May 8, 2009

A Rich Opera of Light, Shadow, Function and Beauty

An Interview with Designer Enrique Rodriguez
click on any image to enlarge it to original size

When looking for connections to an artist’s beginnings, there is often a very close connection to the world they are working in today. Perhaps it’s a graphic style from a well-known ‘master’ or a form initially brought forward by those that later came to teach or even be created with their own ‘schools’, both literally and figuratively.

In the case of Chilean born designer
Enrique Rodriguez, it might not be as obvious at first glance that his increasingly popular light and other decorative designs in fact find their inspiration from the worlds of opera and theater. It might not be the first thing either that one thinks of as a professional progression from studying architecture and industrial design, as Enrique did at the Catholic University in Santiago. However, it is the combination of his passion for these worlds as well as his artistic interests in working with light and shadow, especially when working in a three-dimensional environment, that has led him to create so many amazing pieces.

Whether or not the viewer also senses the inspirational lightness of ‘The Magic Flute’ (shown here at right) or feels the same passion or devotion in ‘Carmen’ (below left) does not matter. But certainly everyone can appreciate his special gift for combining an almost mystical sense of lighting and his love affair between both illumination and shadow. He is well known not only for the geometric shapes of many of his pieces, but also a talent for using white on white or even combining colored pieces with a strong sense of transparency. His work is often described as being more abstract than figurative, which generates very frequently different interpretations from a growing group of fans the world over.

Ziggy Nixon first caught up with Enrique’s agent, Ute Hübler, in order to contact him. We had met Ute several months ago in Paris when she was still working then for the group
espírito brasilis and since that time we had kept in touch with each other including about the artists she works with (and of course the ZN blog!). She provided some insight of her own before kindly coordinating the question and answer session with the artist himself:

Dear Ziggy,
Thank you again for inquiring about Enrique’s work. Concerning some of our previous conversations: please not that since last year Enrique is not focusing so much on pure ‘objects’ as before. Instead, he is much more involved in offering artistic concepts that are later used in clinics, hospitals (see several examples from his work for Hospital São Luiz here), hotels and also private residences.

Enrique’s style of working is that he studies the architecture of the area – be it a hallway or waiting room or private section – and also the materials being used. He then adapts the forms of his pieces and creates tailor- or custom-made works of art. Through his education and years of experience, he is able through his approach to perfectly adapt the works to fit the designed spaces in measurement, size, color and designs.

His work and the process he uses is very much about meeting the customers’ needs. As such, we’re really only working with architect’s now and often other involved designers or artists, too. That’s where I come in, in that I’m working as well as kind of an art dealer in order to present Enrique’s work to these clients in a first phase and really help along the process of finding an ideal solution for their project.


The following input is therefore the direct input from Enrique, who graciously took time out of his busy schedule to answer several questions:

Enrique, thank you so much for your time. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, for example, where were you born, how did you come to naturalization as a Spanish citizen, why did you eventually move to Brazil, etc.?
I was born in Chile. But my father was a Spanish citizen, so I have always also had Spanish nationality.

After my studies in Santiago, I came to Brazil in 1992. This was because I felt there were many more opportunities in my area here.

Why did you choose to study Architecture and Interior Design?
I’ve always liked a "macro approach" to the world of objects, especially in terms of space and being able to work in three dimensions.

How did you start designing scenes for opera and theater, and also events?
I began doing work as an opera scenic designer and also for events when I arrived in Brazil. I really found of both the theatrical and musical direction to be very inspiring. This time of my career still influences my work today in a very intense way.

It was indeed my passion for the world of opera that led me to create a visual language and an artistic technique through which I could re-create the traditional opera universe.

Do you also have a passion for music or the theater beyond just working on the lighting and set design?
I have always had a secret desire to sing that is certainly hidden somewhere in me. That is why I have chosen the opera as an inspiration. For me, opera is the art form where the human voice can reaches immeasurable and limitless dimensions.

What did you learn from your education that most helped you with your designs for the opera?
The Catholic University in Santiago had a very Renaissance approach to teaching. This very global vision of art, history, architecture and urbanism as well played a fundamental role in my development and what I think of as my ‘artistic purpose’ which is currently present in my work.

So much of your work involves designing with light or around light. Can you explain a bit more about your passion for working with light?
I think that the presence of light ever since the beginning of my career is directly related to the magic of black box theater or what is often called ‘experimental theater’. There is a very good definition for this on Wikipedia, where it is also mentioned that the sets are typically very basic but allowing for a lot of work and even influence by the lighting.

And my work with light combines with other parts including sound and movement. Again, this all comes from my love for the theater in all of it’s magnificent artistic manifestations.

What are some of the biggest influences on your work outside of opera or the theater?
I’ve always been in love with Art-Noveaux, as well as the Bauhaus approach and all the modern constructivist movements.

In terms of artists, I admire
Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Antonio Gaudi. I also get inspiration when I travel, including to cities like Berlin and Hamburg which are very inspiring to me.

