This past week, we were lucky enough to entertain a dear friend who is also deeply devoted to the arts. We were talking about the art world in general and The Jade Sphinx in particular when he opined, “you know, you may want to write about artists who are still alive every now and then.”
At the same time, I had been reading S. C. Gwynne’s masterful Empire of the Summer Moon, a look at the Comanches, who were at one time most powerful Indian tribe in American history. (Expect more on this book, later – it is magnificent.) And that called to mind the paintings of Alfredo Rodríguez (born 1954).
Rodríguez started drawing and painting in his earliest boyhood; it was as natural to him as learning to walk or speak. He was born in Mexico, and grew up fascinated by stories of the American West. The West of his imagination is peopled with strong, colorful Indians, prospectors, homesteaders, and miners. His pictures have been corralled by private collectors and several corporations, and he currently exhibits at numerous invitational art shows around the country, including the Masters of the American West at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles, as well as in the Heritage Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, The West Lives On Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming, and the Art Pacific Gallery in Wailea, Hawaii. Collectors include the late Gene Autry, actress Connie Stevens, and Pilar Wayne (widow of actor John Wayne).
Rodríguez became a professional artist 1968 and made a steady career of magazine illustration before moving into fine art painting. He has been a remarkably prolific painter, and his oeuvre varies remarkably in quality. There are works that have a striking, stark declarative power – here is the past as I see it, peopled by remarkable giants now long gone. Other pictures, particularly those involving children or family scenes, are sentimental and soft … bordering dangerously on kitsch. Like many painters who have had to make a living in the extremely competitive field of magazine illustration, Rodríguez often panders rather than paints. However, when Rodríguez is at the top of his game, he is quite something.
Today’s painting, Profile of a Chief (2006), exemplifies all that is great and questionable in Rodríguez’s work. The technical aspects of Rodríguez’s work here are quite wonderful: notice, the superb draughtsmanship in the depiction of the face, or, better yet, the brushwork that not only delineates the lines of various feathers, but moves them in-and-out of shafts of light. Though the visible hand has aged into a claw, the deep lines in the knuckles and stained thumbnail are clearly visible. The beadwork is rendered with loving detail, and the fringe of his buckskin has a wonderfully tactile quality.
And yet … and yet, Rodríguez becomes the victim of his own desire to please. The coloration of the picture, though striking, is simply too … much. It is if Rodríguez almost did not trust his own considerable talent enough, and felt the need to overcompensate, to dazzle with color to hide any possible defects in the drawing. Many contemporary painters are guilty of this – extremely talented men and women who, without the long tradition of atelier training to provide confidence and context, default to excess to guarantee success.
For all of its excesses, though, Profile of a Chief is a well-executed picture.
More Rodríguez tomorrow!