Between Nature and Urban Decay: 8 Questions with Miami Artist Cristina Lei Rodriguez

Cristina Lei Rodriguez

Just one look at artist Cristina Lei Rodriguez’s abstract sculptures and you won’t question where the artist finds her muse. Born to Cuban and Hawaiian parents living in Miami, Lei Rodriguez’s vibrant, jewel-hued sculptures riff on earthly forms, but the artist prefers to question their rawness by crafting them out of artificial materials. The work is a metaphor for the city she works in – and it’s not lost on anyone that’s spent some time in Florida’s deep south.

A force of nature in her own right, Lei Rodriguez has steadily gained the art world’s attention through various exhibitions at high-profile galleries like Deitch Projects and Serpentine Gallery. During this weekend’s Art Basel chaos, Lei Rodriguez will be keeping plenty busy, with a solo show at the Sotheby’s Penthouse at the 1 Hotel & Homes, an appearance as one of 100 celebrated female artists in the Rubell Family Collection’s NO MAN’S LAND, an installation at Wynwood’s Kit & Ace, and a spot in a South Florida artists survey, 100+ Degrees in the Shade. Remezcla sat down with the artist to talk about her process, the challenges she faces as a female Latin American artist, and why she calls Miami home even after the Basel crowds fade away.

What’s your artistic process like?
I usually build the project like a scientist: I set out an idea that I have, a hypothesis or a question. For example a lot of the work I have now is inspired by rocks or the way rocks form. I ask myself, ‘Can I recreate this rare raw material, how can I remake this?’

Photo via Cristina Lei Rodriguez
Read more

Do you find it challenging being a Latina artist?
Being Latin American in Miami is a different perspective [than the rest of the US] – I wasn’t in the minority in Miami. But I think I really felt challenged as a Latina artist when I was coming out of grad school, I felt like I had to work harder to find my own path. People want to put a label on your work about where they feel like you’re from and what its about, and I felt like I needed to work harder not to get sucked up in someone else’s agenda. Now I feel like people know what my work is about, I don’t think about it as much necessarily.

Does it become even more difficult to set yourself apart as a woman?
There’s so many women in the art world, but then whenever you step back and look at specifics it’s really startling, and when you see what their work sells for its really startling. I feel like there’s a lot of younger women that I see locally that are really getting it together and making things happen on their own. It seems like there’s this focus on women in Miami, they’re trying to be self-sufficient and be producers of their own work. So hopefully the future will bring a change.

Photo via Cristina Lei Rodriguez
Read more

Why do you choose to maintain your art practice here in Miami? How has Art Basel helped shaped Miami’s arts community?
I’m really invested in being part of the arts scene here, and the role that culture has played, so I think that will always keep me here. People who have been here for a long time, now is when were finally getting it together, now is the moment to be focused and celebrating. Things are getting defined now.

My work exists in a gray area between what is natural and artificial, [like] Miami.

What about the city inspires you to stay?
Even when I left Miami to go to school I feel like the city was always a force of inspiration, it influences the way I think. In a very basic way my work, even though it changes into different forms, it exists in a gray area between what is natural and artificial, and Miami has always really been that to me. Nature here can be so aggressive and so strong, the natural environment here is really alive, but its also really about the city being constructed and so much of it is an illusion, you think about what our city desires, whether its new or flashy, it has the promise of being part of a hapless commercial society.

Who are some of the artists that have influenced your practice?
In school I saw a show called Ultra Baroque at the SF MOMA, which was trying to define new aesthetics in Latin American art. Just thinking about this show and identity, I thought, ‘This is really cool, look at all these possibilities.’ Especially in terms of how these artists were using found objects, they were really inspiring to me at that time.

Photo via Cristina Lei Rodriguez
Read more

How have you grown as an artist over the years?
I think right now I have a more mental clarity. If I was doing a wide range of experimentation before, I feel like I’ve honed it in and it’s a little tighter. I feel like a lot of the things that have been interesting to me that have popped in and out of my work are how people interact with sculptures, how can that become part of the work, how it becomes present in different ways. I have more ownership over my work now.

How has that clarity influenced the work you’re doing now and will continue to do?
Artists are so focused on the next idea or next project, but no one else can see what you’re imagining. It’s really hard to see what someone has in their mind, so its great to have this body of work that shows where I’m going. It allows me to better control what I want to do. Now when I look at next year, I don’t look so much about what’s on my calendar as much as I look towards growing my practice.