Written by By Alaa Elassar
An artist who used his talent to cope with the coronavirus pandemic is now documenting history with his art for a new series he’s called the “Covid mask subway drawings.”
Everyday for almost a month, Devon Rodriguez has spent hours taking random trips on the subway in search of the perfect muse. When he finds someone, he uses a sketchbook and lead holder to bring them to life on paper without missing a detail from the creases in their mask to the curls in their hair.
“The subway has been a subject of mine for several years now,” Rodriguez, 24, told CNN. “Faces are a thing that I’m so used to capturing on the subway and now most of them are covered up with the Covid masks. I think it’s interesting to capture this devastating moment in time with art. It’ll reflect 2020 when I look back on them in the future. It’ll be interesting to capture the different types of masks people wear and how they wear them.”
One of Rodriguez’ Covid mask subway drawings. Credit: Courtesy Devon Rodriguez
A native New Yorker born and raised in the south Bronx, the full-time artist stayed in the city throughout the coronavirus pandemic. He became familiar with the endless sound of sirens, and eventually mask mandates and social distancing regulations, two things that don’t come naturally to most New Yorkers.
After being quarantined inside his home for months, painting and drawing until mornings bled into nights, Rodriguez was grateful to be able to go back out and document today’s reality up close and personal.
With just music flooding his ears, he draws silently without interrupting his subject to perfectly capture “real life raw humanity,” he says.
“When I’m drawing, it’s like a meditation. As I’m rendering their forms and clothing I’m pondering things like what do their body language say about them? How does the way they present themselves describe their psyche?” Rodriguez said.
“I’ve been drawing and painting people on the subway since 2011, but I stopped a long time ago” he added. “I started back up because of people wearing masks and how different the subway looked. The pandemic added a whole new dimension to the work. It changed the entire portrait of the subway.”
It was on August 10 when he found himself sitting in front of a man wearing a mask that he decided to start drawing again, this time illustrating an entirely different world than his last subway drawing years ago.
Later that day, he posted a TikTok showing the process it took to complete his first coronavirus subway drawing. The post received millions of views, and throughout weeks of posting drawings from the new series, Rodriguez has already gained nearly two million followers altogether on Instagram and TikTok. Along with encapsulating the essence of the city, his subway drawings, which he sells on his website, have also helped the artist find himself during the pandemic.
“Feeling like I’m capturing a moment in history with my art is very fulfilling. And the fact that I’ve received such a huge response to them is amazing in itself,” he said. “Drawing, painting and creating in general always helps me feel like myself. As long as I have a sketchbook, an easel, some paint and some brushes I’ll probably be fine.”