Storyteller: Edel Rodriguez

Edel RodriguezEverybody has a story, but Edel Rodriguez’s life is a novel. At the age of 9, he and his family came to America from their native Cuba in the Mariel boatlift. They settled in Hialeah, where his mother was a seamstress and his father worked odd jobs.

 

Today, he is a successful illustrator with multiple Time magazine covers to his credit, as well as a fine artist and a children’s book author.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is known as the American dream.

This spring, as Rodriguez speaks to local students as part of the April Is for Authors series, he also showcases some of his art at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County North Gallery (through April 15).*

His emphasis is on possibilities—art is only one of perhaps thousands. His discussions touch on his art as well as his life, and how the one defined the other.

As he explains it, his own path was set early. “Ever since I was a kid, I was drawing,” he says. “Every year, I would get awards at school for my art, so my parents knew. Their message to me was, ‘Study hard so you don’t have to do the stuff we have to do.’” He followed their advice (and his talents) and ended up at Pratt Institute in New York.

Rodriguez’s work is steeped in the traditions of Cuban art, of the tropically colorful mixed with vivid iconography. It’s art as propaganda, and vice versa. His central message is that combining life and art mandates talent and passion mediated by a sense of balance—as with negotiating the difference between commissioned work and personal expression.

His central message is that combining life and art mandates talent and passion mediated by a sense of balance—as with negotiating the difference between commissioned work and personal expression.“You might write an article and also poems, and you like them both,” he says. “It’s not that one is superior to another. If I’m doing an illustration for a magazine, [it] is published quickly, and I see my work affect people. It’s immediate. But with fine art, it can take decades to have an impact.”

“You might write an article and also poems, and you like them both,” he says. “It’s not that one is superior to another. If I’m doing an illustration for a magazine, [it] is published quickly, and I see my work affect people. It’s immediate. But with fine art, it can take decades to have an impact.”

Whatever his medium, “the immigrant experience has affected everything my life is about,” Rodriguez says. “Where I come from, how I got here…. The best thing being an immigrant did for me was having parents who made sure I knew I was here for a reason. ‘We didn’t leave Cuba behind for nothing,’ they would tell me. ‘You have to take advantage of this country.’ There has to be a purpose to life.”

*Special thanks to the Lake Worth Library for arranging Edel Rodriguez’s visit.

Works by Edel Rodriguez