Graphic Artist Johnny ‘KMNDZ’ Rodriguez Shares his Trials and Triumphs of Life and Love

The graphic designer and artist Johnny “KMNDZ” Rodriguez has worked for major brands from MTV and Disney to Microsoft and Universal Pictures. In a new show at KP Projects / MKG, “I’d Rather Love You,” he turns inward. These artworks are dark and deeply personal, reflecting joy and heartbreak—the trials of being alive. 

  • Portrait of Johnny “KMNDZ” Rodriguez, courtesy of the artist and KP Projects / MKG.

Regardless of the fact that is well-known for his successful commercial career, his deeply reflective nature shouldn’t come as a surprise: his moniker KMNDZ hints at his artistic motivations. “Anyone who’s ever touched a Mac,” Rodriguez says, “knows that the keystroke combination ‘command’ + ‘z’ = ‘undo’. After using it day in and day out at work, I started wishing that I had an ‘undo’ action for everyday life. We’ve all done things that we wished we hadn’t, and said things that we would like to take back.”

And what is it, exactly, that Rodriguez wants to take back? If his mixed-media pieces for “I’d Rather Love You”—at turns somber, hopeful, nightmarish, and romantic—are any indication, they’re the same things you’d like to take back. Rodriguez is working from memory and experience, recalling disappointment and rage; conflicts with lovers; bitter words that, once uttered, can’t be retracted. These compositions are filled with weaponry, a clear metaphor for these fighting words, and the ominous images of birds, perhaps a reference to the sense of impending doom one feels in a failing relationship.

And yet, in art, as in real life, there’s hope for reconciliation and renewal. Note the cheerful flowers springing forth from the robot’s chest in one work, the cupid-like arrows piercing the central structure of Flower Nest (2015), the thriving seagrass of Sanctuary (2015). The contrast between cold steel and flourishing vegetation is key to the artist’s message. “On the surface,” Rodriguez says, “you can say the message is about non-­violence as a reaction to both physical and psychological destructiveness. It is about what I believe is the necessary response to negative actions—understanding opposite perspectives and responding in love and kindness.” These works serve as a poignant reminder that the ‘Undo’ button exists for a reason—and that sometimes, it’s not too late to use it.

Bridget Gleeson

I’d Rather Love You” is on view at KP Projects / MKG, Los Angeles, Feb. 7–Mar. 7, 2015.

Follow KP Projects / MKG on Artsy.

Portrait of Johnny “KMNDZ” Rodriguez, courtesy of the artist and KP Projects / MKG.

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