Season 2 of HBO’s A Tiny Audience returns March 19. While the show celebrates some of the most influential musicians in the Latin community, the campaign for Season 2 is focusing on highlighting the beauty and vibrancy of Latinx music and culture in all its artistic forms. The people behind the show aimed to fill the void that COVID left on music lovers who haven’t attended a concert or tour in more than a year. They tapped talented artists and creators within the Latinx community to create tour merch and posters to promote the show. HBO called on viral sensation Devon Rodriguez to paint concert posters featuring the musicians and partnered with visionary Michael Camargo (aka Upscale Vandal) to create tour merch for the Tiny Audience viewers.
You’ve probably come across Rodríguez’s art on TikTok and other social media platforms during the past year. Rodriguez is an artist and painter from the South Bronx, New York, and is known for his photorealistic portrait style. He gained notoriety in 2019 when he started painting portraits of subway riders in NYC, and he went viral instantly when he filmed their reactions. These portraits have earned him more than 15 million followers on social media, and now artists, celebrities, and brands are looking to him for commissioned work. Rodriguez painted four posters, including this season’s featured artists, like Carlos Vives, Ivy Queen, Lunay, Lauren Jauregui, Paulina Rubio, and more.
Rodriguez spoke to Complex about his collaboration with HBO and A Tiny Audience and how growing up in New York City as a Latino has influenced his art. “I always grew up loving to draw. I just drew my whole life ever since I can remember since I was 4-years-old,” Rodriguez told Complex. “I was inspired by graffiti. I grew up in the South Bronx. I love graffiti so I got into that. Later on, I got into an art high school, and that’s where I learned how to paint portraits and I transitioned into that. In art school, we had lots of assignments doing posters so I was really familiar with that. Growing up in New York, everywhere [we look] is art. Seeing graffiti and being on the subway and just drawing everyone in my neighborhood, and just drawing portraits in general.”
There was a team behind the scenes tasked with finding talent within the Latinx that could bring this vision to life, and they are the ones who chose Rodriguez after seeing his viral TikTok videos. The artists said he realizes what a huge opportunity this is, especially since he got to paint such legendary Latinx artists. “I’m not even sure how they found me, but HBO is a big deal. Every artist in this project is a big deal. It’s amazing. It’s huge,” he said. “It was an honor, of course, to be chosen, and everyone in the lineup is a legend, I’m just glad that I’m a part of it. It’s incredible to say that I worked on this.” Rodriguez’s artistry was inspired by his surroundings, and drawing random people on the street helped him get the practice he needed to now be working on campaigns like this one.
“I’m always happy to represent Latinos and inspire my people and I know my whole family is going to be proud of me for doing this. I grew up in the Bronx. My whole neighborhood is mostly Puerto Rican, it’s all Latino. It influenced my whole life. As a kid I always drew everyone around me-—people on the block, my family,” the artist said. “I love to paint and draw all people, like people on the subway that I’ve never met. It’s kind of cool to paint everyday people and then also paint famous people, people that I heard their music in my house all my life, it’s amazing.” The videos he shares of himself painting people on the subway get millions of likes and get shared across various social media platforms. Seeing people light up when they see his masterpieces have brought joy to his many fans amid a pandemic. “It just makes me happy to bring smiles to so many people. I never thought that I would be in this position, but I’m happy about it. I can’t wait to do more, to make more content and bring more smiles.”
Tour merch has evolved so much in recent years and no other Latinx creator could fulfill this task alongside A Tiny Audience quite like Camargo. As a branding and marketing firm, Upscale Vandal has been elevating brands like Puma and Adidas, and worked with musicians like Pusha T and J Balvin to create merch that went hand in hand with their art and their image. Working with HBO on a project targeting Latinxs was monumental for Camargo. He spoke to Complex about the process of designing the custom merch that represented A Tiny Audience, while also highlighting HBO’s impact. “HBO has been in this industry for over two decades manicuring and curating high-level talent, and high-level production. That’s what the concept was when I looked at the merch. When I was a kid, HBO was a luxury. If your friend had HBO everybody was at that kid’s house. I wanted to exemplify the tenure and the years they have in the game but also make it palatable to the young cool kids that are now enjoying HBO on streaming services. So the theme was more so like a vintage version of what the future of HBO is,” he said. “It has that flare of the ‘70s and ‘80s tour merch but it has that new appeal to young kids with pop colors and retrofitting vibes. It’s all distressed so when they actually feel and touch the product it has that vintage shopping feel to it, like if you found it at a rack at a vintage store somewhere.”
“We always look at projects like, how can we embody or exemplify the movement, the idea, the ethos of what’s being spoken about? We don’t ever necessarily ever create any products that don’t really feel like they’re tied to the roots of the company, the brand—we don’t make momentary products. Tiny Audience speaks volumes because of the tenure that HBO has as a media conglomerate. They’re tapping into and adding a certain high-taste level production value to artists that are going to be the future but it also has a strong foundation of artists that are legendary in the past,” he continued. “The first thing I looked at when they sent me the lineup, I’m looking at the list and I see Carlos Vives. I grew up on Carlos Vives. My parents were Carlos Vives fans. And I see Ivy Queen, who is legendary, and then I see a Juan Gabriel tribute. Who didn’t grow up in Latino household listening to Juan Gabriel? And then you see young, up and coming stars like Manuel Turizo and Lunay.”
