A typical twenty-something year old is on his way to work in a subway car, painting a picture of what his life could be. Devon Rodriguez, on the other side, inches ever-closer to his dreams with a daily, deliberate stroke of a brush.
The 24 year old professional painter grew up in the South Bronx, which is known for its melting pot of cultures — its “ethnic” foods, art and traditions — but also its grittiness. It was a tough upbringing, but thankfully, he overcame the obstacles in his way.
“I grew up in poverty in a broken home but I never wanted my story to end there. I was raised around a lot of tragedy but I always made art. That was my therapy. I’m inspired by the struggle, and I think that there’s beauty in it. I want to use my talent to capture that rawness.”
Rodriguez’s father was a tattoo artist who specialized in traditional Japanese tattoos. He left him when he was just four years old but, in spite of this, the young painter says he was an inspiration who “always had this cool aura about him.” His father, indirectly, showed him that he, one day, could become an amazing artist.
As a kid, the budding painter spent his time drawing little gangster figures. As a teenager, he did graffiti. Because of this, he was rejected from his dream school, the High School of Art and Design. His portfolio of drawing fundamentals did not meet expectations at that time.
After six months of transforming his portfolio, he transferred to the High School of Art and Design from Samuel Gompers High School, a facility that would later be shut down for poor performance. There, he met James Harrington, an AP Art teacher who inspired him to pursue realism, to trade spray paint for an oil-battered paintbrush.
Seeing a live-demonstration of a portrait in this class was, according to the young painter, “so beautiful, so realistic, so painterly.” It cemented his love for realism, and instigated his passion for subway art. No, not art in the subway, but art of the subway: replications of those who drudge to work every morning and night, whose daily expressions tell stories (Pictured: “Bronx bound 6 train”; Oil on Wood; 40 x 30 inches).
Commuters just see him as a “dude on his phone” but, in reality, he’s adding them to an evergrowing collection, one that’s been featured in publications like The New Yorker, The Artist’s Magazine and The New York Times Style Magazine. A portrait he did of John Ahearn, an American sculptor clad in dirty plaster-covered work clothes, was a finalist at the Smithsonian National Portrait competition. Ahearn had originally used Rodriguez as a subject for his own work.
So, next time you’re sitting on the subway, pay attention to those around you. They may have a story to tell. Or, they may be telling a story about you.