Jorge Rodriguez Gerada knows what a powerful statement the human face can make. For his ongoing “Identity” series, he travels to cities around the world to create giant charcoal portraits of local residents on walls visible from a distance, putting average individuals on pedestals in response to the impersonal, mass-marketed nature of a globalized society. The artist also paints permanent murals of a similar scale and has taken his portraiture to the sculptural realm, creating 3d works from decaying found building materials for his gallery shows. After returning to his Barcelona home from his travels to Bahrain and Argentina, where he completed two new murals, Jorge took a minute to speak with Hi-Fructose about how his career and outlook have changed since his early days as a game-changing street artist in New York City in the 1990s and the new ways he is using public art to drive a socially conscious message today. Take a look at images of Jorge’s latest outdoor works as well as images from his last solo show at Galeria Ignacio de Lassaletta in Barcelona.
Jorge is in the center of the group.
Your early work in New York with Ron English and your crew Artfux was much more satirical and humorous than the more sober portraits you do today. Does this reflect a change in your attitude as an artist?
I was in my twenties when I was running around with Ron and the Artfux/Cicada crews changing billboards and street signs in New York and New Jersey. Our youth and the use of parody moved our adbusting and street art in the direction of the satirical and the humorous. After a while I realized that I didn’t want my body of work to eventually be seen as a long list of one liners. I started working alone and decided to focus on a “Culture Jamming” direction that had more poetic strength. I wanted to show that art coming from the streets can be taken further. Once I started down that path there was no turning back.
What has traveling to paint walls around the world added to your work? How has it changed your perspective on what you do?
When I decided to move to Barcelona Spain it was with the intention of coming up with directions that moved beyond the established parameters of what street art was. Being able to create murals in different countries around the world has allowed the series to gain a universal and poetic releavance as a continuing project.
Your choice to draw Yousif, a traditional Bahrainian fisherman, in one of your latest works using charcoal seems especially significant because of the changing cultural landscape in Bahrain. The charcoal mural will disappear, and this traditional way of life seems to be in the process of being squeezed out by globalization. What kind of message did you intend to send to the residents of Manama, Bahrain with that piece?
I try to create pieces that touch upon different narratives at once. The Yousif / Manama mural is created in a way that allows for introspection. It makes you ask why an annonymous person is portayed on a huge wall within a city that is only used to seeing huge images of political leaders and pretty faces selling luxury. Who am I to send a message to the residents of Manama. I went there and created a piece of art that brings humanity to the forefront.
How does your experience differ when you draw an ephemeral portrait on wall using charcoal from when you paint a permanent mural? What are the two processes’ different intentions?
The Identity Series murals are created to fade away. They question the role models that are chosen to sell us products and political ideas. They give importance to all of us by choosing someone out of the population at random. They touch upon the impermanence of life and the memories that we leave behind.
The permanent murals are memorials. They are my way of giving importance to people that have made an impact in my life or people that deserve more attention for their accomplishments.
Yousif in Manama Bahrain
When painting anonymous residents of a city, how do you go about choosing your subject?
I usually have a gender and age range in mind when I start my search. This way I make sure that the series is varied. I go to the coffee shops and local stores to see if I find a person of that gender and age range. Once I do, I ask them if they are from the neighborhood and do they feel identified with where they live. If they respond yes to both questions we have our next protagonist for the series.
Manolo Alvarez in Buenos Aires Argentina
Much of your work is socially and politically minded. What issues are close to your heart right now?
The invasiveness of marketing and it’s damaging effects, climate change denial, unscrupulous banks, corporations controlling government policy, all make sure that profits today leave a dismal reality now and a destroyed world for our children tomorrow.
What upcoming projects are you excited about for the rest of this year?
I am in talks with the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum for an upcoming “Terrestrial” project. They want me to do a huge sand portrait mandala based on the theme of peace.
I will be in London in the beginning of June getting a new print ready and doing a mural with the very cool people at Nelly Duff. I have a really big Terrestrial Series project at the end of the year that I am getting together. Can’t say too much yet, but it will be in the city center of a major Northern European city and viewable from space.