Mark Rodriguez is a California-based artist whose work spans genres. To me, his sculptural pieces and his paintings are really extensions of one another They're brooding works that are heavy on materials and the material nature of things. However, Mark is far from being just a "material guy." Check out our chat and see what I mean.

MICHAEL: Hey Mark, I've seen some of your paintings and installation work. How do you decide when to do what? Do you just wake up one morning and decide to do an installation piece? What's your process?

MARK: The intellectual course of producing a work of art is always fascinating. I have never had an awakening morning moment. I would say 35 years ago the first actual work of art that I produced set off a response where one composition led to the next and so on. I generally work on several pieces at the same time. Some pieces demand more time than others. For example, I just completed an installation titled "Clavis." It has taken me 25 years to accumulate 250,000 keys (1 ton). So you can see how important it is to work on several pieces at the same time. Referring back to the intellectual course, you never know how long a work of art will take or what new idea you will start in that process of doing. This has always held my attention. I guess I can say that's the fascinating part.

MICHAEL: 250-thousand keys weighing one ton? That's a mighty heavy installation piece. Which makes me wonder ... are you ever concerned about the portability of a piece that's either very large or heavy? Or ... is worrying about such a thing counterproductive to creating your vision?

MARK: Portability is not a concern because the installation breaks down into 100 pound containers for transport. Worrying about scale or weight I agree is counterproductive. Although I'm sure that thought crossed my mind at least once within the last 25 years.

MICHAEL: Earlier you mentioned the first work of art that you produced. What inspired it? Were you aware of yourself as an artist at that time?

MARK: The first actual work of art that set off the succession of artistic development took three years of everyday studio time to distinguish. To answer your question what inspired it? I would say the search and discovery of my own visual language was the intensity behind the piece. Now looking back, I can also say that piece has become the foundation of my career. I'm not so sure if I was aware of being an artist at the time. Even today, I put more stock in doing the art than saying I'm an artist.

MICHAEL: I've never heard an artist say that a single piece was the foundation of their career. What was that piece ... and what do you mean by "foundation" of your career?

MARK: As a young artist, the choice I made to forgo a formal art education and become a self taught artist was no easy task. I immediately recognized that I was traveling through the narrow gate (using that term as a metaphor). Many of my friends traveled through the wide gate adventuring into the art school system. When they visited, their excitement and vocabulary was packed with the current art trends and ideas. I must say it was intriguing and sometimes difficult to take in. My world consisted of a 12 by 20 foot room that I called a studio. It was a storefront building in a dying downtown area. I had a hand full of tools, a sculpture stand and one chair that was often occupied by the local bum and not much material to work with. To say the least, it was an interesting start. I believed at that time and still do that what is within me is commendable. With youth and a good dose of blind faith, I was in pursuit of a career as an artist. After a couple of years of exploring my ideas, I recognized there was a consistent disconnection with my art; no gestalt. I realized I needed help. I met Clement Renzi, an artist whom I admired and asked him to critique my work. That was a day I will never forget. His first words... "I will help you find your foundation." And then he elaborated by saying that with a strong artistic foundation, you can build whatever you wish. It will not fail on you. After a few years of hard critiques with Clement, one late night in the studio I completed a small sculpture that grasped the moment when everything became quite clear. I was able to see, understand and feel the perfect marriage of line, form, emotion and technique. That small sculpture and immense awareness has become a point of reference in every work of art that I have produced and all works prior to that moment have been buried or destroyed.

MICHAEL: Funny you should mention burying or destroying some of your work because I've noticed that your work - what I have seen of it - is quite dark and brooding. It's as if you were in some dark cave for days pouring out your soul and you emerged with your product. Am I being too dramatic?

MARK: I believe art is a visual language that challenges emotions and stimulates a vocabulary of intellect that's capable of transforming a moment into an experience. With that said, I will admit there is a high level of devotion that I have with my work. I see my studio more as a chapel than a cave. They may be the same. I am aware of the narrative of my work having a "dark" quality. I find that interesting because I can't see it or feel it as it being dark. I would say deep or profound is a better description ... perhaps it's parallel with contemporary issues. Personally, I am captivated by the human emotions of our time. It appears with all the greatness in America, there's a growing shadow of depression and hardship beneath it. Perhaps the candor of my palette is appropriate for our current history. As for brooding, I recently finished an installation titled "cruciFiction." It's a non-religious piece consisting of books, forged nails, thousands of pages and millions of words. "cruciFiction" is a 21st century observation of humanity at a digital turning point and solicits the question... Will this moment in history be a blessing or a curse? Art is about asking questions and sometimes it's not easy.

MICHAEL: Another thing I notice about your work is that it's heavy on material. You're really "into" the materiality of things ... or so it seems.

MARK: Yes! I would agree. I'm not exactly sure why my work gravitated to the heavy use of materials. I can speculate on a few possibilities. I will start with my formative years growing up on a farm in California. As a young boy, there was no doubt of the awareness of heavy and hard work. One everlasting imprint was the freshly plowed fields in late fall and early winter. I remember how visually captivated I was when I walking behind the tractor as the plow rolled the soil. It was magical to be the first to see and smell the rich layered colors and the heavy aromatic textures the earth presented. Now that I am giving it some thought, it appears the plow was a gift that allowed me to see the past and the present at the same time ... just like a great work of art. Also, here is another up to date possibility. I detest the idea of becoming part of a "throw away" society. The craftsmanship in my work is very important. I believe art is worthy and should be created to stand the test of time. It is evident in my work that I see something beautiful regarding heavy brush strokes and layered textures. With that in mind, I feel the development of my sculpture and paintings have acquired a timeless sense of soul with the materials. Or it can certainly be my own ambiguous offering. Finally, I should mention the magic of the materials. Sometimes with all that potential, you just don't know how it will start or where it will end.

MICHAEL: Finally Mark, without giving away too much, what's your great art ambition for the future?

MARK: I would say my great art ambition is to get through my current state of being. I know that sounds irrelevant to the question, so I'll explain. Over the years I recognized that the life I live, the observations I make and the events that pass through my life will by some means become the art I produce. By all accounts, I believe that has given me a deep appreciation, trust and the spirit to explore this world as an artist. It taught me to understand life and to hold humanity in respect. But recently, I have found myself perplexed and disheartened by America's hunger and acceptance for violence. I question as many have ... What is this world coming to? Several months ago, there was an unarmed man killed in his home by police. I returned from Paris and found myself completely immersed in this issue. I was shocked by the true facts and the arrogant disregard for his life and how common an unsympathetic this way of thinking has become in our world. That person was my brother. The observations I make and the events that pass through my life will by some means become the art I produce. I would not bestow this insight upon any person.

MICHAEL: I'm sorry for you loss Mark. Perhaps your work can be a tribute to your brother in addition to a reflection of your own experience. We can't control the world, but at least you can do that much. Thanks for chatting. This has been great.

You can see Mark's work for yourself and learn more about it by visiting his website at