#81: Rodney Wood
In this world, there are makers and there are doers. Rodney Wood is both, maybe a little more. As a recognizable face of the new, arts-rich Trinidad, the native Coloradan currently serves as the grand poobah of what could be the southern Colorado town’s most distinguishing features: The annual ArtoCade art-car festival, and as of 2017, its year-round companion, the Bizarre Car Garage, a permanent museum where ArtoCade vehicles winter over. And he’s a painter, a maker, an art curator and, at one time, even a pentathlon coach. Learn about the rest of the iceberg that is Rodney Wood (and everything you ever wanted to know about Trinidad’s artsy renaissance) by reading his answers to the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Rodney Wood: My inspiration arrives from a variety of sources: My lifelong dream world has been a sort of personal nightly film festival. These dreams have often offered me visual stories, ideas and curious imagery.
In the real world, I often seek out inspiration by simply putting myself in uncommon environments. I love odd museums, roadside attractions, abandoned architecture and places that I have never seen.
A significant part of my idea quest is seeking out extraordinary people. One example is my long fascination with outsider/naive/visionary artists. I have traveled all over the country looking for the artwork of such artists, as well as the artists themselves. These unpretentious, authentic and gifted souls keep my belief in the value of artistic expression alive and well.
I often use live models as part of the process for my magic-realism paintings. That said, I almost never use professional models. I much prefer people/models who have never posed before; it feels more free-flowing and natural. The result is more realistic reactions and poses for the photo sessions. Because the models are inexperienced, they tend to be a bit nervous, shy and out of their comfort zone. That makes their emotions more genuine and open to experimentation. In reality, I do not use models; I use muses. Working with these people in that free-flowing setup allows me to be inspired in unexpected ways rather than being plugged into preconceived poses and ideas. I feed off of the muses’ thoughts and feelings. Using muses instead of models is a bit like two or more musicians jamming and working off of each other. Note: I am very selective. A few years ago, I did a series of paintings with angels as the general topic. It took me close to two years to find the models/muses who were a right fit for my vision.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Hmmmm... It’s a real dilemma to narrow the guest list down to just three: I’ll go with Marcel Duchamp, Tom Robbins and Laurie Anderson. Why? Being in the presence of these creative geniuses would be reward enough, but the conversation between them would surely be one of life-changing magnitude. Each of these people questioned the paradigms within their field in a manner that impacted not only the art world, but the culture in which we live. These visionaries not only challenge the rules, they earned the right to reinvent the rules. Talk about muses — this dinner party would be a virtual avalanche of inspiration.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
Trinidad is a very small town in the early stages of attracting more artists — both in quality and quantity. I have a few local artist friends, but honestly, only one that creates work of a similar ilk and vision to my own. I crave conversation and collaboration. I also enjoy art and artists that challenge me.
Given that a significant portion of my current art life is focused on art cars as a result of my commitment to the ArtoCade festival and Bizarre Car Garage, much of my interaction with the arts community is dynamic and wildly imaginative. This is an art form fraught with creative people of all skill levels. It also is one that attracts art-car artists from near and far. The art-car world is very connected and has led me to meaningful relationships with artists around the U.S. Many of them come to Trinidad for ArtoCade, and I meet more along my travels to other art-car events. While not really local, the art-car nation is very connected.
Living in a such a small town does present limitations for me, as I am an artist who craves variety and uniqueness. The local art shows are a bit redundant, traditional and predictable. To be blunt, there are very few young artists in the area. I long for the experimental attitude and creative energy of young artists.
How about globally?
Now, globally is a whole other palette of worms. I am relatively disheartened by the art world. With complete awareness that I am generalizing here, because so much art is market-driven or technology-heavy, I am seldom in awe of it. You know the feeling you get when you’re in the presence of art — be it hanging on a wall, music, performance, theater, dance or the written word? I am rarely blown away that way these days. Perhaps that is due to my limited ability to get out of Dodge.
On one hand, there is art for which success is based upon the exchange of money; on the other hand, there’s art based on the so-called academic/institutional ideals of importance. If a work of art is dominated by either, its monetary value and/or some elusive assessment based on academic/institutional principles, it is often lacking in depth, personality and truth.
It is not an accident that I am personally and artistically influenced by both high-minded Marcel Duchamp and outsider artist Tom Every. They both inspire, baffle and impress me. Rarely do I see art being promoted by the art world that truly affects my eyes, heart and mind. My self-aware art-snob side often feels that the work being celebrated globally “just ain’t got no soul.”
