TikTok art star’s cross-over moment

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Devon Rodriguez, a 27-year-old artist from the Bronx, is social media’s most followed visual artist, with more than 32m followers on TikTok alone. His work went viral in 2020 after he posted videos of strangers’ reactions to his sketch portraits of them on the New York City subway. Now, UTA Artist Space, the visual art branch of Hollywood’s United Talent Agency, will host his first art show in New York in September—coinciding with The Armory Show—as part of the group’s first contemporary art activation outside its permanent galleries in Los Angeles and Atlanta.

The pop-up exhibition, opening today (6 September) in Chelsea, features 12 new paintings and five drawings expanding his Subway series, including new works showing travellers on transit systems in cities including London, Paris and Barcelona.

Devon Rodriguez, Chambers Street, 2023 Courtesy Devon Rodriguez, UTA Fine Art. Photo: Christian Nguyen

Despite his popularity online and being a New York native, Rodriguez still feels like an outsider to much of the city’s art scene, he says. Instead of pursuing gallery representation, Rodriguez says he turned to social media to promote his work and studied the platforms’ algorithms to find a way to go viral. Since then, he has gained millions of followers, signed a deal with UTA in August 2021, and in July met US President Joe Biden and presented him with a sketched portrait. Still, Rodriguez says he hopes that the pop-up show will help him establish a foothold in the art world.

“I’ll try to prove myself,” Rodriguez says. “Just because I don’t have a Yale MFA doesn’t mean I can’t show some powerful paintings.”

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