|James “SEXER” Rodriguez sprays a wall in the Bronx for the Tag Public Arts Project.|
New York City life has been good to James “SEXER” Rodriguez. The artist, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the South Bronx, began dabbling in cartoons as a youngster, but by the age of ten he was exhibiting his work at Gimbel’s Department Store in Herald Square. With encouragement from his grandfather, SEXER, as he’s called, pursued his dream to become a professional artist at the prestigious High School of Art & Design in Midtown Manhattan.
Since few creative outlets existed at the time for Bronx youth, his foundation in visual arts transitioned to tagging. It was through graffiti that Rodriguez left his mark, using the streets and subways as his canvas in the city’s underground scene.
These days, SEXER stays busy working on the commercial side –– he’s created art for well-known brands like Perrier, Taittinger Champagne, Doubletree by Hilton, Beefeater Gin, and Evyan Perfumes, among others. He also paints in the Bronx with the Tag Public Arts Project, and in Brooklyn with the Bushwick Collective.
|SEXER in front of one of his murals at the Tag Public Arts Project.|
Currently, he’s partnering with MCNY/Bronx Historical Tours “to bring tourists to the Bronx for a first-ever street art experience.” The tours give visitors a chance to see street murals in progress, learn about the history of art within the community, and meet the artists working on site.
In addition to this venture, you can see Rodriguez’s work at The Barcid Gallery, located at the Bronx’s Andrew Freedman Home. He’s preparing for a big solo show in Puerto Rico this month, and working on a few paintings for Art Basel Miami in December.
I caught up with him recently and chatted about his life, his work, and New York City.
|“Monkey Business” and “Beneath the Surface” from The Concrete Jungle Series by SEXER at the Barcid Gallery.|
TK: How did you come up with the name SEXER?
JSR: During high school, one of my friends nicknamed me due to my big appetite for the girls. It stuck, and the rest is history. I began using it as my tag on the subways and streets and it transcended into my artistic name.
TK: What media do you work in?
JSR: When I’m doing street art I’m working with spray paint 98 percent of the time. When I’m doing my canvas work, it’s always spray paint and acrylic.
TK: Do you have a favorite work?
JSR: I am very attached to a painting I did called “No Toys Allowed.” This depicts a childhood memory of mine. Growing up, we were very poor. I can recall at an early age playing in the streets with street objects I would find. One of my favorites was an old empty spray can. The rattle of the metal bearing inside always drew me in. Little did I know it would be something that would change my life.
|“No Toys Allowed” by James SEXER Rodriguez|
This painting, after exhibiting in Art Basel in 2010, was stolen in transit on its way to a collector who purchased it. It is currently under federal postal investigation and there is a reward for its return. It is my all-time favorite.
TK: How long does it take to complete a mural?
JSR: I never rush a mural. Back in the day, doing illegal works we had very little time to produce something. I now take my time. I usually take 2 to 3 days depending on the size. If it’s small, one day. Very big, 4 to 5 days. My canvas work depends, but I love seeing the finished piece so I paint nonstop. I don’t sleep much. I love being in my studio. It’s my haven.
TK: What’s the most positive change you’ve seen happen in the Bronx?
JSR: There is definitely a renaissance occurring right now. Streets are being paved everywhere. Train stations are being overhauled; bus stops are beautiful, new malls are opening up; small businesses are flourishing. Residential buildings are popping up all over. The Bronx will be the next big place to accommodate people. This will help kill that old stigma that the Bronx is not to be visited.
TK: Tell me three things you love most about New York City.
JSR: 1. I love the people. The way we have the best melting pot in the world gives me comfort.
2. I love the environment. The landscape and all night availability of things is great.
3. I love the art scene. You can see anything and everything here.
TK: When you’re not painting, where can we find you?
JSR: Usually when I’m not painting you can find me online catching up on social media or sitting on the beach outside my studio in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. I hear the waves at night and at times go for a walk on the beach to clear my mind or just for a break.
|James SEXER Rodriguez with his painting “Surrender” at Art Basel Miami.|
All images are courtesy of the artist.