Artist David Rhoads working on a watercolor painting in his small, but organized Brooklyn studio.

David Rhoads catalogs observations, snapshots, and memories, into intimate watercolor paintings on repurposed Metropolitan Museum of Art letterhead.

Where are you from and where do you reside?

I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. I moved to Kansas City, MO for my undergraduate studies at the Kansas City Art Institute and stayed for nearly ten years. I currently live and work in Brooklyn, NY.

What necessities do you require when making your art (radio, specific paintbrushes, etc.)?

I often become very attached to certain tools, like my paint scraper, or a particularly watercolor brush that I have had since high school - for nearly twenty years. I would not say that I require them to make, but in my mind they have the magic in them, almost like a wand. I do love listening to records as well, particularly albums front to back, rather than skipping around with certain songs or artists.

Describe a typical day in the studio for you.

Most of my studio days are actually studio evenings as I have a full-time 9-5 job at this moment. I try to get to the studio around 6 or 7 fairly quickly after getting home. There is usually a single canvas, sometimes two, that are out that I have been working with. I then have folders and folders of drawings, each folder a different image or idea. I usually pick one folder to start with, pulling out the in-progress drawings and watercolors. Usually they are the drawings that go with the canvases I am working on.

For me, it is all about finding the image whatever way I can… sometimes thats on the canvas, other times on paper. I have always been an extremely competitive person, so I very much enjoy working on multiple drawings of the same thing, having them compete with one another to be the best… it’s a silly concept in some ways, but it really pushes me and the work to be better. Most studio nights a particular drawing or canvas ends up really sucking me in and when I feel that draw or inspiration I really try to focus on giving that object the time it deserves. In my experience, the paintings can make themselves, but you have to give them the time and attention to do so.

Artist David Rhoads painting a small watercolor work in his studio.
Landscape watercolor paintings by artist David Rhoads laid out on a wooden table in his studio.

What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?

Finishing. Fighting the pursuit of perfection which can lead to unnecessary fussing. Sometimes I can get caught in a loop with an image… re-working it time and time again, but not necessarily going anywhere. I am never at a loss for images that are in my mind, but it is finding and providing them the time they need, and sometimes I get hung up on one too long and like a vampire it sucks the life out of the others.

Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance?

In the physical act of making, I find there are certain aspects, like the collaging I do both with canvas and paper that are slightly out of my control, but not so much left to chance. I guess I would have to say that the finding of the pictures in my mind are really chance encounters in a way. I never know when a new image will confront me, but as soon as I see it, whether it be a friend or a certain set of stars or the way the light hits a building, I know I must paint it. I love this idea of the chance encounter of your work out in the world because you always have to be open to it.

When did you begin your current practice?

I began making work immediately after graduating from undergrad in 2010. I have consistently made work since then, with a big shift in the work around 2015 when I moved from Kansas City to New York.

I never know when a new image will confront me, but as soon as I see it, whether it be a friend or a certain set of stars or the way the light hits a building, I know I must paint it. I love this idea of the chance encounter of your work out in the world because you always have to be open to it.

David Rhoads

How do you choose your materials? Why do you choose to work with them?

I very much enjoy constraints within my practice so I can focus. With my paintings on canvas, I’ve stuck with four particular sizes the past 10 years or so. I have a small (14”x17”), medium (21”x26”), and a large (29”x36”). The fourth size is a little bit more flexible as it is for the life-size portrait work that I do; so that does vary in scale, but a lot of the time it will be a “cover” of a work I love. For example, I made a portrait of my wife Mallory at the exact size of Manet’s Olympia with the composition and pose being quite similar. The small size I use are for still lifes, head-only portraits, and landscapes - the dimensions came from a painting by Elizabeth Murray entitled Beer Glass at Noon. The medium size I chose because it is a great life-size portrait bust scale, from the waist up - many of my favorite painters have used something very close to to this scale. The large size is my favorite of the three and really feels like home to me at this point. I originally chose it as it is the size of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

For the works on paper, I have been using 8 ½”x11” paper for the past 15 years or so. I really love the familiarity and ordinary nature of it. Everyone knows what a regular piece of paper feels like. Also, the world is made to take care of this size piece of paper. So I enjoy the fact that there are plastic sleeves, and binders and folders etc. all tailored to care for this scale of work.

How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

My work has shifted from messier, more cosmic and otherworldly, images to depictions of friends and my environment.

Do you find that your location strongly influences the direction of your work?

That’s a difficult one, but the answer has to be yes. I had made a conscious decision to shift the direction of my work when I moved from Kansas City to New York, but then living in New York and working at the Met have had an even stronger influence than I imagined and have constantly pushed the work into a new direction.

Artist David Rhoads' organized artist studio filled with labeled binders and clear plastic drawers.
A watercolor painting by artist David Rhoads of the Venice canals.

What tangible objects or intangible moments are you most interested in representing through your works?

I strongly believe in finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, in your everyday life. William Blake is a big inspiration to me, and I constantly return to the beginning of one his poems entitled To See a World:

“To see the world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wildflower

To hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.”

What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?

It seems that I am constantly drawn to the images I create and I return to them again and again until I finally find them. Sometimes the finding takes weeks, other times years. There are of course certain motifs, like the constellation Orion, or my wife Mallory, that I come back to again and again, but each time it is because I encounter them out in the world and see them new again. I am drawn to the iconicness of images; it does not matter whether it is a mountain in Hawaii, or a tree in Brooklyn, I am drawn in by something underlying, some power hidden within.

Where do you find your day-to-day inspiration?

Everything, everywhere, all at once.

Published June 17, 2024.