Artist Finds New Canvas: Newsprint

By: Mark Fitzgerald

As a graffiti artist and muralist, Bernardino “Nino” Rodriguez makes his art on museum or building walls. But now he’s working on a new type of canvas: USA Today’s weather maps, Wall Street Journal stock tables, and New York Times combat photographs. With color pencils, markers, and ink, Rodriguez will draw his graffiti name, “Tsel,” across a USA Today weather map, creating a piece that looks as if the landscape of the entire nation had been tagged ? which can be seen as sly commentary on what the newspaper itself is doing with its rainbow of temperature shades.

“I like the weather maps ? the more colors, the better,” says Rodriguez, who was born in Mexico. His newspaper works, plus his vibrant paintings of Mexica images on conventional canvas, are on exhibit in “Mexican: A Study of an Entity” at the gallery El Centro Autonomo in Chicago through March 23. Rodriguez exhibits frequently ? he was in 11 shows in 2007 ? and the wide appeal of his art is demonstrated by the odd-bedfellow celebrities who have purchased his work: Edward James Olmos, Alberto Gonzales, and Mel Gibson.

Showing examples to a visitor at his home studio in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, Rodriguez, who gets home delivery of the Sun-Times, says newspapers are “like a capsule for art,” with the date carefully recorded and photographers credited. He’s recently begun drawing on pages taken from a book of front pages of notorious crimes. In one example, a Mexica skull surrounded by a halo of ancient graffiti seems to scream in horror on the March 26, 1990, front page of Newsday reporting the Happy Land Social Club arson that killed 86.

For Rodriguez, 35, art is not yet his day job ? that’s the second shift at O’Hare Airport as a refueling specialist for American Airlines. But a newspaper’s portability serves art even there, he says: “Honestly, 90% of my newspaper art I do at work.”

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