course throughout Rodriguez’s work.
In her work Rodriguez explores ideas of cultivation in terms of culture and materiality, as well as historiography. In De Las Señales y Pronosticós & I.C.E. Raids de Califas, 2018 (Pictured left), Rodriguez’s pigments dance on the surface and in the fibers of a LARGE Amate paper–at times dancing with the darker fig fibers. In other parts of the painting, the Amate becomes both land and sky, a place to describe where its own history stems from and where history is currently moving towards. It reflects the past and the present simultaneously the way an iridescent metal gleams with different colors at the same time. The eye looks at the storyboarded images on the top and the right side of the painting but the texture and fibers of the paper come through to carry us away into the skull helicopter (Calavera Copter) that then flies over the the land and the sea and the sky and history that once belonged to those who are being told to go back to where they come from, despite already being there.
Don’t forget to catch up with Sandy at the following Summer Talks and Workshops!