Artist David Rodriguez
Reality and Fantasy Collide.
Words by Natalia Taylor.
The Return, (2005), oil on canvas.
As a child growing up in Cuba, David Rodriguez would go up to his grandparents' attic and lose himself for hours among the abandoned, broken items he found there. Years later, these forays into the dark recesses of junk rooms, filled with dusty household goods, would be recreated on canvas, in his unique depictions of well worn pots and pans, rusting bicycles and old toys.
By infusing elements of fantasy or magic into these depictions of forgotten articles, Rodriguez’s work captures the outlook of a child, a sense of wonder in a world of make-believe. It is this seamless blending of the possible and the impossible, the meeting of reality and fantasy in a single scene, which is the hallmark of Rodriguez’s work.
Vanity, (2010), oil on canvas.
It is a style that Ramon Cernuda, owner of the specialist Cuban art gallery, Cernuda Arte, that exclusively represents him, describes as Magical Realism. As a genre it is most often associated with the fiction of Latin American authors, where supernatural, impossible events are recounted as if they were quite unsurprising. In Rodriguez’s art, the same elements of fantasy are presented as part of the every day: the neck of an abandoned violin becomes the stalk of a plant bursting into leaf in Adagio; a little girl on a rocking horse in Cavalcade reaches her hands towards a giant butterfly; tiny wisps of cloud are suspended over a mug in Clouds in my Coffee.
Adagio, (2007), oil on canvas.
Magical Realism refers not only to the way Rodriguez presents the impossible as real, but, according to Cernuda, “His technique is Realist in the sense that the objects are painted in a natural way.” Indeed, the relics Rodriguez paints are so authentic one feels one could almost reach out and touch them, and by including their imperfections it seems he breathes life into them: “…an old doll becomes animated and alive; a chipped coffee pot starts to steam; a dilapidated paint bucket overflows with dripping wet pigment,” says Cernuda. While there is the suggestion of inanimate objects coming to life, the more magical elements are underplayed, making it easy for the viewer to accept fantasy as reality.
Clouds in my Coffee, (2011), oil on canvas.
Rodriguez’s paintings pulse with a sense of poetry, the story being told with subtlety and delicacy, and the theatre-like setting of so many of his works underscore this impression. Often his protagonists are depicted against a dark night sky, appearing to be spot lit in the centre of a stage, as we see in The Return, where a centaur carries a ladder across a barren landscape, or in Make a Wish, where a young witch watches shooting stars through a telescope.
Make a Wish, (2011), oil on canvas.
“In the work of every painter, there always exists an interwoven part of his inner world, which is not something that he consciously reflects in his art,” reveals Rodriguez. “In my case, the presence of elements that refer to childhood and innocence are an allusion to precisely the nostalgia of that childhood left behind.”
A graduate of the acclaimed San Alejandro Academy of Art in Havana and later the Graduate Arts Institute of the same city, Rodriguez has been painting since he was a young boy, although it was not always his ambition to make a career out of it. Despite twelve solo exhibitions and over thirty group exhibitions to date in numerous countries, and having been presented at various major art fairs in the USA, there is surprisingly little information available about the artist. This might at first seem surprising, bearing in mind how well established he is in his field. However, when one considers that until five years ago he was based in Cuba where, he explains, “The art market is very limited, made up of a select group of foreign visitors and collectors who promote the arts,” and where, “the artist…does not have to worry about mortgages, bills or car insurance,” the fact he has devoted his energies to painting, rather than marketing himself, becomes understandable.
Turn Me On (2011), oil on canvas.
Now that Rodriguez is residing in the US, this is changing. Rodriguez reveals that his more recent artwork reflects the very different social and economic structure in which he is now living. “The visually romantic world that was instilled in me during my life in Cuba has now seemed to leave me, in exchange for a more Pop Art-driven creation,” he explains. Today he is experimenting with different compositions, painting single items – often mass produced items, like coffee cups, cans of paint or light switches, in which he says he hides messages.
Hiatus, (2011), oil on canvas.
Although the child-like wonder of his earlier art may be maturing as his circumstances change, it is clear that the playful and mysterious elements that characterise his style will live on through his future work.
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