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The Portrait Issue | Interview with Devon Rodriguez

What risks are you taking as an artist?

My subway works always derive from my photos or sketches that I make. New York City isn't what it was but it can still be dangerous, especially when you're in someone's face with a camera without their consent. Not asking for permission is vital to my process. Even when I have a model over at my studio, I rarely direct them. I'd rather capture the pose that they naturally sit in, in order to capture their true essence. 

Where do you think this portrait is going to end up?

I have no idea. Hopefully somewhere that it will be appreciated and not stored away in some closet. 

How much of your work is dedicated to portraiture?

Most of it. My whole being is dedicated to portraiture. I have a bad habit of staring at strangers and painting/ composing them in my head. I forget that it's a person's face that I'm staring at and it can be really weird for them. 

What do you read?

I'm sorry to say that I haven't been reading much lately.

What brought you to the path you are on?

I've always loved to draw for as long as I could remember. I remember in elementary school, my friends would asked me if I traced the drawing and make me re-draw it in front of them. In middle school, I was solely interested in graffiti and getting my tag on as many places as I could. When I began at the high school of art and design, I became really interested in painting portraits when I walked into the AP art classroom. It was there where I saw my teacher James Harrington painting a student from life. That moment changed my entire life. I submitted my portfolio to get into his class and stuck by him to learn everything that I could. 

Are you currently being represented by a gallery?

No, but I have my eye on a few. 

Are you satisfied with your career in the arts?

My career is just beginning, but I would say so far so good. 

What have you never been asked before about your artwork? 

I've never been asked how do I choose who I am going to paint out of the hundreds of people that I see on the subway. And the answer to that is I have no idea. I just get a feeling that pulls me in and keeps me interested enough to want to record that emotion. It's hard to articulate. 

Born in 1996 in the Bronx, New York, Devon Rodriguez is best known for his highly detailed paintings that present his fascination with contemporary urban life. He paints people, studying the gestures, facial expressions, and mannerisms that reveal their psyches. He observes his surroundings and paints what impresses him most. His goal is not to replicate photography, but rather, to instill in the viewer a sense of empathy for the subject. 

Rodriguez studied painting with James Harrington in the AP studio class established at the high school of Art & Design. While there, he absorbed  prodigious attention from working artists, collectors, and has even gotten his work displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the age of 17. During an exhibition he arranged with 4 friends of his, the sculptor John Ahearn surprisingly stopped by. Ahearn was struck by a painting of his and recalled it as being "really deep and beautifully painted".  Since then, Ahearn has been mentoring Rodriguez and showing him the ropes of the art world. 

Rodriguez’s work can be found in myriad of public and private art collections around the United States. His work has been included in various publications such as the New Yorker, the Artist's magazine, and Southwest Art Magazine. He currently lives and works in the South Bronx, New York City. 

Check out Devon's painting in the 2016 Figurative issue. Devon is one of the featured artists in the Portrait issue (April 2017). Find out how to submit to that and other publications from our submission page. 

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