Pedro Rodriguez sees it often in the art classes he teaches: A child sits down with a paintbrush and the images that flow onto the canvas act as a release of negative emotions and circumstances. With a master's degree in art therapy, it's no wonder Rodriguez sees art as a tool for processing unconscious feelings stored in the brain, or what he calls the monsters in the mind's Pandora's box.
"That's one of the tenets of art therapy that's very obvious when you're working with children," he says. "When you have trauma and you have a monster, and you make a drawing or painting of it, then it's in front of you on paper and you have some control over it. It's not the monster running around in the labyrinth of your mind causing havoc every time somebody pushes a button or something happens to it to bring it out."
For his Piccolo Spoleto exhibition, Opening Pandora's Box, presented by the Charleston Jung Society, Rodriguez will open the Pandora's box of his own mind, displaying a collection of his acrylic paintings that will give viewers a tour through his own hopes, dreams, and personal monsters.
Along with teaching art and Spanish at Charleston County schools for more than 20 years, Rodriguez has been around the art block in the Holy City since the early '90s. His landscapes and city scenes have been included in the Piccolo Spoleto Juried Exhibition, the MOJA Juried Exhibition, and the Artists Who Teach exhibition at the Gibbes Museum of Art. Last year, his painting "Strings" was selected as the art design winner for the North Charleston Arts Festival, appearing on the event's posters and marketing materials.
The paintings in the artist's newest collection feature bright colors and vivid brush strokes bringing several images together in one piece. In one, which Rodriguez says he created while grieving his father's death, several different eyes and facial features can be seen through swirls of bright paint strokes. Others include two different scenes in one painting, or as Rodriguez describes it, a character remembering life's past events.
"I try to combine two different perspectives at the same time," Rodriguez says. "I've always been puzzled by the question, can you have two different objects in the same place at the same time?"
Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Rodriguez says his upbringing and Latin American heritage also inspire his work, coming through in paintings of religious iconography, cityscapes, and music scenes. A musician himself, Rodriguez will perform several Latin American songs during the Piccolo presentation.
"I will be playing some songs during the presentation, connecting them in terms of how I have been able to deal with different crises or different pain through the creative process," he says. "It's the feeling of the painting I'm after. I will talk a little bit about the different songs, some traditional and some that I have written, while explaining the inspiration that came from the painting."
In several works, viewers might catch a glimpse of what Rodriguez calls his anima. He explains that in Jungian psychology, the anima is the unconscious female aspect inside a man. Rodriguez's anima appears in his paintings in the form of a dark-haired woman playing the guitar. Other reoccurring characters include an old man with a flowing white beard.
"I take a canvas and I look at it and I start seeing things," Rodriguez says. "Characters from another dimension ask me to bring them into the canvas so they can take a look at what our reality is like. Sometimes they stay and sometimes they go. And they just show up."
Rodriguez says opening his Pandora's box in this way, letting out the characters, feelings, and crises in his mind, has brought him healing, and he hopes it will do the same for others.
"I am presumptuous enough to consider myself a healer," he says. "I feel that if I can touch with my creativity that aspect in the art of music that causes pain to the viewer, it will bring relief. By seeing that pain is the mother of beauty, it will hopefully bring some kind of resolution to the process of overcoming."
Like in his classroom, Rodriguez plans to lead viewers by example. By displaying the monsters in his own mind, he hopes others will do the same.
"It's kind of like that commercial on TV, 'What's in your wallet?' It's, 'What's in your Pandora's box?' I want to encourage people to look within and then translate that into some kind of creative endeavor."