NEWSLETTER Edition 2: Best In Show

Interview with Detroit area artist Ron Rodriguez

(This interview, conducted in April of 2021, first appeared in ARTHAUS:Detroit's subscriber newsletter, May 9, 2021 edition. To subscribe, simply scroll to the bottom of the home page and supply an email address. Send newsletter inquiries to Debora Grace Stanczak at 

ARTHAUS:Detroit (AD): Ron Rodriguez, welcome to this edition of On Meaning. I've invited you here to tell us about your sculpture Wonder Horse. First, tell us a little about your background, about yourself -- background, training, affiliations -- and how you came to being an exhibiting artist.

Ron Rodriguez (RR): Well, I have a sister and I was raised by a single mother. I was the first, but not the eldest, of many grandchildren to go to college. I started out by taking classes that were mostly math and science. But after that first year, I had a couple relationships that were heartbreaking for me, the way they had ended, and I took a year off of college. And during that year, I realized that I dealt with my emotions by expressing myself creatively. So, when I returned to college after that year, I started taking art courses. I knew that that was the direction that I wanted to go.

AD: What about, in terms of what you do now, where you work, the affiliations and connections that you have...what can you say about those?

RR: While I was in college and after college, I mostly dealt with two-dimensional imagery. And I still do. But I’m a sculptor for one of The Big Three, and since becoming a professional sculptor, I’ve been doing a lot more three-dimensional work. And I find that I have a good knack for doing that. And other people seem to appreciate it, so I like to get my work out there for people to enjoy. 

AD: So, listeners at this moment [as we speak now] can't see the piece because we’re on Zoom – the whole world is on Zoom. But since listeners, and readers, may or may not be able to see the piece, I still would like them, with yourwords, to be able to envision Wonder Horse. This sculpture is neither your typical singular, you know, bronze or stonework mass, and it’s not your typical welded metal structure that we often see outside of an office building or inside of a corporate environment. It appears to be what one would call an assembled sculpture, and it’s not a atypical one either. Can you break it down for us? Give us a physical description of it, its dimensions, appearance, and form, etc. Just a basic description.

RR: Alright. I’ll do my best. Well, it stands about six-and-a-half feet tall. If you looked at it from the side, it’s a large triangular shape. The base of it is 70-inches long and 22-inches wide. What you see here is a…the primary element in there is the body of a rocking horse. The famous rocking horse that was very popular…forever. The plastic molded rocking horse. But it sits up much higher than the store-bought rocking horse does. And that’s because I rebuilt the frame that holds it up, so that the whole piece is held up much higher. So, at its base is a painted plywood surface that’s meant to look like a stylized rug, like a prayer rug or a religious rug, like a weaving. And that actually is elevated off of the ground by about three inches. So, there’s a deep shadow underneath it. On top of that, sits the black frame that holds the horse, and within the frame is a white outline pyramid that is about two-and-a-half-feet tall. And within the pyramid is a suspended platform that’s about four inches by four inches square, that has a rectangular opening in it, and a acrylic, a clear acrylic – or polycarbonate – staircase that descends from that opening. This is in the pyramid. The staircase itself is only about four inches and in length and it kind of drops off. And the image of that -- and the landing is in black; the staircase descends from that. The landing itself, the shape of that is repeated three times in the base/rug underneath it. The rocking horse itself, I had actually cut in half and it’s midsection – so, its legs and belly – are on the lower half. And that is actually where the dowels that come with the rocking horse -- and they connect with springs to the frame -- those are all connected with that. And then, there’s the upper half of the horse which sits about 18 inches above the lower half. Within that section – and I should also state that the horse itself is a polished silver in color --

AD: So, it doesn’t have the traditional brown, brown with the white saddle. The whole thing is silver.

RR: The whole thing is silver. Within…between the two hemispheres of the horse, is this acrylic world, really. I segmented the space with polycarbonate and so I created some walls and many different staircases. And the lower section and the upper sections of the floor and ceiling have mirrored surfaces. So the staircases, when they go down to the surface of the mirror, you see the reflection, and so the actual image continues beyond that surface. And the same with when you look above. Whatever you see is the mirror image above. And it just kind of continues reflecting back and forth. Now, on these staircases in there I have, I believe, 17 cast aluminum figures. They’re all male figures in suits. Each one is the same person. I made a mold and cast in aluminum each one of these. And they all have…I’ve articulated the body and moved their clothing around, and maybe moved their tie and opened the jacket from the suit. And they’re climbing the staircases. Some of them have fallen off the staircases. Some of them have had parts of them amputated as they fell through the floor. Or, if they reached out beyond the confines of the horse, then that [extended] part of them is not there. It doesn’t fit into the tight shape. But if you continue on up to the top of the horse where you would…where originally there was handlebars for the rocking horse, I removed that dowel and replaced it with a one-inch thick acrylic dowel that heated with a blow torch to get it to bubble up, and I was able to bend it. And it looks like a set of horns. And in between the horns I put a slot, and I have another acrylic staircase ascending from the top of the horse’s head, and there is another cast aluminum looking defiantly up at the sky above him. 

