Las Vegas Sun

March 27, 2023

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Sculptor Miguel Rodriguez

A weekly snapshot of creative people living in the Las Vegas Valley

People in the Arts

Sam Morris

Miguel Rodriguez is seen with part of his exhibit, “Australopithecus in Repose,” at the Fallout Gallery. He also created three big sculptures at Wetlands Park.

Name: Miguel Rodriguez, sculptor

Age: 31

Medium: Plaster, clay, glitter, foam, high-gloss auto paint

Education: Bachelors in ceramics, Kansas City Art Institute; master of fine arts, UNLV

Day job: Part-time art instructor at UNLV

Projects and exhibits: Rodriguez designed and created three sculptures for the Clark County Wetlands Park and has been commissioned to create a bronze bust of the late Maude Frazier and bronze portraits of Donald Moyer and James R. Dickinson at the site of the old Maude Frazier Hall at UNLV. Group and solo exhibits include shows at the Contemporary Arts Center, Clark County Government Center, Main Gallery and Las Vegas Art Museum.

Getting to Vegas: Born and raised in Kansas, Rodriguez moved to Las Vegas in 2001 to study at UNLV with artist and ceramics professor Mark Burns.

After leaving behind a 2,000-square-foot loft in Kansas City to live in a rundown apartment near UNLV, his first reaction to living in Las Vegas was that he might have made a mistake. “Almost immediately didn’t like it,” he says. He planned to stay in Las Vegas for only three years, much of which he spent frustrated at Las Vegas’ lackadaisical art scene, but decided to quit complaining and become involved. He curated a First Friday art event at the Aruba, started showing his work and got involved in projects. Eight months working at Egads sign company, which creates sculptural displays, signs and themed environments, taught him how to sculpt foam (Styro and urethane) and Fiberglas.

His figurative pop style — cartoonish images, high gloss auto paint, glitter — emerged from a love of figurative work, classical sensibility, high-budget cinema and religious art, including works by Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Rodriguez’ end plan is to create large public sculptures. The concrete Wetlands sculptures include a 6-foot-tall beaver, a 4-foot-tall Woodhouse’s toad and a 45-foot California king snake. “I love big stuff. I love really big stuff.”

He’s married to Theresa and has a 3-year-old daughter and 8-year-old stepson.

Current exhibit: “Australopithecus in Repose,” on display through April 24 at the Fallout Gallery, 1551 S. Commerce St., deals with themes of life, anxiety and society’s ephemeral nature. The installation is designed as a secular space that draws upon visual cues that you would find in a church or any other religious space. Plaster self portraits hanging on the wall mingle with giant, fluorescent clip art images. The architectural walk through ends at a modern interpretation of the Sacred Heart.

On glitter and auto paint: “It comes from looking at early religious and Renaissance art and its otherworldly sense of light.”

Living in Las Vegas: “I have a classic love-hate relationship with Las Vegas. I wish it was more evolved culturally. The Strip is a black hole of creativity. I love the Strip. That’s one of my favorite things about Las Vegas. But it sucks up so much of that creative energy.”

Arts in Las Vegas: “I’m incredibly thankful for the experiences that I’ve had. For what I need to do, there’s a lot of opportunity because of the small size of the art community. I still feel the arts are on shaky ground. The support for the arts is not there. There are a lot of people living in suburban communities who have never been downtown. Without the support we cannot have an arts scene.”

Other interests: A science and politics junkie, he’s been listening to conservative talk radio daily since the early ’90s. “They have yet to convince me of anything. Either I’m incredibly closed minded or they exist in an echo chamber. They don’t really deal with any sort of debate.”

Sticking around? “I don’t know. I’d like to move back to Kansas City. It’s just generally nicer to be close to family. It could be my last year here.”

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