by Leah Draffen
NESTLED INTO THE BRICK and mortar of downtown Covington’s East Gibson Street, a surprising ray of colorful boldness exudes from Marianne Angeli Rodriguez’s studio gallery. Patterns, shapes and vibrant hues that speak joy and as the artist explains it, “vacation mode,” hang on the walls of the once- dusty storage space of a former office. The studio gallery, and the artist, seem to be destined to fit into the downtown Covington art circuit, but Philippine-born Marianne Angeli Rodriguez’s journey to becoming a painter wasn’t quite a straightforward course.
Her path to art started in New York, beginning with a degree from Hunter College. “I had a degree in media studies and anthropology, thinking that I was going to follow in my parents’ footsteps of doing diplomatic work for the United Nations, but I ended up at a PR agency that did shows for Fashion Week and worked with emerging designers,” says Marianne. “From that experience of being exposed to the fashion industry, I went directly to design school. I was always a creative person, but didn’t know where and how to use my hands.”
Marianne’s time in design school came to an end a couple of years
after the recession began, making it impossible for her to find a job in design in New York. So, she went to Kenya, where her father was based at the time. She says, “I got in touch with a nonprofit that put me in contact with a women’s HIV group. For an entire summer, I taught them how to sew, make patterns, draft and illustrate. It was really challenging going into it blindly, but it was the best experience.” The women, along with Marianne, created a capsule collection of clothing and jewelry that she launched in New York. While visiting a former classmate in New Orleans, Marianne’s collection sold well in trunk shows throughout the city.
“I moved to Louisiana very loosely,” she laughs. “And oddly, I got chosen to be on a documentary film put out by GNO Inc., Idea Village and the Downtown Development District called NOLAbound. So, I was in this film of 25 entrepreneurs to basically showcase that New Orleans was going through a renaissance after Katrina. I was there as a designer; it was great— and I met my husband on the set! He did the soundtrack for it.”
Marianne continued selling her designs on the side as well as working as a liaison to local New Orleans designers for a friend’s Westbank factory. For a couple of years, she freelanced illustrations for bridal and beauty magazines and that’s where the larger-than-life art came in.
“I was really tired of working small scale. There was all this energy that I needed to expend, so, randomly, one day I went to buy paint and a canvas—a big canvas. And I just started painting.”
Life brought Marianne and her new husband to the Northshore, moving from a Mandeville home with room to paint in to a smaller home
in Covington. “That’s why I opened the studio. I thought, ‘If I’m going to do this, I better take a leap of faith,’” she says. Two and half years later, Marianne is thriving in her Covington studio gallery as a full-time artist. “I would have never expected I would do this, but I feel so very called to do this work.”
As a self-taught artist, Marianne paints intuitively without pre-planning, simply referencing and reinterpreting the images and patterns of her childhood spent in the Philippines, England, West Africa and Guatemala to craft acrylic art on canvas, planters and tapestries. “When we lived abroad, my parents were always very much interested in collecting the handicrafts and art of the locals wherever we were. We have a lot of really cool décor and sculptures, odd furniture and a lot of textiles, especially from Africa and Guatemala,” Marianne explains.
“I feel like I’ve absorbed all of that, and I have those images and patterns living in my brain. So, when I approach the canvas, it’s a combination of remembering and expressing certain shapes, motifs and really bright colors. I want people to feel always positive and almost on vacation mode when seeing my pieces. I believe the intent of art is to uplift.”
And that is exactly what Marianne’s work does.