No Empty Calories

There is substance behind these pop sculptures

Miguel Rodriguez returns with an appetizing—and deeply satisfying—vengeance. The artist’s new show at Trifecta Gallery is So Sincere, a genuine effort to heighten his work’s already-delicious appeal. Monster-size, acrylic-painted cheeseburgers, man-eating plants ripped from The Little Shop of Horrors, naked Ganesh figures and fierce zebra chess pieces run amok in an exhibit that seeks authenticity and subversion.

“I’m definitely creating work that’s accessible now,” he says. “I just want to make art for people that they like and want to take home. Look, I’ve been an artist here for 10 years, had tons of shows, but in fact I’ve sold very little.”

Not for lack of trying. There has always been an irresistible sense of humor in what Rodriguez does. His work is attractive, colorful, not super-heady, yet he manages to eschew the trap of kitsch—a rare feat for an artist who embraces pop culture.

Perhaps Rodriguez’s rededication to pop is a way of rebounding from his last Vegas show, Dead or Alive, at the Winchester Cultural Center in ’09. It was an angry collection of politically charged works that seemed out of character for the now-34-year-old. Gone were his bold and beautiful plaster installations of candy-colored human hearts, replaced by pop-flavored agitprop. It was an interesting yet divisive show that ran counter to Rodriguez’s playfulness.

Another reason for Rodriguez’s commercial turn may be the fact the hospitality industry throws him financial bones. Since quitting his part-time UNLV teaching gig in May, Rodriguez has eked out a living with commissions—sculpting one and painting three massive bobbleheads for New York-New York and tiling a decorative mural in the lobby of Fremont Street’s Golden Gate hotel.

“Vegas has its own indigenous art forms,” Rodriguez says. “Alongside neon you also have large-scale sculptural signage and themed environmental sculptures. I love having my work be visible, and getting lots of eyes on it.” Rodriguez’s ceramics training at UNLV, where he completed his fine-arts degree in ’04, is evident in the wide breadth of styles and techniques he employs—molding, casting, sculpting, painting, etc. All of these come in handy as a freelance commercial artist in Vegas, and as a young sculptor with a cool new show debuting this weekend at First Friday in the Arts District downtown.

“I consider myself more of a straightforward sculptor,” he says. “I’m also obsessed with contemporary motifs and shared cultural images. I love taking them in different directions.” Miguel Rodriguez’s So Sincere at Trifecta Gallery in the Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., April 5-30. Artist talk is at 6 p.m. April 21. 366-7001.

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