Obviously, there are exceptions to all my rantings here, but in general, I am jaded and unimpressed by the art of our times. I must emphasize that there are exceptions to these gross generalizations, and that makes those moments all the more impactful and appreciated — thus my obsession with the work of outsider/visionary artists.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
Trends are often just that: trends that pass as soon as the market tires of them. Most trends by definition are pretty safe, and even if they start off with a tinge of uniqueness, they quickly become boring and common, as hordes of artists and viewers jump onto the bandwagon.
One trend that is seemingly inescapable is how much art’s main function seems to be to decorate one’s home or office. That trend is oft-based upon interior design and architectural trends. A trend based on a trend? Kill menow. That leads to “safe eye-candy art” that lacks emotion, curiosity or mystery. It is dominated by so-called art that appeals to the widest demographic of potential buyers. Do trends lead to follow?
The art acknowledged and honored in institutional environments seems to be focused on past history or whatever is being perceived as being so-called new, edgy or avant-garde. That ideal is seldom the case, as so much of this work is a repackaged rehashing of the past.
One current trend that I do love is art that is being promoted as experiential and hands-on. The Maker Faire and Maker Space concepts are a wonderful development. They promote the value of making art and educate people to the reality that making art is possible. By participating in the making of art, people also learn to appreciate the expertise of fine artists and craftsmen. They come to have an awareness of what artists face as part of their pursuit of artistic expression. They learn that art requires skill, practice, devotion and vision. When one engages in the making of art, one can be made aware of the specialness of people who choose to commit to the artist path as a lifestyle.
Another wonderful example of a paradigm-shifting art form is being presented by Meow Wolf in Santa Fe. Attendees experience art in a very unique way. It is entertaining, fun and even inspiring. Not sure if this is a trend, but I hope that more artists and arts organizations are inspired to follow Meow Wolf’s lead by facilitating art experiences.
(NOTE: Speaking of trends, the use of the word “creatives” is so annoying. What does it mean? Many of the most creative people I know share my disdain for this oddly obtuse verbal categorization. The word “artist” is impossible to define, and the addition of the word “creative” muddies that already confusing discussion. It seems to be used to add more inclusivity, so that more people can call themselves artists/creatives. Reminds me of something that Portlandia would satirize with great irreverence.)
[Reporter’s note: Westword will still be using the term “creatives” in this series.]
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
Yes, it has been quite the journey. My non-linear life has been fulfilling, entertaining and anything but boring, but there remains much to do and see. My bucket list is dominated by my desire to travel the world. I want to see and experience other places and cultures. I want to walk in the paths of history. I would love to visit castles in various parts of Europe, particularly Ireland, Germany, Spain and Eastern Europe.
One of my long established dreams is to see the art that has touched and inspired me via books or the Internet. I want to stand before these treasures and breathe the air and see the light in which they reside. In addition to museums, I want to visit backstreets in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona and other cities. I long to sit outside of street cafes in small country villages and watch that world go by for hours and days on end.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?
Having curated numerous art exhibitions that were wonderfully unique and successful, my favorite accomplishment is selfishly an exhibit of my own work. Shown in collaboration with SPQR and ModBo galleries in Colorado Springs, an exhibition called Galerie Vivante would be my favorite. The special circumstance was that it did not open in a gallery. The debut/opening reception took place on a theater stage. The audience not only saw my paintings, but also met some of my models/muses and learned a bit about my inspiration process.
The pieces were blown up to movie-screen scale before the actual paintings were brought on stage. There was musical accompaniment in the form of opera arias inspired by the paintings, as well as violin performances dedicated to specific pieces. One of my muses performed a belly dance, and another read her poems. The attendees heard about my travels and how those journeys inspired my imagery.
The attendees were also shown some of the photos that I used for references in the creation of specific paintings. It was a magical and unique environment in which the viewers were given a behind-the-scenes peek into my idea-seeking process. Galerie Vivante was unexpectedly intimate in that the audience became part of the process, as questions and dialogue were encouraged.
Given that this manner of presentation all but erased the social aspect of most art-opening receptions, we focused on the art for ninety minutes. After each performance, the audience was invited backstage to see the paintings up close. That all melded into an extraordinary experience that felt special and inclusive. One barometer of success was that the show sold out two performances, with about 300 total attendees.
One source of pride for me is not about my art, but rather an art event that I facilitate as the director and event organizer. The annual ArtoCade art-car festival held in Trinidad continues to be a truly remarkable and ongoing experience. This September’s will be the fifth event.