AD: That’s a very provocative description. It would get anyone wondering and imagining, just trying to envision or see what sounds like a fantasyscape. This [sculpture] is just poetry in the making, and essays and all kinds of commentaries waiting to happen…

ABOVE: Wonder Horse, by Detroit area artist Ron Rodriguez

AD: Thank you for describing the work physically. I have to say, a riding horse -- because it's been a classic and popular childhood toy for many of us…for such along time…for generations – it’s the kind of piece that’s going to get your attention when you walk through a space. It’s something that’s familiar, and comforting even. 

RR: It’s placed in a gallery setting too.

AD: And because it’s placed in a gallery setting and it’s been painted silver, it looks like a trophy horse of gargantuan size. It’s definitely an attention getter. And then once the eyes catch all these figures in the middle and above, you know, you can’t help…you’d have to be brain dead to not wonder what’s going on here, you know? And to wonder what meaning lies behind it. So, one thing I want to ask is -- seeing all of this, I [initially] wonder…where did you find the horse? Was it something you had in your family? Something that belonged to one of your children? Something that was passed down? Something you found at a garage sale? Where did you find the horse in the first place; where did it come from?

RR: Well, I drive a truck, because that’s the best thing for my lifestyle, for the things I like to do. And so, sometimes when I’m leaving my neighborhood, on trash day in the morning, I see things discarded on the side of the road that have potential. And that definitely had potential. I threw it in the back of the truck. And I put it in my art studio at 333 Midland. And I didn’t do anything with it for many months. I just had it elevated up on this shelf that I put up, way up high on one of the walls until I was ready to do something with it. I really didn’t know exactly [what]. I knew I needed to make some kind of initial change to it, to start the ball rolling, you know?

AD: You sort of had to let it sit there and sit and wait and acclimate to your environment and let it speak to you for a while, I’m assuming.

RR: Well, at first it was just out of sight, out of mind; it was just up there. But [later when] I was preparing for a show with other pieces going on, and I think maybe at that time I looked up and thought, that’s got a lot of potential. It’s got a lot of wow factor, potentially. So I brought it down and, I have plenty of power tools, and I decided I’m just gonna go ahead and cut this thing in half and see what that brings me.

AD: Well, this is Michigan. That’s definitely a move after Tim Taylor’s own heart, with the power tools. When – at what point in the process -- did you decide you would dissect the rocking horse to make your statement? And would I be correct that you'd dissected it first and then painted it?

RR: Yeah, the paint came afterwards. I think maybe by this time it’s probably been about…two years? Right, because the show for this was just last year. So, it’s not even a full two years [since I found the horse] when I first cut it. I cut it and gave it a light sand and primed it. And then sat on it longer trying to figure out my next step. But once I figured out what I wanted to do, or at least the direction I wanted to go with the interior of the rocking horse, ideas just kept coming to me each and every time I would pick up that piece again – because remember I had other things going on, other works -- everything was just rolling together. It wasn’t where I finished one piece and went on to the other. I had things going on simultaneously and I had different work stations for each thing within my studio space. 

AD: That’s definitely multi-tasking. Could even be what’s called slow-motion multi-tasking. You had a lot going on. Why silver? What drew you to the color silver for this?

RR: Well, primarily because I wanted to limit the colors that I was going to use. I wanted…I didn’t really want to have a variety of colors and any psychology that really goes behind them. I mean, there’s psychology that goes behind monochrome as well, but I really wanted to limit the colors I was going to introduce. And since I knew that I was going to cast these figures in aluminum, having it silver just made sense.

AD: It’s a beautiful choice and everything ties together beautifully in terms of tone. I must say, the men, all the little silver men, the silver men that walk, and march, and climb, and appear to tumble and, in some cases, are submerged, and ascend and descend inside of the cavity you created -- some of them even seeming to be falling or semi-submerged...all of them seeming to walking with assertive purpose. And when I first glimpsed them, I thought – it just looked like poetry. It looked like maybe there was some kind of commentary going on about work, maybe even about life. A piece like this certainly is not a piece that is solely about physical composition [for composition's sake], or just a composition of parts, or pleasing arrangement. There’s definitely -- I would describe this as pregnant with meaning. So I’m wondering, what was your motivation for using the men, in the first place?

RR: Well, I wanted to use men, because I don’t often use real people in the things I do. I do do it, but don’t often do it. I try to create things more abstractly or just invent things on my own. But for this, I did want to say something about humans in a labyrinth, trying to find their way out or find their way through or, for this, to find purpose. For their own individual purpose. And the figures in there aren’t meant to convey, like, a group of people. It’s meant to convey one person or all people as individuals, but not necessarily as a society. And what worked out for me, with some of the thoughts, is having the figure in a suit. I remember years ago when I was in New York City and there was a graffiti artist – and I don’t know his name, or her name for that matter -- that did these suited figures that were placed on buildings and sidewalks, and sometimes the arms and legs stretched out, which was straight black. I don’t think they spray-painted it, I think that they maybe initially had, like, a stencil they spray-painted [with], but they would elongate the legs or arms. And I remember following this image, because this took a path, like a route through the city. And I thought it was really clever. Sometimes the tie was flapping behind them. But it was just a straight black image with whatever color. It might be a concrete color or the building color --

AD: They were like silhouettes.

RR: Exactly. 

AD: About how many men are suspended in the cavity between the upper and lower hemispheres of the horse, and what do they mean -- what's their purpose?

QUICK-CLICK FOR THE ANSWER, and the complete interview about Wonder Horse to learn what went into making it of Best In Show...

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