Visual artist Devon Rodriguez has always been a people watcher. Ever since he was a teenager riding the subway in the South Bronx, Rodriguez was intrigued by people’s faces.
“People were always so compelling to me,” Rodriguez, 27, told Remezcla during a recent interview. “I like to watch them and understand them and their culture.”
As the years went by, the subway became more than just a place to observe people. It’s where Rodriguez could express himself through drawing and painting. The subway offered him an unlimited selection of unique people he could use as models.
In 2020, Rodriguez, who is Puerto Rican and Honduran, began recording his artistic process and posting it on social media. Before he knew it, his videos went viral and his online following exploded. In the last three years, Rodriguez has amassed 32.6 million followers on TikTok and another 23 million followers and subscribers on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. Today, he is considered the most followed visual artist in the world.
“Back in the day, portraiture art was only reserved for kings and queens and royalty,” Rodriguez said. “So, I thought, ‘Why not draw everyday people in my community?’”
Rodriguez never believed social media would allow him to do what he loves for a living. He’s always wanted more people to see him put pencil and paint to paper. “It was everything I ever dreamed my whole life,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve always wanted to be a big artist. I would have never imagined I would get millions of views.”
Rodriguez’s talent has also afforded him other opportunities. Film studios hire him to sketch celebrities at red-carpet events. He’s presented his work to stars like Matt Damon, Dwayne Johnson, Robert DeNiro and Anitta, among others.
He even got the chance to meet and sketch U.S. President Joe Biden, who floated the idea that he might give Rodriguez a call when it’s time for him to decide on the artist he’d like to paint his official presidential portrait.
“That would be incredible on so many levels,” Rodriguez said. “It’s the ultimate achievement for a portrait painter because when it goes into the White House, it’s there forever and you solidify your name in history. As a Latino and as an artist, it would be an honor.”
Other companies collaborate with Rodriguez on different projects. For example, Total by Verizon recently partnered with him to create portraits for NYC commuters and distribute 15,000 prepaid MetroCards to them because of a 15-cent subway fare increase. The partnership with Total by Verizon was a campaign Rodriguez said was close to his heart.
“I grew up in poverty in the Bronx, and every time the MetroCards went up, it was always a big deal for my family,” he said. “So, I understand first-hand how these things affect New Yorkers.”
Devon Rodriguez and his popularity also led him to his first art exhibition at the pop-up gallery in the UTA Artist Space in Chelsea. “I’ve gotten to do so many different things that I never thought I would,” he said. “It’s been a whole crazy journey.”