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The Burning Plain

Tuesday, May 28, 2019 · No Comments

The dark, dream-like paintings of Chilean artist Francisco Rodríguez caught my eye recently. His show The Burning Plain from 2018 at Cooke Latham Gallery is featured here.

In Rodríguez’s case, his imaginaire clings to the mind like heavy woolens and wet winter air. It consists of firmly outlined figures that populate darkened or gray-toned landscapes: men in shadows, packs of dogs with red eyes and crows that occupy the central space of a canvas. It also prominently features portraits of lean male characters, some with cigarettes dangling from thin lips, others sporting broad impudent grins or wide brimmed hats of the sort seen in period images of Chilean gauchos or in Pablo Picasso’s early bohemian pictures, especially his portraits of Carles Casagemas, the legendary artist suicide.

Rodríguez’s imagery, in fact, calls up an array of bohemian antecedents: the Pre-Raphaelites (especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti), Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters of louche entertainments, the aforementioned Picasso of the Blue and Rose periods (note Rodriguez’s use of diamond checkered patterns, reminiscent of the Spaniard’s saltimbanques), the Viennese Secession (particularly Egon Schiele) and, skipping forward almost a century, the stylized, mischievous and oneiric figures of artists as varied as Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Wojnarowicz and Marcel Dzama. What they all have in common with the young Chilean-born, London-based artist is simple: they each sought to dovetail a hardscrabble, insubordinate view of city life with what Charles Baudelaire famously urbanely called “a way of feeling.”

Rodríguez, though, invokes a dark difference. If his pictures are romantic, they convey emotion in a way that is freighted with oblique references to still other far-flung sources: among these are the 1980s manga comic Akira, Irvine Welsh’s gritty Glasgow novels, Pedro Almodovar’s Pepi, Lucy y Bom, the lyrics of The Clientele’s Losing Haringey and the general pall cast over the artist’s native country by several decades of dictatorship, as reflected, say, in the 2008 Chilean film Tony Manero. Then there’s the painter’s choice for the title of his first London gallery exhibition. Called “The Burning Plain,” Rodríguez’s title is a translation of El llano en llamas, Juan Rulfo’s celebrated short story collection. Fittingly, Rulfo’s stories consist entirely of interior monologues spoken by characters that wander bleak, crepuscular landscapes. Like the painter’s figures, they haunt rather than traipse the desolate roads they travel. – Christian Viveros-Fauné, 2018.

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