Born in Cuba in 1952, Atlanta-based painter Rocío Rodríguez moved to the U.S. with her family at the age of nine. Discourse about her work often touches on dualities-of her national identity, of her oscillation between abstraction and figuration, or of her alternating desires to be direct or subtle. The survey “Divergent Fictions” comprises a total of 54 large-scale canvases and smaller drawings that span 24 years and reveal her shifting concerns.
The show begins with works from 1988, when Rodríguez produced moody figurative abstractions, such as The Command, featuring an upright black and an upside-down red figure in an ambiguous space. By the mid-1990s the human form had largely disappeared from her work in favor of color field arrangements suggestive of Rothko, or in gestural geometric abstractions, such as ’49 (1994), a grid of smudgy red marks that resemble wounds, still a bodily reference. The 13-foot-wide diptych Time (1995) is downright Twombly-esque in its agglomeration of daubs, marks and brushstrokes. The whole is overlaid with notebook lines that bear red tick marks, as though the artist were keeping track of time.
Rodríguez spent three months at the American Academy in Rome in 1996 and returned to the city a few years later. Her next works were smeared and ghostly images of decorative elements and architectural details she encountered in Italy. Like a snack of celery, they’re harmless but not fulfilling.
As Rodríguez’s attention shifted to the Iraq War in 2005, her works ironically became more abstract. They are more evocations of psychological states than depictions of war. Around this time she began using the computer in her process, scanning her drawings, manipulating them and then executing the result in oil on canvas. Akin to Julie Mehretu’s explosive canvases, these energetic works combine styles and techniques-scrubbed and brushy areas collide with hard-edged swirls, linear elements are scumbled by smears of paint, and order bumps up against chaos. Crush (2009) retains hints of representation amid a riot of activity. An airplane or coffin shape on the right appears to plow into colorful upright “structures,” producing a blast of black on the left; a cluster of Xs suggests helicopter blades.|
More recently, Rodríguez has been utilizing a vast vocabulary of 20th-century painting styles and techniques (staining, scribbling, rubbing, scraping, layering, etc.) to create comparatively spare and orderly compositions. The black-and-white Totem (2011), for example-which she describes in the exhibition catalogue as a “representational painting of an abstract painting”-features a minimalist black square, blocky passages of various gestural marks and an off-kilter stack of blocks. A recurring motif, the block stack appears twice in a pair of vertical forms in Orange Trace (2012): sandwiched in the middle of one that is topped by an orange ball of tangled lines, and in the other sitting atop a painterly cloud of black on a gray pedestal.
“Purge,” a related show of works on paper, was concurrently on view at Sandler Hudson Gallery in Atlanta. The 15 pastel and charcoal drawings, most of them small-scale, offer permutations of Rodríguez’s formalist vocabulary. She also executed a wall drawing, a black-and-white display of raw gestural energy.
Photo: Rocío Rodríguez: Orange Trace, 2012, oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 by 78½ inches; at the Columbus Museum.