When you are designing, for example, a piece with a complicated geometric pattern, have you already drawn the sketch on paper first?
No. I never draw a sketch first. I have always a concrete design in mind and as I am of course very familiar with my process, this enables me to create directly as I am making a piece.

Is there a different approach when designing a piece where light actually comes through the form vs. a piece where the light is separate?
Yes! There is surely a very different approach, so much so that lately I have only designed pieces which are defined by the light itself. Again, so much of my work now focuses on solving a client’s specific project needs.

When you are designing a single piece vs. for example a set of pieces for a hospital or even a special room, is there a difference how you approach the overall design process?
When I work on a more ‘corporate’ project, I create an artistic concept. And it is this concept which then is the basis of all the production we do on the project.

Still, even when I work on my own collection, I also develop an artistic concept first that leads my way. I am extremely rigorous, absolutely disciplined in this way.

What is your attraction to working geometric patterns vs. for example a scene from an opera or even with the nature of Brazil?
I have what I would call three main ‘inspiration patterns’. These include opera, architecture and nature. These are elements of course that have so much to do with my personal experiences.

Just look at my life today: I live in this colourful tropical country, I am in contact all the time with big cities (I live in one and travel constantly) and then of course there is my passion for opera. I am forever looking and being inspired by these worlds.

I also see influences of Asia in your pieces. Is that something that you also see and if yes, why?
I have always been fascinated by Japanese design. And when I say Japanese ‘design’, this for me is very much present in their culture, meaning the way they live, eat, etc. From this, I really found that taking translating these aspects to my work was a natural step.

What are your pieces typically made with? Is there a material you most like to work with?
The basis of my pieces is paper in all it’s forms, textures, qualities, colours, and more.

In fact, as I think art on paper is often seen throughout the world as something of let’s say ‘less importance’, I make a point in giving the paper and my pieces made through paper a status of ‘true’ art throughout my work.

As such, I think that I would define my work as a sophisticated paper architecture which only uses acrylic and glass as a support.

How about a material you have not yet worked with that you would like to try?
I have been doing research on pure metals, such as copper.

Do you see your work getting more and more international exposure now?
Well, in fact, our focus is really on Brazil right now. The international experiences we have had recently have really shown us that we first needed a consolidated base here before we can venture more outside of this region.

But once our work is consolidated here, reaching other big centers like London, Paris, New York and Tokyo is definitely my aim.

How about your web-site? Is that starting soon?
Our web-site is being re-designed because we have had lots of changes lately.

Still, our blog is up and running and shows quite a lot of our work! Please visit us!

In conclusion, I would just like to repeat the invitation to Enrique’s web-site, it is really well-worth the time. Still, as my friend Ute Hübler pointed out in one of our exchanges:
‘When you see (Enrique’s) work on a picture, sure it impresses you. But if you get the opportunity to see it up close and personal, you immediately feel the impact and I think you will be profoundly moved.’

And also, because in large part I don’t think it’s been done anywhere to-date, Ziggy Nixon is pleased to bring you the following run-down of exhibitions and awards from this very talented artist’s career. Até breve!

2006 / May / Ritz (São Paulo)
2006 / April / Light + Building (Frankfurt)
2006 / March / Paralela Gift (São Paulo)
2005 / December / Zona D (São Paulo)
2005 / December / Interdesign (São Paulo)
2005 / November / Ritz (São Paulo)
2005 / June / São Paulo Fashion Week (São Paulo)
2005 / May / CasaCor (São Paulo)
2005 / April / Embraer Evento Ebace (Genebra)
2005 / March / Embraer Evento Labace (São Paulo)
2004 / October / Embraer Evento Nbaa (Las Vegas)
2004 / September / Crate & Barrel (New York)
2004 / August / Puntoluce (São Paulo)
2003 / March / Arango (São Paulo)
2002 / July / Casacor (São Paulo)
2002 / June / House Garden (São Paulo)
2001 / November / Zona D (São Paulo)
1999 / March / Teatro Municipal Santo André (São Paulo)
1998 / September / Espaço Unibanco de Cinema (São Paulo)
1998 / September / Espaço Unibanco de Cinema (Rio de Janeiro)
1998 / July / Fnac (São Paulo)
1998 / March / Associação Brasileira A Hebraica (São Paulo)
1997 / February / Centro Cultural SP (São Paulo)
1996 / August / XVI Bienal Internacional do Livro (São Paulo)

2006 / September / Maison et Objet (Paris)
2006 / September / Macef (Milan)
2004 / August / Indac (São Paulo)
2004 / March / Art Image Gift Fair (São Paulo)
2003 / August / Art Image Gift Fair (São Paulo)
2003 / August / Art Home Abup (São Paulo)
2000 / October / Galeria Mônica Filgueiras (São Paulo)
1997 / October / III Bienal Internacional de Arquitetura (São Paulo)

1997 / April / Prêmio Secretaria Municipal de Cultura (São Paulo)
1996 / October / Prêmio Estímulo Secretaria de Estado da Cultura (São Paulo)

All pieces and pictures used in this article by kind permission of the artist and may not be used or otherwise reproduced without permission. For more information, please visit Enrique's blog and contact Ute Hübler for further information.

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