For more than 10 years, the name Rodney Wood was synonymous with Colorado Springs arts. The sculptor, painter and jeweler filled most every role: gallery owner, director of the Business of Art Center, teacher, advocate, inspiration to scores of burgeoning artists. He was well-liked and admired for his passion and tenacity.
But in November 2006, he left the shadow of Pikes Peak for the conceptual mecca that is Santa Fe, N.M. At the time, Wood felt frustrated that the Springs' support of the arts was so fragmented, and that its islands of excellent cultural creation never came together. Plus, he was ready to get away from the requests and responsibilities that came from wearing so many hats, and to just spend time making art.
In fact, by the time his last show, Magic Reality, premiered at Rubbish Gallery a month before his move, he had given up all other pursuits except for one.
"Honestly, because everyone pretty much knew me as a sculptor, and they'd seen my photography show, no one had seen my paintings until then," says the 59-year-old Colorado native. "It was kind of a show-and-tell — 'Woo hoo, look what I'm doing now' ... and 'Thanks, people — see ya.'"
In New Mexico, Wood found a completely different environment, one made vibrant with "a lot of good art, a lot of mediocre art, a lot of crap art." Santa Fe lists more than 100 galleries in its gallery association, and the effect the place had on Wood was profound.
"In Colorado Springs, when you say you're an artist, there's this pregnant pause, like, 'Yeah, but what's your real job?'" he says. "In Santa Fe, as soon as you say you're an artist, they immediately ask, 'Where are you showing? Anywhere in town?' [The arts are] just not so odd. It's understood more.
"It's also respected on a different level, and so for me, personally, I needed a little bit of that, just not to feel like I was having to defend myself or defend the arts or promote, promote, promote."
So Wood painted and kept painting, overflowing with ideas he produced in a style he calls "symbolic realism," which "allows [the viewer] to develop an emotive relationship with individual pieces."
For instance, he tells of an oil on canvas called "Amauros," a close-up of a dark-haired woman's face, partially obscured by several thick-stemmed sunflowers. Seeking to add layers of meaning, to deliberately "deepen the mystery," he painted a white film over her eyes, signifying blindness.
As he explains at rodneywood.com: "My work can seem dark and for some, even scary or disturbing. Hopefully my painting requires the viewer to look beyond the surface and see that part of the beauty lies deep within mystery and a complexity that can change over time."
Though he has moved on from Santa Fe to a small mountain resort town in the southern half of New Mexico called Ruidoso ("kind of like a larger version of Estes Park") to help his ailing father, Wood still paints for six to eight hours every day. He's accrued more than 40 pieces that he'll be exhibiting as Symbiosis, by far his largest show to date, over three days at the Modbo and Rubbish.
The latter place still stirs up fond memories from his outgoing show.
"There were certain people [that night] that just got it," Wood says. "They were allowing themselves to explore this emotional thing. It was so rewarding. The things that people wrote in the little bullshitty [guest] book were awesome.
"I don't think any reasonable person could ever expect that to happen again, but I am definitely looking forward to the Modbo-Rubbish thing because if it's half of that, I'll be beside myself."