Rodriguez is a self-taught artist who began painting at the age of 43. His artistic career started at the suggestion of his wife Veronica Prida who gave him a painting kit in 2001. Prida, a prominent Texas fashion designer, probably never expected that her husband would become such an intense devotee of the arts. Rodriguez quickly put aside the beginners’ art kit and bought large canvasses and gallons of paint for his new endeavor. At the time of his inauguration into painting, Rodriguez worked full-time and long hours as a senior health benefit executive and consultant. His expertise in the health field, a reputation for fairness, and a commitment to social justice led him to work with Indian reservations across the country from Alaska to Mississippi. Today he works fewer hours and paints nearly full-time.
Rodriguez is a native of the border town of San Juan, Texas, and grew up in a military family, the son of Chief Master Sargent Carlos Rodriguez and his mother Alicia Rodriguez. The experiences of living in numerous U.S. states and foreign nations gave young Rodriguez unique perspectives compared to those of his classmates. In addition, his life in the borderland region in close proximity to Mexico and the Mexican border towns of Reynosa and Matamoros offered a bicultural awareness.
Once Rodriguez began painting, his imagination led him to an eccentric form of artistic construction. Upon deciding on abstract design, which is largely his inclination, he developed a technique of applying 25 to 40 layers of each color to each canvas. Before the canvas dries, he scrapes the paint with a knife, a key, or a similar metal object to attain his desired colors, shapes, and depth of design. All of his paintings go through this idiosyncratic creative process, although the works vary in the amount of paint application. Rodriguez refers to his painting process as “frenetic random layering and peeling back of color.”
Rodriguez’s colors are influenced by his Mexican American borderland experience, his travels, and his extended stays in Mexico where he and his wife have spent part of each year for the last quarter century. Over the years 2006-2017, Rodriguez and Prida spent time in Huatulco in the coastal region of Oaxaca. The state of Oaxaca can claim some of Mexico’s finest artists, many from Zapotec Indian lineage. In Oaxaca, Rodriguez was surrounded by the brilliant works of Francisco Toledo, Rodolfo Morales, Rufino Tamayo, and Sergio Hernandez. However, if these artists influenced him, it is not evident in his style. Oaxacan artists do love colors, and Rodriguez would fit right in with these creative painters.
In 2018, Rodriguez and his wife bought a home in Valle de Bravo, an hour’s drive from Toluca west of Mexico City. The region of Valle de Bravo, with its majestic Avandaro Lake, was one of the last regions conquered by the Aztecs in the 14th century. In 1530, ten years after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, the Spaniards established a town adjacent to the lake. Living part-time in Valle de Bravo, Rodriguez finds inspiration in the wooded surroundings and the picturesque town with its colonial church and colorful plaza. Prida, who was born in Mexico City, spends her days enjoying nature and visiting Santuario Pierda Herrada, the nearby mountain top which hosts a Monarch butterfly sanctuary.
Omar Rodriguez, “Frenesi.” Photo by Ricardo Romo, May 25, 2023.
In this new UNAM exhibit, Rodriguez shows his ingenuity in creating geometric designs that seem to address a desire for interconnectedness. There are simple designs of squares within squares that suggest simplicity in vision and complexity in thought. The majority of his works are large, although he included several small pieces which he combined as a set. Rodriguez’s years of experimenting with different paints, various layering of textures, and color presentation are dramatic in his new works.
The blending of bright colors is evident in almost all of the works. These new paintings also reflect his persistent exploration of light, space, and movement. One striking painting, which Rodriguez titled “Black and Blue,” was inspired by the tragic murder of George Floyd in 2020. There is an absence of movement in the shadowy imagery in the piece. Rodriguez takes pride in all of his work, but he made a point of showing us the George Floyd painting. He also pointed out one painting that overflowed with the color gold, noting that the golden image has optical illusionary features.
Omar Rodriguez, “Black and Blue.” Photo by Ricardo Romo, May 25, 2023.
The UNAM exhibition hall featuring the work of Omar Rodriguez dates back to the mid-1970s when the City of San Antonio arranged for the UNAM campus relocation to an attractive but unused 1968 Hemisfair building. The UNAM presence in San Antonio represents nearly 80 years. The effort to have “Mas de Mexico” [more of Mexico] in San Antonio originated in the early 1930s with the Romolo and Carolina Munguia family. The Munguias
considered themselves devoted Mexican patriots, and Romolo never applied for American citizenship. After working as a printer with La Prensa newspaper from 1926 to 1932, Romolo Munguia left the Spanish-language newspaper to work with KONO, the first Spanish-language radio station in San Antonio. KONO was also one of the first Spanish-language radio stations in the United States. His wife Carolina became the first Mexican woman to have her own radio show in the United States–and likely in Mexico. Her show, La Estrella, promoted Mexican culture in San Antonio through Mexican music and literature.
Romolo and Carolina Munguia were at the forefront of bringing the UNAM to San Antonio in 1944. Two decades later, Mexico appointed Romolo and Carolina Munguia’s son, Ruben, as Mexico’s honorary consul in the mid-1950s. Ruben Munguia is credited with expanding UNAM’s presence in San Antonio. The UNAM campus has evolved from its singular mission of offering Spanish classes to broader educational and cultural programs. Romolo and Carolina are the grandparents of former HUD Secretary and San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros.
The Omar Rodriguez exhibit is one of many successful endeavors sponsored by UNAM in San Antonio. UNAM Director, Paula de Gortari, should be commended for the beautiful Omar Rodriguez exhibit and for promoting outstanding Mexican art and culture in San Antonio.
Copyright 2023 by Ricardo Romo. All photos by Ricardo Romo.