You’re driving down McLeod when all of a sudden—BAM!—a multi-colored jaguar head pops out from the tract homes and tree-lined sidewalks, just outside the Winchester Cultural Center. It’s the county’s latest public art installation, a work by local artist Miguel Rodriguez inspired by the centuries-old Huichol style of Mexican folk art. We spoke with Rodriguez about the eye-catching piece.
What exactly defines the Huichol style? It’s an indigenous art form from central Mexico that utilizes small colored beads, and they’re applied over little wood sculptures. Well, sometimes they’re large, but they’re generally small. … Very bright, colorful, beautiful, just amazing, intricate designs. It’s very attractive to me.
What was the motivation to create this work for Winchester? Winchester Cultural Center has an area around it that has a pretty large Latino community. Clark County actually chose the location and they chose me for the location. Early on they requested—ultimately I could do whatever I wanted—but they sort of requested that I might do something that was more inspired by Dia De Los Muertos. It’s a beautiful holiday. I love it. I think it’s great. However, I’ve noticed that in the past several years that particular day or two days has sort of been sucked up by Halloween and there are a lot of people out there who sort of conflate the two. To a certain degree, [some] might even say some of it’s been appropriated in a really superficial manner. Every time Halloween comes around, you look on Facebook and Instagram and you see people with their fancy Dia de los Muertos makeup on, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, and I suppose it’s the American way to acquire as many cultural holidays as possible.
But I wanted to sort of veer in a different direction, and then a friend of mine [Alex “Sky” Carranza] who has also helped me pretty much throughout the entire process, just said, “Hey, do you know of this? Do you know this particular art form?” I had been working in other realms, doing a lot of patterned murals, a lot of patterned type of artwork, and so it really fit what I was looking for. And the color was incredibly attractive to me. That’s where the genesis of it came from. It also helps that I’m a huge fan of cats—all cats, large and small—so any opportunity for me to sculpt a cat, I’ll take.
What is the piece called? I haven’t even really given it a name. … Although I have thought of a name, “Gato Gigante,” which is pretty much right—big cat. … My dad is Puerto Rican, I should say, and my mom is white. I grew up in Kansas. Culturally, my upbringing was very white. You can say I stuck out like a sore thumb, [and] both my siblings did. I go into these types of things a little bit hesitantly, because I don’t want to be insincere in anything that I’m doing.
What is the sculpture made of? It’s actually just a giant block of foam. It’s a very prominent material that they use [in theaters on the Strip], so here in town it’s pretty easy to acquire, just solid blocks of foam. … I used a variety of tools, my favorite of which is a hot wire bow [cutter]. You just slice through it—you slice through it like buttah. And I used all sorts of knives [and] sandpaper to get it to the form. Then it is coated with a really thick layer of plastic, which is the same stuff [used] for lining truck beds … that creates a very durable yet flexible surface that you can paint on.
How many hours did it take to complete? I started it about four months ago … Some days I worked on it two hours, some days I worked on it for 14 hours. On average, between five and eight hours.
Is it a permanent installation? It’s a permanent installation. It will eventually fade and I’ll probably have to go in and repaint it. But for the most part, it’s permanent.