ArtoCade has succeeded far beyond all expectations and hopes. It has become the one of the largest art-car events in the nation. ArtoCade is second only to the Houston Art Car Parade, which just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. This year we will have 100-plus entries. We also received the 2015 Governors Award for Downtown Excellence: Best Festival.
These realities and acknowledgements are fantastic for our little town and achieve our 501c3’s goal of being a signature event. We are proud of achieving our goal of attracting visitors to Trinidad. However, for me, one of the best aspects of this project is how it is a wildly creative festival/parade that is, by nature, inclusive. ArtoCade has vehicles created by kids, quilters, convicts and Christians.
Even more wonderful is that the barometer of success has nothing to do with sales of art. It’s all about being creative and sharing with as many people as possible. I love that! And if that’s not enough, in July we opened the Bizarre Car Garage — an art-car museum. Now we can spread the art-car spirit year-round and expand the impact of our mission to bring even more tourists to Trinidad. Of all my many art endeavors, these have touched more lives, and for that I am very proud.
Trinidad, love it or leave it? What keeps you there — or makes you want to leave?
Having moved to Trinidad seven years ago, it has been wonderful to watch it change and evolve. Being an artist and event promoter in this town is an adventure. There have been noteworthy artists who called Trinidad home. Other artists have lived here for years, but it does feel a bit like being an art pioneer to me. Trinidad is just now on the cusp of happening, with a strong focus on the arts.
My work and the art I have shown in my gallery is of a different ilk than what has been typically seen within local art venues. New people are flocking to town, and many of those people are artists and art-lovers with an expanding range of cultural interests. My partner, Susan Palmer, and I came here with few expectations for Trinidad’s growth. All of this new energy is exciting and offers great potential for the future. The next few years will be interesting as Trinidad reinvents itself.
Through the efforts of various local, regional and national organizations, the Space to Create project will bring a tangible benefit to the town and region. It will offer live/work spaces and shared spaces with an emphasis on the arts. It will also bring many artists and their families to Trinidad. I relish the fact that many new people will be added to the arts community. The doors are open, and many people are bringing new ideas and fresh energy to town.
But as Trinidad grows into being a new hot spot, we may well move on. In part, we moved here to get away from it all. We liked the mini-urban feel of Trinidad. We enjoyed its sleepiness and simplicity. The fact that it has now become trendy might be what makes us seek new horizons. The good news is that it’s beginning to look like our purchase of an old building on Main Street may well pay off as an unexpected real estate investment. Time will tell.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I really don’t think I can answer this one, in part due to the fact that the ArtoCade festival has consumed most of my time for last six years, so I have been out of the Colorado art loop. I rarely get to attend art openings and exhibitions, not to mention museums. That said, it would be hard to narrow my favorites down to just a few Colorado artists. If pressed, I would mention Sean O’Meallie, Jean Gumpper and Randall Barbera.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
My main goals are to work toward long-term sustainability for ArtoCade and the Bizarre Car Garage. It is imperative that this 501(c)(3) organization thrives far beyond my reign as director.
I also hope to spend much more time on a new series of paintings that I am currently calling "Memento Vivre," which explores the manner in which people honor/acknowledge/remember friends and family who have “shuffled off this mortal coil” (sic William Shakespeare). The inspiration is coming from pre- and post-mortem photography, along with rites and rituals of various cultures around the world, past and present. This will be an extensive body of work that I hope to exhibit in non-traditional spaces. I’ll create the work first and seek out places and spaces to show it later.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
In my opinion, Hans Droog, a new artist to Trinidad, is a hidden local treasure. He is an extraordinarily gifted painter, sculptor and engineer. Hans is great example of how Trinidad is attracting high-quality and noted artists to the region. Hans and his partner, Julie, moved here from St. Louis after an extensive new-home search throughout the West. Hans is Dutch, and his work is wondrously diverse. He is adept in a wide range of media. His craftsmanship and technical skill know few peers. Even more impressive are his compelling imagery and vision. Add to that Hans Droog being in Trinidad and the soon-to-begin Space to Create project, which will garner much attention.
ArtoCade revs up in Trinidad on September 8 and 9. High points include the ArtoCade parade through downtown Trinidad, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, September 9, and the CarDango 2017 Dance Party Circus, which follows from 6:30 p.m. to midnight at the Bizarre Car Garage. Most events are free, but party tickets are $15 in advance online or $20 at the door. For a complete schedule, visit the ArtoCade website. Learn more about Rodney Wood online.