Cristina Rodriguez was born in Colombia in 1964 into a family of politicians, diplomats, landowners, great travellers and poets. She and her siblings studied at the Colegio Andino, the German school in Bogotá. They lived in Peru for five years before she was sent to school in Germany. Her parents took them on long trips around Colombia, Peru, other parts of Latin America, the USA, and Europe.
From 1983 to 1987, Cristina Rodriguez studied Fine Arts at the University of Los Andes in Bogotá. During this time, she met two artists who were hugely influential on her decision to become a professional artist.
Lorenzo Jaramillo was Cristina Rodriguez’s tutor in painting. He taught her how to find inspiration in daily life. He sharpened her eyes, enabling her to see the world around her, and ignited her love for the act of painting.
Humberto Giangrandi tutored Cristina Rodriguez in etching. He taught her the importance of discipline and hard work without the expectation of external recognition or reward. Etching in black and white taught her to understand the relationship between greyscale and colour intensity. This has since become an intrinsic part of her painting process, ensuring each colour intuitively forms a distinct presence in the composition.
Believing in her talent, these two artists mentored her and gave her confidence in her work.
‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, based on the concert by Modest Mussorgsky, was Cristina Rodriguez’s degree show and her first solo exhibition. She wanted the exhibition to be traditional while using the methods of an installation. In 1987, she chose a beautiful space at the Alzate Avendaño Foundation and each canvas was created to fit the space, so that the exhibition would be in complete harmony with its setting. She created ten paintings, each based on the individual movement of the piece, and filmed a video explaining this process so that the spectator could move through each painting and its corresponding musical movement. Cristina Rodriguez designed the invitations and organised the private view. This marked the beginning of her professional career.
Cristina Rodriguez continues to use this same process when creating an exhibition: once she has decided on the theme of the exhibition, she finds the right space and determines how many canvases she can create to fit the space harmoniously. This method has been a central part of her creative process – the space and the paintings must work in complete harmony with one another. Once the format of the paintings has been determined in relation to the exhibition space, she still works in the same way as she did on that very first exhibition. First she draws the image, then she begins the painting. The drawing process, which can take weeks, is very delicate as the drawing must convey exactly what she wishes the painting itself to convey. Only once the drawing is perfect can she begin the painting.
“Only years later I understood that my degree show was pivotal in many ways. I decided then and there to protect the purity of my drawing and the purity of my colour from any pollution from the world, from the art world, from the endless tiring theories, from the ´what is right´. I feel very proud because now, after so many decades, I know that I have allowed my work to develop organically. I have fiercely protected that part of me which belongs to my land and to all lands, to the heart of the creation of so many human beings before me. I know now that I don´t come from nothing. I come from all that preceded me, and through keeping that part of me pure I stay connected to this fundamental truth.”
Cristina Rodriguez believes that indigenous people from all over the world have the truest, deepest connection to colour and that their knowledge is based on their intimate relationship with the earth, with the seasons, with the colours that they extract from the natural world. Their creations convey their hopes, their daily life, the important moments of their community. The works of art in the caves in the desert of Tunisia, the designs in the blankets of the Indian Americans, the drawings of the rugs in Iran…they are exactly what they should be, they describe precisely what is intended and the composition and the colour are perfect.
Indeed, during the painting process, Cristina Rodriguez closes her mind to all external thoughts and influences and connects only with what she terms her innermost intuition:
“I let the painting give the orders. I become a medium and allow the painting to be born on its own terms. Many decades ago, I read that the Muse of inspiration needs only a devoted body, a body full of discipline, love, and commitment, to enable Her to dictate Her Will into a canvas. If the body is lazy or not committed, She will leave it and find another. I am a body of the Muse and I hope to keep on being granted this privilege until the last day of my life.”
Cristina Rodriguez’s paintings are each unique, born of a thought, a book, an observation, a feeling, a film or a moment of beauty found in everyday life. Refusing to be influenced or shaped by the external expectations, demands and trends of art galleries, art dealers and the wider art world, she has remained wholly true to her inspiration and her process. Her paintings have evolved through the years with a fluidity and honesty that continue to make them distinctively and uniquely hers and give them the rare quality of being entirely unburdened by the constraints of commercial or other pressures.
