Rodriguez Calero, aka RoCa, was born in Puerto Rico, raised in New York, studied art in Puerto Rico, and lives on the Lower East Side (LES). She says: “I am a Nuyorican” – a New York Puerto Rican. My work proudly represents my culture and community. The images are from my observations, vision, experience, and are a reflection of complex moments that explore the themes of sexuality, gender, spiritual and socio-political concerns.”
The images for the artist’s collages and acrollage paintings that follow are presented in chronological order (1992 – 2020), and include critical comments excerpted from exhibition monographs and reviews, as well as RoCa’s response to my questions.
The title of this work is Seduction, collage and acrylic. 8 ½ x 8 inches, (1992). I asked Rodriguez Calero to talk about the title and image.
RoCa: Collage has a language and reason, which is impelling and enables me to translate an area of imagination, creative inventiveness and intuition into visual form.
Q: Why did you cover their faces with pattern, and why are they posed this way?
RoCa: The pose is about being provocative (voyeurism), the pattern on their faces is about not being too literal, and the body language of their figures is meant to engage the viewer in an abstract and formal way.
RoCa: The main influences and stabilizing factors in my life have been my culture, personal experience and community. Community is broad and comprises many elements. It is the physical, spiritual and human world interacting and how ideally one interprets, accepts and contributes to these factors.
As a young adult, Rodriguez Calero returned to Puerto Rico and received her artistic education at San Juan’s prestigious Escuela de Artes Plásticas. She returned to NY to attend classes for several years at the famed Art Students League of New York. She studied with (among others) Leo Manso (American, 1914-1993), a master collage artist.
RoCa: “Leo Manso gave me the passion to pursue collage.”
Rodriguez Calero lived and studied abroad, in both France and Spain. Back in NY, she studied at the historic NY Taller Boricua, a multidisciplinary cultural space founded in 1969 to use the arts to promote collective action and community pride in El Barrio/East Harlem.
The image above is titled Gloria Maria, collage, 8 x 6 inches (1992). Rodriguez Calero’s collages create a postmodern, hip-hop version of early 20thcentury art, inspired by the Cubist and Dada movements. She describes Kurt Schwitters (German, 1887-1948), as an early inspiration. Her collages juxtapose images of pop culture icons, as well as dancers, children, or fashion models – all appropriated from contemporary urban magazines. Critics say her images are alternately tender, moving, passionate, challenging and, at times, disquieting.
RoCa: My approach is a dialogue based on many factors. There is no single focus, so that the image will seem to flow. The choices are mostly abstract, intuitive, yet the composition is based on a knowledge, which is observed, studied and absorbed.
I use posters, fashion photos, images from music magazines and all sorts of other sources in order to project a more fragmented, fast-cut and figure-centered vision of street life.
RoCa: It’s important to shape and capture the experience, to produce an eye-catching and dynamic piece. Arranging visual elements produces a dialogue that creates a tension between conflict and harmony with an element of surprise.
Large works on canvas: ACROLLAGE
The image above is titled Cruz De Loisaida, acrollage painting, 62 x 42 inches (1994). The title translates as “Cross of the Lower East Side.” Rodriguez Calero describes the LES community as mostly Puerto Rican with a culture that embraces their religious faith.
RoCa: “The cross composition depicts a person injecting himself with heroin and the colors are synonymous with the textures of a church. The image represents the body and blood of man’s dwelling place. Cruz De Loisaida morally elevates and symbolizes the human, social and political burden placed upon one’s community.
The commonality in my acrollage works, is that the imagery evokes a range of symbolic themes with a new vocabulary of classical and urban origin.
In a review at The Brooklyn Rail (September 2015), Jessica Holmes describes Rodriguez Calero as an artist whose methods and processes are so intricate that she had to invent a unique term of classification to describe them. Rodriguez Calero refers to her works on canvas as “acrollage.” She describes the process and says she uses an acrylic emulsifier to transfer collaged images onto painted canvas that has been further interfered with by gold leaf, stenciled patterns, and rice paper. Most often the collage elements make up a central human form created out of various parts. The imagery is infused with Catholic iconography that Rodrigues Calero says has left a deep impression on her since childhood. Holmes adds: “Despite their traditional elements, the acrollage paintings definitively exhibit a contemporary spirit.” Read the entire review here.
RoCa: The acrollage process allows me to communicate and capture the essence of spirituality.
See more acrollage paintings in a review at Hyperallergic, written by Allison Meier (August 7, 2015).
The two images above, Classic Beauty, collage, 8 ½ x 4 ¾ inches (1994) and Woman of Color, collage, 8 x 5 inchers (1995) engage us with a profile collage portrait. Rodriguez Calero sees the profile as standing in for herself – the artist. In both works, she juxtaposes an abstract figure against – and in contrast to – found papers that are often seductive advertising images.
The image above is titled Jesus y Magdelena/Jesus and Magdelena, acrollage painting, 42 x 32 inches (2000).
