The Subway Series, started in the mid-1950s, invites faculty members—all practicing professionals—to showcase their talents, reach new audiences, and promote SVA with a series of posters designed specifically for the city’s subway system. The resulting work over the decades has been enthusiastic, ingenious and completely varied, and has featured artists Louise Fili, Gail Anderson, Ivan Chermayeff and Milton Glaser, among many others. SVA Executive Vice President Anthony P. Rhodes has served as creative director for the posters since 2007.
Deeply affected and upset by the current political climate and administration, Rodriguez’s passion comes through in his SVA commission, an urgent, brightly-colored call to action but without agenda. “That’s part of why I wanted to do this series of posters—because there’s nothing more important to me than freedom,” he says at the end of the video, below, describing the project. I spoke with Rodriguez further about his own motivations and the resulting work.
The posters are straightforward and striking. Can you talk about some of your visual inspirations or influences for this series?
I like to be direct and to the point with my posters. Over time, I’ve developed a vocabulary of colors and conceptual style that I tapped into for this series. My inspiration comes from many places, from the Cuban poster art I grew up with, to Constructivist posters, to Picasso and Matisse.
How were these designs and the process of making them different than your other work or your usual approach?
The main way in which they are different is that I came up with the writing in conjunction with the visuals. I usually tend to work from a writer’s text or prompt. Coming up with the concept for the campaign—the progression from Waking, to Speaking, to Rising—was something new for me.
The posters are message-driven but also quite broad. What do you hope their impact or effect will be?
I hope people that see the posters question and ponder their meaning, and that the posters will help them start a conversation with friends or other riders. Perhaps people will think about their place in society and become more involved, or encouraged to continue doing so, as a result.
This is related to the previous question but your editorial work is often, to say the least, timely and topical. Have you always been interested in addressing politics as an artist?
Yes, I’ve been interested in addressing politics in my work going back to my years in high school and college. I’ve always been interested in shining a light on an issue that may not get noticed.
What does it mean for you to contribute this very particular SVA, New York City tradition?
This is one of the highlights of my career so far. I came to New York in 1990 as a student. One of the things I vividly remember from that time was seeing the various campaigns that SVA had published throughout the subway system. It was always a wonderful surprise to come across them on a subway ride. It’s an incredible honor to contribute to this project.