Two years after the end of her degree at the University of Los Andes, Cristina Rodriguez was awarded a British Council Scholarship and a Government of Colombia Scholarship, enabling her to continue her studies through a Masters in Painting at UCL’s The Slade School of Fine Art in London (1989-1991). She lived in the university hall of residence and took advantage of all that UCL and London had to offer: theatre, opera, music, exhibitions and many multicultural exchanges.
A week before her degree show, Gillian Ayres selected Cristina Rodriguez as her chosen artist for 1991’s The Discerning Eye exhibition, which allowed little known artists to exhibit their work and gain visibility. At the same time, she was asked by Bridget Ashley-Miller, who worked for Delfina Entrecanales, to apply for the Delfina Studios Scholarship in London. She sold all her work including her large canvas, ‘You shall be above all times’, painted for the degree show, and having decided to stay in London she sealed her destiny by exchanging the proceeds for a year’s rent on a small studio flat in Kilburn.
Cristina Rodriguez ’s move to Kilburn marked the start of her life as an independent painter, living from the sale of her work. In 1991, she was invited to put on a solo exhibition at the Cadogan Gallery in South Kensington. She created her first exhibition in London, entitled ‘My Gift to a Continent’, a retrospective exploration of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of Latin America.
Cristina Rodriguez continued to sell her paintings and exchange them for rent and travel. This allowed her to live independently in her flat and she was able to continue to travel extensively across Russia, Turkey, North Africa and Europe. Cristina Rodriguez was eventually awarded the Delfina Studios Scholarship for 1992-1993. This was a huge professional achievement, and in October 1992 she was granted a spacious and luminous studio, which gave her the physical and emotional space to enable her paintings to evolve without constraints.
Impressed by the way in which Cristina Rodriguez exchanged her paintings for travel, Delfina Entrecanales offered her a three-month scholarship in Zimbabwe. She left for Zimbabwe in 1994, returning to London that same year to rent a flat in Bow Road. The majority of her 1994 paintings are about this trip, in addition to a few commissions and a trip to Mexico. Upon her return, Delfina Entrecanales offered Cristina Rodriguez another three-month scholarship, this time in New York. She travelled first to Colombia to stay with her parents on their magical land in Boyacá, before leaving for New York. Her 1995 paintings predominantly relate to these two trips.
In New York, Cristina Rodriguez fell in love with the British exhibition designer Charles Marsden-Smedley, and married him the following year. He opened the door to a different London than the one she already knew. He believed in her work and helped her in every way he could to enable her to keep on painting. They were married for 7 years and have a son together, Lucas Marsden-Smedley Rodriguez.
From 1996 until 2010, Cristina Rodriguez worked from Great Western Studios, West London and many of the paintings of the next fourteen years depict her life in London, her marriage and her journey into motherhood. She travelled extensively during this time - in the UK, in Europe and beyond – and the amalgamation of these experiences inspired her to paint about love, passion, marriage, tradition, childhood, culture and British daily life. In 1997, Cristina Rodriguez was invited to exhibit at The Pump House Gallery in London’s Battersea Park. She based her exhibition on the music from ‘The Carnival of the Animals’ by Camille Saint- Säens. The exhibition imagined the animals arriving in the Pump House Gallery before embarking on a voyage to the Garden of Eden to meet Adam and Eve. The exhibition was accompanied by a video of the paintings and corresponding musical movements.
Renowned French art dealer Vinca Bigo, who had loved ‘The Carnival of the Animals’, commissioned Cristina Rodriguez to put on a new exhibition at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris. ‘La Fête sur la Pyramide’ took place in 1998, displayed in the vast restaurant area under the Louvre Pyramid. It represented a feast and all its components: the cutlery, the table settings, the food, the drink, the cook, the waiter. The feast celebrated food as an act of passion, fun and creativity:
“There were magical moments as the chefs, the waiters and every single person who worked at least 8 hours daily in the restaurant had something tender or funny to say about the paintings. There was an incredible interaction between these people and the paintings, which was wonderful. They felt so proud of the paintings, and during the months of the exhibition it was as if the paintings were part of that immense and busy place.”
Cristina Rodriguez ’s son, Lucas was born in 1999 and in 2001 she created an exhibition about parenthood entitled ‘Jump into Reality’, held at The Air Gallery in London. The paintings represent the powerful experience of becoming a parent through the journey of two people, first as a couple and then as parents of a baby and the journey of discovery that begins as soon as the child is in its mother’s womb. Evocative, fun, beautiful and moving, ‘Jump into Reality’ was a perfect example of how Cristina Rodriguez transforms the ordinary into something fantastical and miraculous, compelling us to wonder at both individual and collective life experiences.
