The Silent Mastery of the Painter Arturo Rodríguez by Armando Alvarez Bravo

Review of the exhibition New Paintings, Greene Gallery, Bay Harbor Islands, El Nuevo Herald, Miami, January 9, 1991, pp. 1C, 2C

An unqualifiable act of terrorism – a bomb threat – forced the conclusion of the opening of Arturo Rodríguez exhibition New Paintings at the Greene Gallery on the evening of Friday the 4th. 

But the almost 300 persons that filed through the gallery that evening to see the first exhibition that since 1987 the young Cuban master has in Miami, were able to examine an exceptional collection of 24 pictures.

The works reveal the painter’s fidelity to his theme and his laborious and unforgetable style, and also a new exploration in the use of color and the treatment of the figure.

Perhaps the work where it is most patently visible the continuity of Rodríguez’ images, as well as the appearance of signs of change is the picture House. This large scale work appears in the documentary Havana by the filmmaker Jana Bokova, wherein the artist makes statements against the Castro regime.

But it is impossible to approach his work from a political perspective. Rodríguez is fundamentally a creator absorbed in the exploration of man’s solitude, of the irrational cruelty of his suffering, the ghosts of his marginalization, and his terrible silence.

The artist captures these signs of contemporary existence trough a distorted vision of the elements that he integrates on the canvas. This representation is a metaphor of what constitutes for him what has lost its harmony and logic though successive disintegrations.

If his earlier work was defined by the density of his chiaroscuro – almost by a palette where the conversion to color was only a system of glazes over the strength of white and black – in this exhibition there is a decisive presence of difficult reds.

But the warmth of this color is not the only noticeable chromatic change. There is also an incorporation of blues, and on occasion, intense yellows of an expressionist ilk, which serve to accentuate the contrasts of the figures.

These pictures are equally the product of a thoughtful stripping. In many of them the painter does not please himself in gathering figures until creating a painful vision of human contact. Now what appears are isolated faces, unique bodies.

This simplification does not eliminate the proper distortion and twitching of the personages, and even of the objects depicted by the artist. By contrast it accentuates the spiritual tension of the men and women of his universe, as he isolates them against densely worked backgrounds with a color.

The most evident example of this new line of development is perhaps the collection of faces with intense colors and violent gestures, and canvases like The Equilibrist, where a solitary and remote figure balances itself precariously, challenging the final emptiness that surrounds it.

This phase of the painter also announces a new interest for the landscape. For external reality as an expressive element with its own intensity and values. If up to now the surrealist breath in Rodríguez’s work concentrated in the figuration of a landscape of imagination and nightmare, which corresponds to something internal, now we see that a physical environment begins to demand the first planes.

This subtle change in perspective, and at the same time a stripping away of elements that profusely mark a work of admirable development, are the equivalent of a vision of early maturity, of an expressive will for synthesis of the pictorial language.


By Armando Alvarez Bravo
Art Critic, El Nuevo Herald.