Visual artist Juan Alonso-Rodríguez finds source of creativity in pandemic chaos

by Beverly Aarons

What happens when physical distancing, gallery closures and loneliness leave an artist alone in his studio for weeks during one of the world’s scariest pandemics? In the case of a visual artist Juan Alonso-Rodriguez you get introspection, reflection, wisdom born of deep life experience, and a whole new, colorful and lively body of work. If you weren’t watching the news and somehow ended up in ‘jail’ on social media, looking out the door of his studio, you wouldn’t know there was a pandemic. . You would find a solitary man intensely focused on his craft – preparing canvases, applying paint and contemplating the work at hand. You’ll also find the tools of a visual artist’s craft filling tables and shelves, finished works artfully hung on the walls, and the buzz of Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood just beyond the windows. When I spoke with Juan about his experience during this COVID-19 crisis, he was calm and even optimistic as he mentioned that he was more focused on creativity and not just anxiety and fear.

“I think when I realized, ‘Okay, we’re going to be quarantined,’ we’re not going to socialize. I can’t go out and meet people for happy hour. I can’t go at the park. I can’t do all these things that I normally would,” Juan said. “So at that point I decided, ‘well, I think the best thing I can do is treat it like I had this opportunity to work and not think about anything else.”

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez works on new projects in his studio. (Photo: Beverly Aarons)

And that’s exactly what Juan has done to the tune of 10 full acrylic paintings since March 16. His current work builds on one of the themes he explored in practice – skylines, specifically the skylines that Juan looked at when he was a boy. in Cuba spend hours on the beach facing the ocean. Vibrant blues, purples and reds fill the canvas, feel silky to the touch and pop against the white walls. But this work is not just about building on what he has done in the past, this new work is about what he needs to express right now.

“I usually have multiple sets of work going on at the same time, which usually confuses people because they want me to stick to one thing and I’m not a good follower of the rules,” said John. “So I like to do what feels right to me at the time. I feel like if you want to be a creative person, you should be doing something that you’re passionate about every minute of it. And when I’m creating, I want to be totally excited about what I create.

Juan Alonso-Rodríguez preparing paintings. (Photo: Beverly Aarons)

It’s an excitement that comes through in the sound of his voice and the intensity of his concentration as he prepares his canvases. But what’s most impressive about Juan Alonso and his prolific output during this pandemic is that he hasn’t gotten caught up in the chaos of the moment. How is it? How does he manage to remain so prolific even when he’s going through such a stressful time? The truth is that he had many moments that prepared him for today – the death of his mother when he was five years old, the separation from his father when Juan immigrated to the United States, and the witnessing the emergence of AIDS and the tragic number of lives it has taken.

“I lived in San Francisco from 1979 to 1981. And as I was about to leave San Francisco with my partner at the time, there were these rumors that there was this ‘gay plague,’ it is what they called it. There were all these gay men I knew who were getting sick and nobody knew what it was,” Juan said. “There were people who were dying so fast. And then of course when those tests came I got tested right away but it was always this thing where I was like, which of my friends is going to get sick next? And how long are they going to live? And how could I prevent myself from getting this disease? And how can I make sure that I’m not the next to die? And it was very scary because you feel like you’re dealing with this invisible enemy, kinda like we are now. But I think that might be one of the reasons why I’m not freaking out so much, because I’ve been through this before and managed to get through it.

Beverly Aarons is a writer and game developer. She works in all disciplines as an editor, journalist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter and short story writer. She explores futuristic worlds in fiction but also likes to discover the stories of unsung heroes of modern times. She is currently working on a series of non-fiction stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their local communities and around the world. In August 2018, she produced a live-action game and event where community members worked together to envision an economic future they really wanted to leave for future generations. She is currently writing an immersive piece on migration themes.

Featured Image: Juan Alonso-Rodríguez poses with his paintings. (Photo: Beverly Aarons)

Additional Images: Juan Alonso-Rodriguez working in his Pioneer Square studio during the pandemic in April 2020. He prepares his canvases and creates new works. He travels alone to his studio every day from Capitol Hill and works alone. He has created 10 new works since the stay-at-home orders were put in place by Governor Inslee. (Pictures: Beverly Aarons)

Briana R. Cross