Between 2003 and 2006, Cristina Rodriguez was invited by Mark and Karen Hannaford, the founders of Across the Divide, to visit Namibia, Chile, Peru, and South Africa. They wanted her to capture their lifelong love for these countries in a commission that was completed in 2005. Most of her paintings from this period were born of experiencing these remarkable places, including the paintings for her exhibition ‘The Desert is not Deserted’, inspired by her trip to the Namib Desert in Namibia, which was shown at The Orangery in London’s Holland Park in 2004.
In 2006, Cristina Rodriguez´s ‘Imaginary Landscapes’ exhibition was held at Blenheim Crescent Gallery in London’s Notting Hill Gate. The exhibition contained many of the paintings inspired by her 2003, 2004, and 2005 trips to South Africa, Peru, and Chile as well as magical moments she had experienced closer to home: the whale stranded in front of the Houses of Parliament, the wild horses of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, an encounter with a woodpecker in the woods, a young man in Paris sitting on a windowsill playing his guitar. Her paintings from 2006 to 2010 are based on her many extraordinary experiences of people, places, books, concerts, Mediterranean islands, travels around Britain, Europe, Latin America, and, as ever, on the small, wonderful miracles of daily life.
In 2010, Cristina Rodriguez fell in love and went to live with the French erudite and great traveller, Yannick Lucas. He was instrumental in deepening her knowledge of classical antiquity. They lived happily and travelled together for 10 years, until his death in 2020, on his favorite place in the world, Pico Island. After his death, Cristina Rodriguez decided to anchor herself on this island, the place where his body is buried.
Between 2011 and 2014, Cristina Rodriguez lived in Geneva, with long spells in Paris and Corsica. These years were fundamental to the evolution of her work. Living in the heart of Europe enabled her to visit regularly the paintings and museums that are of particular significance to her. She had the time and the silence to absorb the secrets of these remarkable places, so full of history and wonder. Her studio was in a vibrant neighbourhood of Geneva, and most of the paintings from her 2014 ‘De los Andes a los Alpes’ exhibition, held in the Deimos Gallery in Bogotá, were created in that studio. Some of the paintings were memories of her former life in the UK, some of them were interpretations of paintings by Courbet and Ingres and some were about her many adventures, ideas, and the books she had read.
Cristina Rodriguez’s 2016 exhibition ‘Promenades Enchantées à Genève’, held at Cité du Temps, a historical building on the island which connects the two sides of Geneva, was a farewell present to that charming city, which had welcomed her with open arms.
From 2014 to 2018, Cristina Rodriguez lived and painted in São João do Estoril, Portugal. She travelled extensively through Portugal during this period, gaining a profound understanding of its connection to her own heritage. Portugal is full of the smells, colours, sounds and stories that bring Cristina Rodriguez back to her childhood and her home in Colombia. Its mystery, traditions, songs, and poetry have had an immeasurably enriching impact on her work.
In 2018 Cristina Rodriguez arrived on Pico, an island in the middle of the ocean, part of the Azores Archipelago (it is close to Terceira Island, the home of one of her most interesting female ancestors, an adventurer who had left for Colombia in the 16th century never to return). Cristina Rodriguez decided at long last to settle down in this far away land, remaining as distant as possible from any disruption to her purpose in life: to continue painting with her doors closed to everything non-essential, just as Matisse had advised all painters to do.
Cristina Rodriguez’s paintings are born of this richly varied and multicultural life. At the heart of her work is her deep belief that we must respect and care for our world and all its inhabitants, and that every being is sacred and full of promise. That compassion and profound kindness for one another –be it a human, an animal, or a plant – are essential to our survival. We must, with strong and deliberate intent, protect the beauty and the magic of the earth, our only home, fight against the ugliness of human-induced destruction, and immerse ourselves in the deeply moving and evocative splendour of the natural world, and of everyday human experiences. These principles are the foundation of her life and work:
“When we die, we leave only the traces of love or the traces of destruction which we have created. It is entirely up to us what traces we leave. My paintings are full of love, and they will keep on giving love, long after I die. My paintings are my traces of love, they are my gift to those who come after me. A gift of love, a gift of beauty, a gif of wonder, a gift of joy, a gift of poetry, a gift of hope.”
Cristina Rodriguez with Dr. Ariane Galy