Reynold Rodriguez doesn’t remember most of his dreams. Yet somehow they find their way into his visual stories through a process the designer describes as “transforming the intangible.”
With an interest in impermanence, Rodriguez believes every work of art refers to a piece of time, memory, emotion, tension, or joy that, like our dreams, we can never get back. Lucky for us, his work is concretized in artisanal pieces that can be experienced through the flick of a light switch to turn on his sculptural lights carved in gypsum and by the cradle of a hand-hewn mahogany seat.
Wielding a degree from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design and enjoying over 20 years of experience designing furniture, Rodriguez has developed the requisite skill to build things “correctly.” Yet, in the last two years, he has moved away from this orthodoxy, instead creating pieces that appear to be made with less exactitude and more rawness. “Embracing the mess with a more profound maturity” is where he is right now, he says.
It’s impossible to talk to Rodriguez about his work without also talking about his home. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he had limited exposure to art and high design. It stirred up a resourcefulness in him, as living on the island meant fewer choices when it came to choosing materials for his work.
When Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico in 2017, there was an abundance of fallen mahogany trees scattered across the island. It wasn’t until after years of recovery that Rodriguez saw this surplus of fallen trees as a compelling medium with which to build furniture. He turned the hardwood into ergonomic chairs and lounges destined to become collectible art that references a personal and political history.
Rodriguez’s pieces are both hot and cold, comforting and isolating. Harsh, gypsum lamps emanate a nostalgic warmth while whimsically shaped chairs appear to have been chipped from volcanic rock.
His work was once described as referencing the art movement of Japanism. This intrigued Rodriguez, as it felt like a stylistic departure from the tropical world his perspective is rooted in. “This showed me that my creative palette is a world of unlimited possibilities where I can draw inspiration from all worlds—real or imaginary,” he says. “This type of eclectic, mystical cleanliness of fluid form with a depth of emotion is in a constantly evolving state.”
Rodriguez says his approach to design is a fusion of “majestic sculpture-ality and practical functionality,” the result of shaking awake the dreams within. Some of his current pieces are titled The Dreamer (the table that dreamt of being light), Cabezon, Under Your Shadow, and SYNJM (Sientate y No Jodas Mas). “Visually and linguistically, I am always looking for the perfect way to describe something,” he says. “Sometimes simple is best.”
Presently based in Santurce, an industrial neighbourhood of San Juan, he creates one-of-a-kind and commissioned pieces available through his studio and select dealers worldwide. Working with the support of his design team, engineers, and specialty wood craftsmen and sculptors, he recognizes the collective effort it takes to produce this calibre of work.
“My whole life, there have always been people around the work that I do,” he says. There hasn’t been a piece of wood that I have lifted by myself.”