José Tonito Rodríguez
I use blank photographic paper and color inks that I apply with water in a process similar to watercolors. This paper is waterproof and register the movement of the water faster than any other kind of paper. The movement of the water makes the inks travel on the paper, leaving a physical mark with the same fluidity of nature. The result is an image that cannot be recreated by the human hand.
My use of unconventional materials and chemicals makes this process very complicated to explain and almost always I have to relay on the viewer watching some of my videos. I like to use different papers, different inks and I experiment with chemicals, objects, soap bubbles, plant leaves and anything that I think will register a shape or flow that will create a narrative. I think of myself as an art alchemist.
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1961, José Tonito Rodriguez came to the United States in 1978 and currently lives in Florida. His early career as a photographer significantly shaped his current work. Using photographic paper, color inks, and an array of unconventional techniques, his images have a uniquely organic, exploratory feel. What he calls “accidents” splatter and sprawl across paper, revealing themselves to him as he follows and urges them forward into other-worldly forms. Influenced by the forces of nature, he imagines the creation of rivers and lakes as he works, sometimes visualizing how clouds or even micro-organisms might behave under a microscope. The artist’s experiments tease the viewer into discovering “hidden, magical worlds” within our own imaginations.
Summertime Art Geniuses: The “Hidden Magical Worlds” of Jose Tonito
Article published by the Miami New Times magazine by art critic Carlos Suarez de Jesús
It’s August and the galleries are mostly closed or operating on short hours. The big-name artists have hightailed it for cooler climes. So how to get your art fix? Try these three off-the-beaten-path geniuses.
In the lavishly landscaped yard behind his Hialeah home, Jose Tonito waves his arms like a symphony conductor while Cuban music plays in the background.
As the plaintive guitar wail sweetens the air, the 53-year-old artist fans colored ink across photo paper. Now and again his fingers skip across the surface to highlight patterns within the emerging forms.
Tonito, who was born in Havana in 1961, moved to Hialeah with his family in 1978 and studied photography at Miami-Dade Community College. After graduating with a BFA from Florida International University, he went on to a long career as a fine art photographer who also shot artworks at local galleries and museums for many years.
But about five years ago, Tonito stumbled upon a process that altered his art practice and got his creative juices bubbling again. “I use blank photographic paper and color inks that I apply with water in a process similar to watercolors,” he observes. “The paper is waterproof and registers the movement of water faster than any other kind of paper.”
As Tonito moves his fingers dexterously over the paper’s surface, strange creatures seem to burst from beneath the shadows of his hands. Some of the patterns give the impression of biological cell structures, while others appear not unlike submerged marine life.
“The movement of the water makes the inks travel on the paper, leaving a physical mark with the same fluidity of nature,” Tonito explains. “The result is an image that cannot be re-created by the human hand.”
Since he began experimenting with his new media, Tonito has sold thousands of his prints on eBay. He creates up to 25 new works a day. “I’ve been part of Miami’s art scene for the past 30 years, and this was a path I found to go my own way. You can say I have encountered an ajiaco of others’ works, and it’s given me the confidence and freedom to do my thing.”
Photo labs donate the paper, and the ink comes from discarded printer cartridges, he says. “Typically I use a syringe to extract the colored inks left in them.”
The artist says that he used to photograph rocks for the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science on Virginia Key and that the stones subconsciously affected his work. “I had to photograph hundreds of rocks that looked exactly the same to me. Now when I see some of the pictures of those rocks, I realize how beautiful those strange natural patterns were. They have a lot in common with the paintings I create today.”
Tonito pauses for a second over a recent painting and uses a cotton swab to redirect the flow of ink, teasing a cast of plant-like creatures from magenta rivulets. “When I paint, I fast-forward how nature creates rivers and lakes or visualize how a microorganism behaves under a microscope,” he explains. “I like to find a central figure in each painting to attract the attention of the viewer, but in the end, I am more interested in showing the hidden magical worlds within imagination.”