Artist Q&A: Jeston Rodriguez

“What happens in the dark, comes to the light.” I think that’s how the saying goes anyway. The idea that no matter what we try to hide will come to the surface. This is not to say that this darkness I’m speaking of is to be taken literally. It’s speaks more to the art work of Jeston Rodriguez, our latest participant in our q&a series. Her love of the macabre is hers, but she sheds light on it in her work (darkness coming to light). Often what we keep private or in darkness has a way of coming out.

We can’t hide from ourselves and there will always be that hint of our private selves that make appearances. We get a glimpse of that darker fascination in Jeston’s work. The beauty in the darkness that draws us in. Her interest in ghost stories and folklore are expressed through vibrant color and rich detail. The color adds a playful aspect to what initially seems dark. Creating a window into the world of the talented Jeston Rodriguez. We hope you enjoy her work and unique perspective as much as we have.

Your work has a sort of dark undertone. What is it about the macabre that moves you to emulate it in your art?

Who doesn’t love a good scare? Since I can remember, I’ve been curious about ghosts and scary stories. The fascination stayed with me growing up. It used to be about being scared but soon turned into a fascination with death. I collect folklore, visit cemeteries frequently, and work as a part-time funeral assistant. I’ve even considered going back to school to be a mortician. I definitely romanticize the idea of what happens to you after you die. There’s something peaceful about it to me. Not in a religious sense, but rather in what happens to your body, your consciousness, and your energy. I try and share that interest with others through my work.

How much do horror films play in inspiring you?

Ha. I’d say a good bit. I love all types of horror movies, and I won’t ever turn down a B-list horror. The first scary movie I saw was at my neighbor’s house, where her dad let us watch The Exorcist. I was eight and had nightmares for weeks. My mom was pissed. I think what inspires me from horror movies the most is the build-up, like right before they show the monster. The vulnerability that the character is going through, the ambient music—that’s what I really enjoy. I hope to convey the same uneasiness in my work.

Your depiction of the women you paint balances strength and femininity. Is that the point?

That’s a happy accident. I’m glad the women I paint come across as strong, probably a reflection of the whole fight-or-flight reaction people experience. My response to something threatening or scary happening has always been to double down and get ready to fight. It’s what comes natural to me. I guess that response unintentionally made its way into my work. I’m cool with that.

As an artist who does commissions, do you find those commissions as challenging, or as rewarding as your non-commissioned work?

I find commissions a million times more challenging. I’m a procrastinator, so working on deadlines is always tricky, especially when I’m multitasking projects. Commissions have definitely helped me work on my time management. On top of that, trying to make a piece with little guidance or a lot of guidelines can be hard; I don’t want to miss the mark. I want to wow the buyer without completely losing my spin on the concept. I put a lot of time, research, and effort into these paintings. I want the buyer to go away with something they will truly love, keep them coming back for more. No doubt though, the hardest part about commissions is creating something I don’t want to part with. Rare, but it does happen.

Who are some artists (old or new) that inspired you?

Where do I start? Stephen Gammell, my first love, the guy whose art started it all as far
as horror goes. Caravaggio: that lighting, though. Norman Rockwell for his storytelling. Gil Elvgren for his strong, sexy, female subjects. J.C. Leyendecker for his gorgeous portraiture. Sam Spratt for his story of how he started, not to mention for how he’s simply amazing. Michelle Avery Konczyk for being a watercolor queen. Emokih for her haunting subjects. Madame Talbot for her devotion to hand-drawn illustration.

Being an up and coming artist, what motivates you?

It’s weird to think of myself as an up-and-coming artist. I’ve been creating since I was two, so I’ve been afraid of becoming stale or burnt out, which I felt like for a few years. My motivation, as cliché as it is, was a New Year’s resolution. I decided to stop worrying about being rejected, to stop trying to create what I think people wanted, and to create for myself. Not going to lie, doing that Instagram “Top 9 Challenge” last year and realizing I’d made only 12 paintings in 2017 was a huge punch in the gut. I felt as if I couldn’t call myself an artist. So, I decided to change the way I think of myself.

What’s your favorite music to listen to when you paint?

I like really lyrical, emotional, haunting music, something I can sing along to. I like to call it “whiney boys whining” music. Brand New, Florence and the Machine, Twenty-One Pilots, Dead Man’s Bones, The Civil Wars. That or I’m binge-watching Gilmore Girls for the nineteenth run-through on Netflix. Depends on the day.

Is there an underlying message in your work?

I think the message changes with each painting. To be honest I do a lot of storytelling to myself when I create the paintings. I make up back-stories for the characters, which make them feel realer to me. I love hearing what others think my paintings are about. It’s cool to see the paintings in a different light, though I do try and give the paintings some guidance. Usually, I title them in a way that gives viewers hints on what’s going on.

What is it about portraiture that you enjoy?

In all honesty, I just really like painting faces. If I had to dig deeper, it relates back to a time when getting your portrait painted used to be only for those who were financially fortunate. The paintings are full of personality, sass, and vulnerability. Thinking about when photography became more popular, it blew my mind that most people didn’t have their photos taken until after they’d passed on. Death photography is gorgeous, by the way, since even in death people have a presence. I want to capture ordinary people while they are still here, their experience, in a way that shows how extraordinary they are.

Any advice for other artists?

Keep creating. Don’t let rejection set you back. Hold yourself accountable because no one else will. Try and experience as much art as you can. Learn from other artists. Make connections and hunt down opportunities, which won’t just fall into your lap. Enjoy it. It’s scary as hell but so worth it if it’s what you want in life.

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