Art Gives Former Nurse A Fresh Start

Joe Rodriguez (MFA '19) has always strived to make time for his art.

After getting a BFA from Pratt Institute in New York he worked for other artists and then eventually moved into a career in medicine. All the while keeping up his personal art practice.

“For 25 years I worked as a nurse but I was always practicing my art,” he said. “Every day I’d come home and try to do a painting or drawing.”

But long days in a hospital don't leave much time for studio work, so Rodriguez decided to devote himself full-time to his artwork. He came to PAFA’s MFA program expecting to work on his paintings.

“I had two choices, I could stick with painting or I could take the advice of one of the instructors here who told me to try the smorgasbord,” Rodriguez said. “They said, if you’re here then why don't you try everything?”

Joe Rodriguez (MFA '19) demonstrates his installation piece.

PAFA’s MFA program is an intensive, two-year experience that focuses on studio practice and individual artistic development. The program is interdisciplinary in nature and welcomes students working in a variety of media with a wide range of interests. Through seminars, studio classes, critiques, and visiting artist lectures, students are exposed to diverse viewpoints and approaches to art-making.

Rodriguez had previously dabbled in video and has since come back to the medium, saying he has now discovered light. Taking David Dempewolf’s “Moving Images: Intro to Avant-Garde Practices” class gave Rodriguez the tools he needed to create work in a new way.

With his iPhone, shooting in 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, and editing using the program Modul8, Rodriguez is exploring the idea of Greek myths and is creating his own.

“I’m working with a new myth thinking about how we’re all thinking about the cloud and how we send a lot of our experiences up to the cloud up there,” he said. “I’m kind of using that as a metaphor for the modern soul and exploring that in my video work.”

He still works on his paintings, making 10 large-scale abstract landscapes in the fall semester alone, but his PAFA critics are encouraging Rodriguez to pave new paths.

“I’ve done a lot of investigation for my painting and I’ll never stop painting so that’s my pickle right now,” he said. “Balancing my practice between this new thing I’ve taken on with the video and still maintaining the analog, touch of the hand, the painting that I love so much.”

For the upcoming Annual Student Exhibition, Rodriguez will be showing both his paintings and his videos.

The Annual Student Exhibition (ASE) has been a tradition at PAFA for more than 100 years and is the culminating event in a student's journey at PAFA. Each spring, 4th year BFA and graduating MFA students have the opportunity to curate, install and sell their own works in the PAFA museum galleries.

PAFA students create more than 1,000 paintings, sculpture, works on paper and installations. It is one of the most celebrated student group shows in the country. More than 100,000 visitors will attend the ASE, and sales of student's works are expected to reach $300,000. Students retain the majority of the purchase price of works sold.

While many students sell work at the ASE, Rodriguez sees the exhibition as a test case for his career as an artist.

“If I’m going to be a professional artist then I’d like to see if I can do this at the ASE. There’s a lot of moving parts to this idea and if I am able to pull this off then I’ll feel confident in being able to do these crazy installations and things because there is a lot of technical know-how involved with this,” Rodriguez said. “ I’ve really leveled up here and that's what I’m going to use the ASE for, to try to put on this idea that I have.”