The hoodie and tee have the distressed, vintage vibe that a lot of concert merch has had recently. The designer made sure to maintain that, and the garments even have the artists’ names and the dates of the show on the back. “I look at tour merch like the embodiment of whatever the sound for that album is or that tour’s visuals are. It’s a capsule piece that you’re buying to commemorate a moment you experienced. You went to shows and you saw your favorite band and you left with a T-shirt that had the date you were there in the back, for whichever show you attended,” he said. “We always take a very manicured, meticulous approach. Even when we designed this merch, we had very specific intentions with the entire package. It comes with a speaker, a trucker hat, these two garments, it was supposed to all fit together. And that’s another thing tour merch doesn’t usually do. You can take three items out of this box and take them to the beach, and all you need to add is jeans and some sneakers, and you can have a fit pic. They don’t clash, you can wear them together. I wanted to do a thing that was fresh in a box, fresh to-go.”
Working with a brand as opposed to an artist gave the designer more freedom and the ability to “speak a broader design language” since he’s not tied to a specific audience. “Working with HBO gives you a wide range because they are a media powerhouse. They are a platform that brings you the best in every category. That’s what they do. I don’t actually have an identity for HBO that I have to stay completely true to, aside from the quality and the experience. Tiny Audience crosses a wide range of audiences. It doesn’t tie me to only making a product that’s going to appeal to kids, everybody watches HBO. As far as the product is concerned, it doesn’t alienate people that aren’t watching these artists or that don’t know them, it’s introducing them in a palatable way. With HBO, I’m speaking to anybody who has taste,” he said. “I looked at the list and the two names that jumped out at me originally were the contrast and juxtaposition of Carlos Vives and Lunay. So that was my approach, I wanted to bridge the gap between the timeless and the future and the nuance of being cool with products that everybody can interpret in their own way. And it lets the show speak for itself.”
Having a well-known and respected company do outreach to the Latinx community the way HBO did with this initiative is rare. It’s not common to see representation in a way that feels and is authentic, and not like forced product placement. “As Latinos, nobody speaks to us authentically. The inclusion we want isn’t integrating us into the normal lexicon, it’s them integrating other cultures into our access. We need to have access. With HBO, they’re curating for us the shows and the access that we want. I don’t want you to tell me what you think the best Latino thing to watch is, I want you to tell me what’s the best thing to watch, period, and then make it easy for me to watch it in my language. And that’s inclusivity,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing with this product. You look at this product, and I didn’t try to make it in Miami colors, to match somebody’s sneakers. This wasn’t reggaeton matching my hat to my shoes vibes, this was a cool ass shirt that represents the time that HBO has been in this. HBO has always been ahead of the curve, and always been the leader. I wanted to harp on that nostalgia.”
Through this partnership with HBO and all his previous work, Camargo is hoping to make space for other Latinos in every room he enters. “I hope that I represent Latinos in a way that they feel that there are no barriers for them anymore. Everything I do, whether directly or indirectly, I try to open the doors for every kid that is like me. I didn’t have any understanding of this industry, I had no clue that these jobs or opportunities were available. I didn’t understand any of these fields when I was a kid,” he said. “I try to leave that door open so that a kid that’s a version of me is like, ‘This guy didn’t go to school for this. This guy didn’t go to college, he faced all these adversities, and he’s a Latino working with Jordan, with Puma, all these brands. If he can do that, I can do that.’ And then there’s a door already open for him to give it a shot. Because now Paris Fashion Week looks like us. Now the front row at these shows looks like us. Now HBO looks like us.”
“These opportunities will come but their parents won’t understand and the easiest way to make them understand is by succeeding. And how do you get there? By working,” he continued. “The one thing I don’t want people to misconstrue is that these projects don’t come easy. If they want to be a part of this business and be successful without a normal 9 to 5, they have to put in triple the amount of work. Kids only see the fanfare but they don’t see the sleepless nights to turn this around, to make it on time. You have to learn the parameters of getting into business with your art.” While a lot of people who haven’t had opportunities like this one have a “happy to be here” mentality, Camargo is at a level in his career when he can be selective. “We don’t just do anything. As prestigious as HBO is, and I loved working with them and hope to work with them again, I don’t just take the banner for what it is. As a Latino-owned business, I have to make sure that companies understand that everything we do here is curated, is a process and they have to be down for that process,” he said. “I sent them what I thought was cool, I explained it to them and we educated each other on both parts of the business, and that’s a partnership. I’m not in the business of companies paying me for a workload, I’m not a worker bee, I’m a boss.”
Check out more images of the custom A Tiny Audience merch below. Season 2 of A Tiny Audience premieres on March 19 at 9 p.m. CT on HBO Latino and HBO Max.