**i originally posted this post on Sunday but was unable to upload any pictures. I kept getting an “error while uploading” message on all of my pictures. Finally they uploaded this morning*
Artist: Sheila Garrett Rodriguez
Exhibition: Were We Even Here
Media: Mixed Media: Wallpaper, Canvas, Yarn, Window Screen, Wood, Embroidery Floss, Bed Frame, Video Installation.
Gallery: CSULB School of Art, Max L. Gatov Gallery East
This week my experience with artist Sheila Garrett Rodriguez’s exhibit; Were we even here, could be described in as few words as; beautiful, timeless, melancholy and roots. Sheila was seated outside her exhibit with a colorful tablecloth in a bright blue blouse that resembled her art. She is a native of Southern California as well as her family for many generations. Although living in the one state she has the unique fact that she has lived in over 30 locations throughout her life. Sheila is a wife, mother, and is currently in route to receiving a Masters of Fine Arts in Fiber Arts from CSULB. The exhibit Where We Even Here is her thesis show.
Rodriguez’s exhibit took the entire gallery as well as an additional side room for its video projection. The main gallery was spacious and open. When you first walk in, the middle of the gallery holds a wooden antique looking bed frame with woven accents on the bottom panel in dusty rose yarn. The bed frame holds no mattress but its lower extremities and lower half of head board are tinted with a burgundy pigment. The pigment is also on the floor as to trace the frame. The north wall holds a beautiful large canvas of a painting done by Rodriguez. The painting is a black background with the image of a man or woman rear view naked with embroidered flowers sewed on in multiple bright neon colors flowing from the images neck. The person’s head is replaced with that of an old wooden house that has some flower embroidery as well. The person has their arms extended out sided to side and is being held apart by barbed wire. Above the canvas there are old, nail filled, chipped wooden panels. The western wall holds two window screens with its wooden window frame that have beautiful embroidered flowers on the corners extending out through the seams of the window screen. The additional room shows a 30 minute length video being projected onto a screen entitled When I’m Gone. The video shows a pair of hands using a typical cultural “Molcajete” used to crush what looks like dark seeds of some sort. The video often cuts to other clips such as roasting peppers and a tomato, cutting cucumbers, washing dishes, and making scrambled eggs. Although it cuts to these clips, it always returns to the progress of the crushed seeds. The final moments show that the grains have crushed enough to make a red and burgundy pigment, the last image seen is the molcajete going into a small body of water and the pigment turning the clear water into a sea of red. The projector was placed on a small stand that had the molcajete, grains and traditional table cloth as seen in the video. When you walk out of the video room to the south wall you can see a large collection of what seem to pieces of wall pieces on top of each other. There are bare wooden panels with white and pick dry wall on top, with a painting of feet crossed sitting on a chair. The south wall also has a decal of the exhibit tile with a strategically wooden chair placed on the side. The chair is missing its sitting section an is instead replaced with dusty rose colored yarn woven to make a cross section. Finally; the eastern wall holds what I believe to be the most meaning full part. It is a 3 piece window panel with screen that has the beautiful woven embroidered flowers and a picture of a house that is being covered by a large commercial sign that reads “House For Sale”. If you look closely at the house that is being covered; certain parts of the picture are outlined with the same material use to make the flowers seen throughout the exhibit. On both sides of this piece there are white dry wall sections with chicken wire as seen to insulate a house and it has embroidered flowers spread sparingly throughout the wires net.
When I spoke to Sheila she said the exhibit was a direct representation of her. She said she had lived In 30 different homes all around the Southern California area. Each one had a part of her that helped change her into who she is today. The exhibit represented her and her journey to leave a part of her wherever she went. She believed that every space lived in defined you and as she put “why you are the way you are”. Although she did not have a favorite piece of the exhibit she did say that the bed was something special. The bed frame was her grandparents and it had been passed down to her as an heirloom. After not being able to give it away she decided to put it in her exhibit. Sheila spent a lot of time on her exhibit, details can be seen in all the woven embroidery she did on several pieces. She mentioned how when one enters a new house it is just a house and is made a home by the companionship of family and friends. Memories shared and lessons learned are usually the imprints left behind when moving from place to place. Many of what Sheila put in her exhibits are traits that she learned from her grandmother and mother, such as the crotchet, embroidery and certain actions portrayed in her video When I’m Gone. Sheila referred to the flowers she used in her exhibit as a piece of her culture and memories from certain places she lived in. the colors used on these flowers are neon bright usually against a dark background which emphasizes a person’s ability to bring life into a space.
I really enjoyed Where We Even Here by Sheila Garrett Rodriguez. When I first walked into the gallery thee canvas painting of the person who’s head is replaced with a house really stood out to me. Although it had a dark background and used barbed wire as a weapon, it was beautiful because of all the flower embroidery Sheila had added onto the body. She said that the reason for the wire was to signify that once the house was sold; she could no longer return inside. I saw it that way too, but then I remembered that those flowered stemmed from within a person, so where they go; life goes. I think that was her overall theme in her exhibit; how buildings are dark wood, full of nails and wire but, we give it color, we design how light comes in and how pieces of ourselves shine from every corner of our living space. My favorite piece was the 3 window screen panel that had flowers on the corners and there was a “House for Sale” sign covering a picture of a house. My favorite part came in the details. If you look close, the picture being covered also had an embroider outline on the roof and windows. When I saw this it made me think that even though it’s for sale, a tiny bit of that person stays there and brightens it up for the next habitant. I also really enjoyed her video When I’m Gone. It was a simple video but to me it said a lot. When I read the title and watched the video I thought about death. I thought about the simple actions that were being done in the video and how those simple things are what we miss the most when a loved one passes. For example; Sheila recorded a pair of hands roasting some preppers and a tomato, this reminded me of my mom and our tradition of making hundreds of Tamales over the holiday season. Luckily my mom is still here with us but I often think of how time is slipping away and how I need to learn her tamale recipe so that I can pass it on to my children. This video really stuck an emotion with me and I’m grateful that it reminded me to enjoy the time we have with loved ones. Overall I think Where We Even Here was a beautiful exhibit, full of color and life in a sometimes colorless area of life. It made me believe that the human spirit is a strong force that has the ability to make their presence known even in the tiniest embroidered flower.