Spain Rodriguez: Mission Nites
September 10–October 29, 2022

Special program: BAD ATTITUDE: The Art of Spain Rodriguez, a documentary by Susan Stern. Presented in collaboration with Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema. Thursday, October 13, 7pm, Mission Cultural Center. SIGN UP HERE

Sketches of Spain: Cartoonist ‘Spain’ Rodriguez’s Mission retrospective, Mission Local
Spain Rodriguez, SFSTANDARD

Cushion Works is pleased to present Spain Rodriguez: Mission Nites, a selection of artworks depicting the ever-changing San Francisco neighborhood the underknown artist called home for many decades. Rendered with astonishing sensitivity and precision, the drawings, paintings, and original comic strips on view showcase the hard-won romance of the Mission and make a case for Rodriguez (b. 1940, Buffalo; d. 2012, San Francisco) as one of the most talented draftspeople of his generation.

Known as the socialist soul of the underground comics movement, in 1969 Rodriguez moved to San Francisco, where he was invited to join the now-legendary Zap Comix by Robert Crumb. Many years later, Crumb recalled that his friend’s “allegiance to radical left-wing politics and his proletarian class identity were stronger and clearer than most of the youths in the hippie subculture. His politics were driven by genuine, authentic class anger, class hatred. I liked that about him.” Rodriguez was active with local cultural and political organizations like Galería de la Raza and the Mission Cultural Center, and the exhibition further includes archival material such as artist-drawn flyers for local events.

In works spanning the early 1980s to just before his death, Rodriguez brings to life all manner of Mission-dwellers – mothers, freaks, punks, gangsters, hot rods, bodegas, and more – in a style that improbably combines leftist politics, science fiction, and diaristic realism. As a proud Mission neighbor, Cushion Works recognizes and salutes the artist’s commitment to the chaos and tenderness that defines the neighborhood.

Spain Rodriguez Biography

Spain Rodriguez (b. 1940, Buffalo, NY; d. 2012, San Francisco, CA) was raised in Buffalo, where he became a member of the Road Vultures Motorcycle Club and attended art trade school before working a factory job for the first part of the 1960s. He moved to New York’s East Village in the mid-1960s and began a publishing run that was interrupted only by his passing. He was a staff cartoonist for the most celebrated of underground newspapers, the East Village Other, and appeared alongside the likes of Ed Sanders and Allen Ginsberg. Rodriguez published one of the very first underground graphic novels, Zodiac Mindwarp, and introduced the world to Trashman, a kind of urban Marxist James Bond.

In 1969, the artist moved to San Francisco, where he was invited to join Zap Comix by Robert Crumb. Rodriguez went on to either found or contribute to many of the most important underground comics, including his own Subvert Comics, Insect Fear Comics, and the seminal anthologies Arcade and Weirdo. In the ensuing decades he published widely acclaimed memoirs, graphic non-fiction, erotic thrillers, and the ever-evolving story of Trashman. His friend and editor Art Spiegelman recalls: “I can’t imagine two more different artists than Spain and James Joyce, but I remembered something that Richard Ellmann wrote about Joyce: ‘The function of literature, as Joyce and his hero Stephen Dedalus both define it with unaccustomed fervor, is the eternal affirmation of the spirit of man, suffering and rollicking. We can shed what he called ‘laughtears’ as his writings confront us with this spectacle.’ That’s how I see the twin pillars of Spain’s life and art — suffering and rollicking, full of ‘laughtears.”

Spain Rodriguez is the subject of the documentary Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez, directed by his wife, the Emmy-nominated filmmaker Susan Stern, which has screened at film festivals internationally. His books include Trashman Lives!, My True Story, Cruisin’ with the Hound, She Comics, and Che: A Graphic Biography. His life and work are the subject of a planned five-volume set of books edited by Patrick Rosenkranz, and published by Fantagraphics, three of which have been released thus far: Street Fighting Men, Warrior Women, and My Life & Times. He was the subject of a 2012 retrospective at Buffalo State College’s Burchfield Penney Art Center, Spain: Rock Roll Rumbles Rebels & Revolution, and Hard-Ass Friday Nite: The Art of Spain Rodriguez, a 2022 exhibition organized by Dan Nadel at Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York.