Lordy Rodriguez’s America resembles the national maps on our third grade classroom walls only distantly. Rodriguez’s maps reconfigure the United States according to his personal experience and private fantasies. America, his master map of the entire country, launches the journey through the show, which also includes five individual state maps — Alabama, Washington, California, Nevada and The Carolinas.
Maps are flat. While they have conventional symbolism for representing topography, they eschew the illusion of depth. By choosing to draw maps, Rodriguez can explore formal relationships and semi-abstraction without worrying about the representation of depth. His firm shapes and bright, translucent colors decorate the surfaces of his maps with playful, captivating patterns. His contours are confident and meticulous. Straight borders are flawlessly smooth and curvy rivers snake along equally effortlessly. The pens Rodriguez uses luminesce in light jewel-tones. Their colors reflect cartographic conventions: he uses browns and dusty purples to represent topography, fertile greens for the low lands, and a tropical blue for bodies of water. Each state map has its own rules for representing cities, roads, and farmland. This allows Rodriguez to explore different color themes and patterns.
Cleverly, the artist also uses the conventions of maps to organize his work formally. A cartographic grid helps to structure each work. It breaks the vibrant, dynamic patterns up into manageable chunks and provides a sense of orderliness. The states and bodies of water bordering the subject-state frame it in muted purple and translucent blue. These internal frames shape the intricate road networks and mountain ranges into a cohesive unit.
In America, two familiar blue oceans on either side and two expansive landmasses labeled CANADA and MEXICO above and below hem the nation in. But within the country, Rodriguez unexpectedly re-imagines borders and reshuffles states. Coastlines dance in unfamiliar bays, estuaries, and archipelagos. States are rarely where we expect them to be. Washington has migrated from the west to the east coast, and New Hampshire has become a distant chain of islands inserted on an inset in the upper right-hand corner of the map. Rodriguez fashions his own America from his whims and fancies.
Five new states — Internet, Hollywood, Monopoly, Disney, and Territory — join the others for a grand total of 55. This number is Rodriguez’s tribute to the national speed limit, which was 55mph when he conceived America. Many of Rodriguez’s artistic choices depend on such anecdotes for their significance. Rodriguez’s private travels, encounters, and thoughts give his cartographic arrangements meaning. Once it has been pointed out, the reference to the national speed limit highlights the nation’s automobile-driven culture. Driving shapes our daily experience of space. Whether commuting, running errands, or traveling, car speeds and routes control our experience of distance, time, and space.
Rodriguez’s maps provide an idiosyncratic encounter with United States. He shapes the nation out of his road-trips, moves, and daydreams. Even though it does not look like a topographically or politically accurate map of the country, Rodriguez’s America has a reality in his experience and imagination. The anecdotal meaning in his maps escapes uninitiated viewers. His choices are subjective and therefore arbitrary to most viewers.
However, Rodriguez’s work begins to provide all viewers with a vocabulary to express their own experiences of America. His maps recognize that space is different for each individual. Rather than moving through fixed space, each person realigns flexible space around herself according to her physical and mental position. Hollywood, the Internet, and other media, as well as our own road-trips, flights, moves, and fantasies shape our experiences of the nation. Our Americas do not look like the one in our AAA atlas.
Lordy Rodriguez: New States is on view at Hosfelt Gallery, 430 Clementina, San Francisco, CA. For more information call (415) 495-5454 or visit www.hosfeltgallery.com.