Rodriguez Calero says the painting Jesus y Magdalena was an opportunity to redefine the parable, to contemporize their identity into Puerto Rican folkloric personas and lovers, based upon the biblical narrative of Jesus, the Son of God, and Mary Magdalene the prostitute and “spouse of Jesus.”
The image above is titled Fly Girl, collage, 11 ½ x 8 ½ inches (2003). I asked: Is this a Hip Hop girl? I noticed one foot wears a sneaker and one foot is in high heels.
RoCa: A fly girl is part of the Hip-Hop genre. She is a woman who doesn’t compare herself to others because she’s one of a kind. She’s unique, wonderfully and fearfully made. A girl who knows what she wants and goes for it. A fly girl has a sexy chic with a swag all her own, exudes confidence and her outfits fits right in with her personality. Her narrative is she’s a universalwoman who’s made a commitment to progress. She rises above limitations, whether they’re from society, circumstances or her own self-doubt.
In his introductory catalog notes, – Hip Hop and Metaphysics, Jorge Daniel Veneciano, Executive Director at el Museo del Barrio, wrote: “No one in contemporary art makes a clearer case for collage as the instinctively natural art form for hip hop than does Rodriguez Calero. Her work’s genius lies in making something new by remixing something old – what hip hoppers call flipping. He adds: The cut and paste style of collage work offers a readymade analogy to the scissor-kicking and limb-crossing style of breakdancing.” (El Museo del Barrio, Urban Martyrs and Latter Day Santos, p 11).
The image above is titled Volando, collage, 12 x 9 inches (2009).
Q: Is Volando another image of a hip hop girl.
RoCa: Volando is neither hip-hop, nor is it indicative of a girl, but a conjecture of mood. Volando means flying, but not in the literal sense. It’s a state of fearless freedom. It’s the perspective of transcending, permitting oneself to let go, breathe, accept, and receive. She represents the leap and elevation of blind faith.
The image above is titled Vogue, collage, 4 ¾ x 4 ¼ inches (2016).
Q: why did you organize the collage papers and image this way?
RoCa: The image is structured in accordance with current social fashions based on movements that mimic the postures and facial expressions of Vogue magazine models and ancient Egyptian art, with added exaggerated hand gestures to tell a story and imitate various gender performances in categorized drag genres.
The image above is titled Classico, collage, 9 x 6 7/8 inches (2016). I asked if this image represents a fashionista.
RoCa: Every image has a story to tell, and intuitively fall into a series. I deal with the materials at hand and like working on a puzzle to place pieces together.
The image above is a Selfie Portrait, 22 x 30 inches (2020).
RoCa: I wanted to create an agreeable image that represents and captures my urban spirit. The Selfies Series is a combination of 2 medias, and my attempt in creating a human photo collage. I have been fascinated for some time with the behavioral act of posting one’s selfies and activities on social media platforms.
The image above is titled Multifaceted, collage, 11 x 8 ½ inches (2020). I asked: Why did you include multiple faces in this work?
RoCa: The viewer’s first literal perception of this piece is interesting. They consciously assume they are seeing multiple faces, but it is more complex. The imagery is playing with the psychological. This fluid image encompasses a portrait yet a torso, simultaneously. The use of multiple faces has a subtle impact on viewers to experiencefeelings based upon the information they have processed.The multiples permit one to have an interactive dialogue.
Online, at her website, Rodriguez Calero discusses collage as a kind of surrealist art form in which bits of flat materials are pasted together in an incongruous relationship for a symbolic or suggested effect. She writes: Compositions of the human figure, breaking, decomposing and rearranging, create a puzzle of sorts, which is complex and fascinating like human nature.
The image above is titled Boundless, collage, 12 x 8 ¾ inches (2020). I asked if this work was part of a new series.
RoCa: Boundless is a current piece, created in the midst of the pandemic COVID-19 era. The juxtaposed images delve into and embody the inner spirit that is the result of personal losses and gains. She adds: I approach my latest collages as a challenge to recreate my new epoch reality.
The emotional rhetoric of collage:
Here are words of praise from el Museo del Barrio’s Executive Director Jorge Daniel Veneciano, written in the exhibition catalog (p15): “We can see that Rodriguez Calero lovingly appropriates from the icons of martyrs and saints their signs of glory and sacrifice. The emotional rhetoric of the collages – how they make us feel – speaks to the caring attention that organizes them. The artist remixes these borrowed elements and gives them an off-kilter ensemble reminiscent of hip-hop dress styles. In so dong, she reflexively bestows something of a benediction to hip hop and gives a little jazz-kick to saints, creating reciprocity of blessings. Everything is elevated in the mix – from street people to martyrs. Everyone is tendered soul. Even in the city’s most somber moments of back alley melancholy, each receives his and her grace.
The exhibition catalog is very dear (expensive). If you have one already, you are very lucky.
One more link: Visit artsy.net for an exhibition review with excellent images of acrollage paintings installed on site.