Get on a plane (or easier still check Google Earth) to view Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada’s latest series on landscape art. Spanning several acres, these spectacular pieces of artworks are sadly ephemeral and fade away just like warmth does after an embrace.
You’ve pinned his work, shared it on Facebook and exclaimed in wonder at the sheer scale of it all. From portraits covering the sides of a tall building to landscape art a few acres wide, Cuban American artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada does things king-size. His most recent work ‘Wish’ is an eye-boggling portrait that spreads over 11 acres of dockland in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
With over 30,000 wooden pegs, 2,000 tons of soil, 2,000 tons of sand, grass, string, stones and a lot of hard work, ‘Wish’ is the largest land art portrait in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Created for the 2013 Belfast Festival at Queen’s, (where Rodríguez-Gerada is their first artist-in-residence), this is a stunning portrait of an anonymous little girl.
The scale of Rodríguez-Gerada’s work has always been larger-than-life. From humble beginnings in a Cuban exiled family that moved to the United States when he was three years old, Rodríguez-Gerada became one of the founders of the Culture Jamming movement with the group Artfux when he grew up. Culture jamming is a protest against popular advertising and branding bringing to the fore issues like censorship, dialogue in public spaces and the subtle messages that we absorb through advertising.
Between 1989-1992, Artfux brought culture jamming to New York City where they altered billboards and street signs to reflect messages for social change. Billboards with alcohol and tobacco products were particularly targeted and these gained them notoriety. By 1997, Rodríguez-Gerada had begun to move away from Artfux as the Culture jamming movement was, ironically, increasingly being appropriated by big brands who were using the same methods to promote their own products.
Why the fascination with large-scale? “I am critical of the marketing that has crept into so many facets of our lives. I decided to do work that would counter it by using the same codes used by advertisers such as scale, visibility and eye catching images. I want these new iconic images to be huge and placed in strategic places. The location, the scale and the materials that I decide to use are usually chosen to emphasise what I am trying to state with each project.”
In 2002, Rodríguez-Gerada moved to Barcelona and began his jaw-dropping ‘Identity Series’ of charcoal portraits of anonymous locals sketched on the walls of buildings in the city.
Like most of his work, this series too is transient – the charcoal is not permanent and the portraits will fade over time or be destroyed when the wall comes down. “These time-based portraits gradually deteriorate. They become a metaphor of the fading of life, of fame and of the things we first thought were so important. The creation of the “Identity Series” is also an act that is environmentally sound and at the mercy of the natural world. The pieces fade away just like warmth does after an embrace.”
Rodríguez-Gerada’s process begins with a photograph of his subject. He then creates the drawing on the sides of the building using hydraulic lifts. Drawings take about a week of work but last up to only six months, leaving no trace behind. Since 2002, Rodríguez-Gerada has created portraits for this series in cities all over the world from Barcelona right to Bahrain.
The term ‘Street Art’ is inadequate to describe Rodríguez-Gerada’s work which is really ephemeral beauty that makes the viewer contemplate and reflect on the transitory nature of the work and indeed, our own humanness.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada for the Belfast International Arts Festival at Queen´s