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Between 2014 and 2016, artist Arturo Rodríguez exhibited drawings associated with the book “The School of Night” at the Frost Museum, and another series of pencil drawings of his friends and family at Under the Bridge Art Space in North Miami.
But it’s been almost a decade since his oil paintings were shown in Miami. Rodríguez now reemerges, much like Delacroix in the Salon of 1859: a 63-year-old painter with an impressive career, but who does not rest on his laurels, instead exploring and taking risks, all in the name of painting and its possibilities.
The exhibit, “Arcimboldo’s Ghosts,” dwells with almost classical austerity in the halls of the unpretentious and elegant LnS Gallery, where pale gray walls provide the perfect backdrop for Rodriguez’s pictorial explosion. The show, which runs through Jan. 23, comprises 21 oils on canvas, 6 watercolors, 6 drawings, and a display case with the artist’s sketches.
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Part of the magic of this exhibition derives from its didactic elements: from sketches to oil paintings. Rodríguez unveils his work process — full of mystery and alchemy — allowing us to envision through the different media and stages of creation how he thinks and paints.
Rodríguez is what we might call obsessive, but he is not a formulaic painter repeating himself mechanically through a familiar language.
Throughout the history of art we find obsessive painters like Goya, Turner, Bonnard, Orozco, Guston, Mitchell. Like many of them, Rodríguez works on series, getting the most out of every theme, exploring all possible variations — like a visual Bach or Coltrane. He proves that intense focus is the sole domain of deep souls and great talents.
His series from the past several decades — from Mad House, Fools, Exiles, The Tempest, Ghost Archipelago, Illuminations, The Human Comedy, Arrivals and Departures, The Caravaggio Project and The School of Night — prove that he is one of the most rigorous and daring painters of our time.
With “Arcimboldo’s Ghosts,” the painter presents a series of visual divertimentos in which he weaves and combines tributes to, and parodies of, various visual artists, from the bizarre Italian Mannerist — after whom the series is named — who used vegetables and fruits in his portraits, to 20th century photographers like Henri Cartier Bresson and Diane Arbus.
Amidst them, we encounter Uccello’s St. George and the Dragon , engravings by Sharaku, Napoleon’s equestrian and the madmen of Gericault, Courbet and his patron Bruyas, Cézanne’s bathers and Mondrian’s squares. All these elements are transformed into Rodriguez’s distinctly personal vision, and are in turn excuses for the painter to invite us to travel within his pictorial adventure — where he does as he pleases with the components of the painting process: drawing, color and composition. But this is only possible in the hands of a painter with the experience of an old man and the audacity of a young one.
The watercolors and drawings in this exhibition reveal the difficult simplicity of a line and a blotch placed on paper with freedom and conviction. With a minimum of elements, hybridized figures of bodies, vegetables and fruits appear. On the canvases we find carrot-headed pilgrims, dragon-legged bathers, and shadows on the floor that turn from man to dog to mask. Avocados, papayas, eggplants and pineapples are painted in all their succulent sensuality, but they are not part of a still life; rather, they are living forms representing faces and heads. These ghostly apparitions materialize with the fragmentation of life itself, in perpetual motion, impossible to grasp. They come and go. In all the works, the white as pigment or the bare fabric of the canvas are color, standing for light and void; once again, the ghost.
It is fair to say that the centerpiece of this exhibition is the enormous triptych entitled “Arcimboldo, Gericault, Arbus, Sharaku, Courbet, Uccello, Cézanne Ghosts,” measuring 66 x 152 inches. This painting is imbued with the breadth of a movie, like Kurosawa’s “Ran”: all encompassing. It is all here, the whole world with its tragedies and joys, the beautiful and the grotesque, the nothingness and the whole.
Horses and riders, dragons and dogs, maidens and bathers made up of fruits and vegetables — many of them tropical — move through the canvases with an overwhelming sense of being, while in the background — on top, bottom and sides — appear pieces of a city redolent of Miami or Florence, with its highways and walls.
After we finish seeing the exhibition, we return to the drawings and watercolors, and back to the canvases. In the end, we are exhausted by the intensity of the experience and exhilarated by its richness.
Alejandro Anreu, Ph.D. in Art History, is associate professor of art history / Latin American / Latino Studies, William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey.
If you go
▪ What: ‘Arcimboldo’s Ghosts’ by Arturo Rodríguez
▪ Where: LnS Gallery, 2610 SW 28th Lane, Miami
▪ When: Through Jan 23
▪ Information: 305-987-5642, www.lnsgallery.com