Rocío Rodríguez is a Cuban native who has spent over 20 years of her life living and working in Atlanta. She graduated with her BFA and MFA from the University of Georgia and has since earned numerous awards including a Southern Regional Visiting Artist Award at the Academy of Art in Rome, a Cintas Fellowship, two Southern Arts Federation National Endowment for the Arts Regional Fellowships, and a Visiting Artist Fellowship at Fundación Vaparaiso in Spain. Her current exhibition of ten new works, Paintings and Drawings, runs at Barbara Archer Gallery through this Saturday, February 5, 2011.
While Rodríguez’s earlier work embodies a sense of serenity, her new work possesses a vibrant joie de vivre: an excess of lemony yellows, oranges, rubies, and sharp blacks. The indulgent use of warm colors lends an exuberance to her work; they are aggressive and full of energy, but non-threatening at the same time.
A consistent element in Rodríguez’s artwork is the juxtaposition between a graphic and painterly language. She says the painterly aspect is what keeps the paintings hot and engaged, while the graphic features maintain a sense of coolness and detachment. The way her markings blur in and out of focus seduces and lures the viewer closer. Her paintings are mechanical, architectural, graphic, lyrical, and ornamental, all at once.
In an interview with Lilly Wei, Rodríguez said that, through her paintings, she would like to “address the nature of something without being specific.” Her play on opposites and differences results from her persistence in keeping her work ambiguous. She would rather explore the experiential than the absolute. Each of her artworks is open to the viewer’s interpretation.
Natural fiber canvas primed with clear acrylic gel serves as an interesting surface for Rodríguez’s paintings. The organic nature of the fiber draws attention to the negative space, creating a wonderful tension between the man-made marks and the pure canvas. This keeps your eye steadily weaving through the rough lines, which eventually trail off into nothingness.
While the negative space functions well within her large-scale paintings, it is less engaging in Rodríguez’s drawings. The drawings’ size limits the variety of mark-making, and their flat, disconnected surface under-exaggerates the movement that is supposed to be taking place. With sizable, busy paintings, it can be helpful to pair them with works that are less stimulating on a visual level. However, many of Rodríguez’s paintings already incorporate calm moments (see Flight), and Barbara Archer Gallery provides generous quarters for each painting. With that said, I would have liked to see more paintings and fewer drawings. The strongest drawing of the group, entitled February 6, 2009, is shown above.
One of the most appealing and frustrating aspects of Rodríguez’s work is her lack of interpretation. When speaking with her, I kept asking, “Can you tell me anything specific about your work?” She answered, “I try hard in my work not [to make it] about something that can be boiled down to one specific thing — that runs counter to my work, and that would be too easy.” She continued, “All of what I encounter in my life is filtered down into my work, but not in a literal or specific way.”
She then went on to say that I shouldn’t try to put things into a concise box. And she’s right: Rodríguez is painting all the things that make up her personal reality in a very abstract and metaphorical way. Understanding this not only allows you to enjoy the paintings on a visual level, but it also lets you sink into them and reflect on how they relate to you and your personal reality.
The exhibition, Rocío Rodríguez: Paintings and Drawings, continues at Barbara Archer Gallery through Saturday, February 5, 2011.