Prolific Western novelist Louis L’Amour once said, “I could sit in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and write with my typewriter on my knees. Temperamental I am not.”
A workspace can say a lot about one’s temperament.
Do you need noise cancelling headphones and a temperature of 72 degrees for optimum productivity? Are disorganized piles of papers a chaotic comfort? Is everything in its place?
Three fulltime Oak Cliff artists let us into their home studios to see the where they work and ultimately, who they are.
Hustle hard: Patricia Rodriguez
A large color picture of Patricia Rodriguez’s father hangs behind the workspace of her home studio in Kings Highway.
Juan Antonio Rodriguez was an auto-body mechanic, an immigrant from Mexico who took handyman work around Oak Cliff when he could get it.
“He’s my inspiration to keep working as hard as I can,” says Rodriguez, who was born in Oak Cliff and has never left. “He was really supportive of me being an artist.”
The year her dad died, 2010, Rodriguez developed a painful bulging disc in her spine from her job in shipping/receiving at the Dallas Museum of Art. It was a slow recovery, but she looked at it as an opportunity, so she quit her job to paint fulltime.
She had taken art classes at Mountain View College after graduating from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. But she developed her unique style from painting on record albums. It was kind of a fluke.
She had agreed to enter work into a Beatles-themed show at the now-defunct Soda Gallery in Bishop Arts. The deadline was approaching, and she was so broke that she couldn’t afford to buy canvases. Rodriguez, who also is known in Dallas nightlife as DJ Tigerbee, had plenty of LPs lying around, some of which were scratched. So she used spray paint and acrylic to depict an octopus with a Ringo Starr moustache. It sold right away.
Over the past five years, she’s perfected her technique, which results in dense and fanciful botanic scenes in unexpected color combinations. Discretely painted in each canvas is often a bat or beetle or worm, something a little unsettling amid the enchantment. Like graffiti artists, she often works without a detailed plan. She starts with the spray-painted background and lets the painting take her away.
“I get lost in creating these tight details,” she says.
Rodriguez’s canvasses fetch around $400-$1,000. But she still takes commissions for painted LPs: portraits, mostly, of people and pets. They cost $75.
Since she doesn’t have any other income, Rodriguez really hustles to keep the lights on. She takes mural commissions, including for home interiors. And she collaborates with makers. San Francisco retailer Vida recently printed her work on silk blouses and scarves. Dallas-based Cykochik Custom Handbags also printed her designs on purses and totes.
“I like seeing my stuff in 3-D,” she says.
She recently began offering it on iPhone cases, coffee mugs, tote bags, throw pillows and T-shirts via society6.com.
Rodriguez, who has endometriosis along with her back problem, is curating a show next summer at the Baylor Medical Gallery called “Artists in Pain,” featuring the work of local artists who live in chronic pain.
All hat, no cattle: Ray-Mel Cornelius
A stuffed jackalope hovers in one corner. Scanning the room, there are others: a felt-covered plastic jackalope and a small painting or two of the mythological half-rabbit/half-antelope.
Ray-Mel Cornelius’ home studio has a touch of kitsch. It has great light, too, in a windowed corner facing the Cedar Creek greenbelt in Elmwood.
The home he shares with wife, Becky, is a few miles from Downtown, but it’s close to nature.
“I grew up on a farm/ranch, but I never connected to that lifestyle,” he says.
He does relate to the myths of the American West and its dramatic portrayals, he says.
A Baby Boomer born and reared in Royse City, he eschewed horses and cattle in favor of TV and movies. Two brothers are 20-plus years older than him, so Ray-Mel and his mom were usually together at home, on top of a hill with the big Texas landscape all around.
“The first art I saw was comic strips and book illustrations. The color palette had a big effect on me,” he says.
There were no art classes in Royse City schools in the ’60s, but one “little old lady” in town gave him oil painting lessons.
“People thought it was a hobby for housewives,” he says. “But I knew that somebody made those illustrations.”
He enrolled in the nearest college, what is now known as Texas A&M University-Commerce. Thanks to that East Texas institution and its outstanding art program, Ray-Mel became a commercial artist, creating graphic illustrations for many publications, including The Dallas Morning News. He also teaches graphic design at Brookhaven College, and a few years ago, he quit freelancing to focus on his own artwork.
Mostly he paints acrylic on canvas in “scrumbling” brush-strokes that create textured landscapes and animal scenes. Occasionally, he makes pen-and-watercolor drawings. And he’s prolific. On days when he doesn’t teach, he’ll work for eight to 10 hours. He keeps the TV on for company, usually an old movie or whatever is on HBO or Showtime.
An 8-by-10 photo of George Reeves as TV’s “Superman” in one corner reminds him of his childhood. And above that, a letterpress by Oak Cliff-based artist Lily Smith-Kirkley reads, “All hat, no cattle.”
“I used to reject that, and I never wanted to be associated with it,” Ray-Mel says of rural Texas culture.
Now he is a painter of Texas and Western landscapes.
See more of Cornelius’ paintings at raymelcornelius.com.
Darkness and light: Clay Stinnett
Clay Stinnett digs through a cardboard box filled with old magazines he bought at East Dallas vintage shop Dolly Python.
There are dozens of copies of “Fangoria,” along with copies of “Easy Rider” from the 1970s, a few wrestling magazines from the ’80s, and a nudie mag from the ’50s.
Typical source material.
A friend had recently criticized him for “copying out of magazines,” so he tested the idea, picking up the latest “National Enquirer,” “US Weekly” and “People” from the checkout at Tom Thumb. It inspired him to add a watercolor painting of the Kardashians, in his signature grotesque style, to the stack he was making that day.
Also in the stack: Head-and-shoulder portraits of professional wrestlers, Lee Harvey Oswald, African-American wig models from the 1960s, Frida Kahlo and classic movie monsters. He’ll sell them for $200 a pop.
Paintings that take more time fetch $400 and up.
Stinnett, who also drums in rock ‘n’ roll bands, can churn out paintings almost as fast as he can talk, and his pacing shows through in the frenetic images he creates. Growing up in the Pentecostal church, he wasn’t allowed to watch TV or see movies. Reading and drawing were his hobbies, and he knew he wanted to be an artist at age 5, when he won a camera in a coloring contest at Albertsons.
He paid his way through art school at the University of North Texas, where he took every art class possible, and then he was a fulltime factory worker for five or six years before taking up art again.
“I have to stay busy,” he says. “It’s not in my nature to sit around.”
Stinnett has two studios. One is the den at the front of the Hampton Hills home he shares with wife, Lanette, an elementary school principal. This room is painted pale blue and its walls are empty. There’s a tasteful velvet sofa and an artists’ desk and shelves.
Stinnett’s other studio is about a block away in the low second story of a hardware store. Entering this studio is like walking into “Fangoria.” There are Halloween masks, black metal flags, posters, old furniture and art supplies everywhere.
Preparing for a big show, he might wake around 5 a.m. to do watercolors in the den and then head to the loft around 8 or 9 to work on oil paintings until 6 p.m.
“My creativity comes down to perseverance,” he says. “It comes down to staying active constantly and continuing to make. If you do that daily, that is going to be rewarded on some level.”
See and shop his work at claystinnett.wix.com/home.
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Oak Cliff.