San Jose-based artist Sam Rodriguez might liken an abstract leaf sprouting from a young woman’s garment or a Pac-Man-esque rendering floating near a subject’s face to scenic elements. His portraits, which he’s been referring to as “cultural landscapes” for the past few years, are topographies of identity that involve replacing trees, rivers, and horizons with social markers. “It’s interesting to see the endless variants that each individual carries when we unpack who they are,” he shares with Colossal.
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Informed by the analog techniques that were the foundation of his early practice, Rodriguez has been working digitally since 2018, rendering portraits rife with symbols. He references an abundance of layers evocative of a visual editing program but incorporates each element as if a feature of an unseen augmented reality app. Sometimes, he deconstructs a nation’s or organization’s flag and recontextualizes its color palette, while others, he superimposes plants, minimal emblems, and bits of typography into densely constructed motifs. His works depend on discovery, he shares, explaining further:
During the process, you absorb, sample, and cook visual ingredients and afterwards you are left as an audience member wondering what it is that you’ve just made. In that regard, I feel that each piece (outside of commissions) is a sort of taste test… This approach is probably a byproduct of our time period where digital and physical co-exist so seamlessly. It should be noted that I am mimicking what so many musicians have done since the 80s, especially in hip-hop with sampling for beats.
Currently, Rodriguez is at work on a book about how prosthetics and artificial intelligence require rebalancing the relationship between humanity and technology. You can follow news on its release on his Instagram, and head to his shop to add one of his prints to your collection.