Yetunde Taiwo Rodriguez is a textile artist and designer. Her medium of choice is block printing. She says “this work is directly connected to who I am as a person. I would design blocks, carve, print, and sew even if I never sold another piece.
My work arose from a desire to see my aesthetic reflected in a way I had not previously seen it. At the time I started creating textile prints, I saw a limited scope of African inspired design represented in home decor. As a lover of color, I wanted lots of joyful color in eclectic combinations!”
Visual artist Yetunde Taiwo Rodriguez sat down with Dayton Artists United at Reza’s Coffeehouse on Wayne Avenue to talk about creativity, Dayton and making it as an artist.
DAU: Thanks for meeting. Tell me about yourself.
YTR: I was born in Nigeria and came to the states when I was 13. I was in the Navy for five years. I lived in Virginia until 2007 when we moved to Dayton.
DAU: Have you always been an artist?
YTR: Yes. No. I have a degree in graphic design, but when I got out of college, I took the first job I was offered, in customer service, and it kind of put me in a path I didn’t plan. I haven’t ever held a “graphic design job.” Over the years I have done a variety of creative things, like made and sold soaps, but I didn’t call myself an artist until later. I have always seen patterns, and everything I do has to be visually pleasing to me. I started making my own print designs, indulging my passion for home décor and incorporating African designs. I had not seen that aesthetic anywhere, especially not in home décor textiles, at that time. I started block printing and screen printing as a way to bring my ideas to life. I make designs that draw on who I am as a person, and pulling in all the color I loved.
DAU: And now you are creating and selling textiles?
YTR: Yes, and I love it. The printmaking evolved from my artist side. I love seeing things in my hands that I imagined. I like asking myself “what if” and following that curiosity. And I feel like I’ve come around to what I am supposed to be doing. I am an artist. I claim this work and it has claimed me. Its work I love doing. But it is work. It takes a lot of work for an artist to make it. I have a web page, an Etsy shop, an Instagram page and sell stuff at events like the Craftin Outlaws show in Columbus. I teach workshops too, and am teaching at Midwest Craft Con. February 28 to March 1, 2020. As an artist, if you want to sell your work, you have to keep up on posting and reaching out for opportunities to share your work. To be successful as an artist, to earn your living from your work , discipline and hard work are more important than talent.
DAU: Talk to me about being an artist in Dayton.
YTR: I moved here with my family in 2007, and it took me awhile to love Dayton. It’s not an easy city to know. It’s a good city for artists, there are lots of arts events and it’s central to the arts events all over the state. I live on the west side and am excited to be part of changes happening there. I was artist-in-residence at the Northwest Branch Library in the summer of 2019. I am working with architects Matt Sauer, Alexandra Bohler, and Hannah Peterangelo on designs for the Gem City Market. I am working on decorative pieces for inside and a mural on the exterior of the market. I am really excited about this project. I think the west side needs development and investment.
DAU: I agree! I drive around the neighborhood and imagine what I would do for us if I won the lottery.
YTR: One of the things I love about the Gem City Market project is how the input of the people who live in the neighborhood have been actively sought. I worry that someone will just come in and tear down and replace the things we have. I want to live in a nice neighborhood. Everybody wants to live in a nice neighborhood, but I think we’re all afraid of what will happen if too much development comes in. I don’t want to be driven out by gentrification.
DAU: I love my neighborhood too. I live in the University Row district, not far from you. I am so excited that I will be able to walk to the grocery!
YTR: I think Gem City Market will make a big difference to the west side. I have just been looking at the city. I drove a woman around, an architect who just moved here. I was showing her the city, talking about the different neighborhoods and all that Dayton has to offer. I think showing the city to someone else really helps me appreciate what we have. You go on day to day, working, running from one thing to the next and you don’t think about the impact of things you’ve done, like a mural or a design. Artists make such a difference to this city. I am glad to be part of that.
DAU: Talk to me more about Dayton. What is your favorite thing to do here?
YTR: There is so much to do here. I love all the coffeehouses. I like Reza’s, Wholly Grounds and Ghostlight. I am really sensitive to spaces, its part of the whole design thing, I think. I like how these spaces invite me to be part of them. I like that the owners include local art. My family and I just went to the Dayton Art institute, and I think we’re lucky to have such a beautiful museum. Dayton has a lot to offer. My family has been granted some wonderful opportunities here that we might not have had so easily in a bigger city. I want to help other people see that. I advertise classes on Airbnb for visitors and locals. When people visit Dayton, they can book a workshop where they make their own textiles with block printing . Its really fun to connect with visitors and make art. I will also be giving a series of talks at the Dayton Metro Library between February and March. Check out the most recent Library Highlights publication, you just might see me there!
DAU: So, what’s next?
YTR: I am going to network with more artists this year. I want to help grow our artists community.