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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Nuclear mushroom clouds, sex slaves, Muslims, bright colors and World War III. These are all things you will see in Memphis College of Art senior Jason Rodriguez’s latest paintings.
His most recent exhibit, “Precursor,” opened at Empire Hair Studio at 615 S. Cooper St. March 4 and ran for two weeks. An opening ceremony featured live music from Brandon “DJ Racecar” Parker, who is also a student at MCA.
The exhibit, Rodriguez says highlights current happenings in the world like sexual slavery, nuclear war and recent violence in the Middle East, which he believes will eventually lead to a third World War.
“A lot of times the media tends to portray only the pretty things that happen in the world and we seem to be distracted from some of the scary things. In this exhibit I use bright, pretty colors to sort of distract the viewer from the bad images in the paintings.”
Rodriguez’s favorite painting, a collage titled, “At the End,” which sold for $2,000 at the exhibit shows a crowd of praying Muslims bowing down before a huge nuclear explosion in the background. The foreground of the painting shows brightly colored box-shaped houses that capture they eye.
“I tried using elements from art history like the Last Supper (columns) to draw the eye into the bomb. And I used the houses as a symbol of the war zone hitting home, coming here to the Americas. I’m using these colors to distract you from what is really going on in the back.”
The media, he believes, does not always show people everything we need to see and sometimes “tries to make the world seem like a prettier place than it really is.”
Rodriguez described his exhibit as a fear of world chaos.
His Website describes his philosophy this way: “The military takes prestige in controlling technology with mass destructive capabilities, which heightens my fear of world chaos further developing. We are desensitized to topics surrounding war, trafficking and brutality in today’s mass media. Focus is then placed on beauty and color stimulation through digital media. These are paradigms of information that censor the destruction surrounding humanity by the overload of substance in our media.”
He said the inspirations for his latest works came from watching the news and talking to friends about current issues going on in the world.
“I have a friend from Jordan that tells me stories about how women are treated in the Middle East, and that led me to do a few paintings on sexual slavery and the harsh treatment of women in other countries. I have another friend from Egypt and he’s telling me about the riots that are going on over there and how his family is struggling. Things like that are basically what trigger my ideas.”
At the opening of the exhibit, Rodriguez spoke to viewers over wine and cheese while electronic “dubstep” music blared from the turntables manned by Parker. A crowd of about 100 filtered in and out of the exhibit hall throughout the night.
Rodriguez says he decided to incorporate a live disc jockey into the exhibit to create more of a sensory experience than just simply looking at pictures on a wall.
Parker, who studies at MCA and DJs around the city in his free time, mixed tracks together throughout the opening exhibit, filling the room with wobbly bass lines and loud synthesizer sounds.
“After looking at his paintings I told Jason that I could match up some music to his work and it would make his exhibit even better,” Parker says. The themes are dark and there are explosions and bright colors, and that is sort of the same sound experience you get from dubstep.”
One of the tracks Parker played called, “Dropping Bombs” used electronic bass to mimic the sound of explosions and missiles flying through the air.
“Most art exhibits are quiet like a library and people just walk around and look at the work,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to create more of like a sensory experience than just looking at pictures on a wall.”