July 26, 2023
Antennae spring from the crown of a grasshopper, and an alert expression characterizes a cacomixtle’s beady eyes in George Rodriguez’s vibrant portraits of Mexican fauna. In his ongoing Mexican Zodiac series, the artist takes inspiration from the Great Race myth and the birth of the Chinese zodiac. “I wanted to continue to explore themes of protection, inclusion, and sanctity using the Chinese zodiac as a framework,” he tells Colossal. “I was also inspired by Ai Weiwei’s ‘Circle of Animals’ sculpture recreating the 12 animal heads of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing.”
Rodriguez initially made all of the Chinese zodiac animals in homage to the original stories, then landed on the idea of bringing the narrative closer to his own home and creating a parallel Mexican version. “Instead of the Year of the Rat, it would be el Año del Chapulín (grasshopper),” he says. “Instead of Year of the Tiger, it would be el Año del Jaguar. I have fun translating the different animal characteristics into animals that would be found in and around Mexico.”
Mexican Zodiac has taken numerous forms, including a sprigging style—a kind of low relief decoration—that Rodriguez employs in much of his work, followed by a version brightly colored like Alebrijes, a style of small, vibrant wooden animals traditionally made in Oaxaca. The artist finished a third version in a metallic glaze that mirrored Ai’s originals, a fourth utilized a style of illustrated pottery known as Talavera, and the most recent involved collaborating with 13 other artists for a project titled El Zodiaco Familiar. Rodriguez has also translated animals of the lunar calendar into a series called Lunar Vessels, some of which are also shown below.
An exhibition of the artist’s work opens at West Virginia University’s Paul Mesaros Gallery on August 24, and another solo show opens in Denver at Visions West Contemporary on November 9. El Zodiaco Familiar is currently on view at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens through September 10, and you can find more on the artist’s website and Instagram.
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