Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Art of Alfredo Rodríguez, Part II: American Indian

We are spending this week looking at the work of Mexican-born artist Alfredo Rodríguez (born 1954), who currently lives in California. 

Rodríguez, like many of his generation, grew up to be obsessed with the American West.  It’s important to remember that though Westerns are few and far between today, that the 1950s and 1960s were a boom time for Western films and television shows; comedian Bob Hope once quipped that NBC meant “Nothing But Cowboys.”  While a boy growing up in Mexico, Rodríguez got a steady diet of American television Westerns playing in reruns.  Like many of his generation, he was marked for life.

Rodríguez’s work has been covered in such books as Western Painting Today by Royal B. Hassick,  and Contemporary Western Artists by Peggy and Harold Samuels; he has also been covered ins such magazines as Art of the West, Western Horseman, and International Fine Art Collector. He has illustrated textbooks and histories, as well, and the prolific artist is one of the most successful contemporary painters in the Western genre.

We at The Jade Sphinx wax and wane on our admiration for Rodríguez.  His efforts to keep the American West alive are met here with riotous applause.  So, too, are his abilities as an artist.  We just wish he had better taste.

Today’s picture is a case in point.  It is quite striking – Rodríguez’s skill at drawing is in full display here.  Look at the network of fine lines etched into the subject’s face, let alone the shadow of his long hair playing against his cheek.  More impressive still are the feathers atop his head, created with such complete control of line and contour as to be surprisingly lifelike.

His sense of coloration is more subdued here than yesterday’s picture – though the dramatic sky, dotted with clouds and merging into the wooded background is perhaps a bit too calculated.  And there, in short, is our problem with the work.  This is a picture calculated to its every brushstroke.  Not that all great pictures are not planned – that’s not exactly what we mean here.  Instead, it seems as if Rodríguez were checking off a list of tropes necessary or expected for this type of picture, and delivering them without comment or insight.

Is our Indian stoic and insightful?  Check.  Brilliant blue sky and wide-open spaces?  Check and check.  Peaceful village rendered in desert colors?  Check.  Water, grass and teepees?  Check, check, check.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this picture – it is actually quite splendidly done – it’s just that there is little-to-no point of view and composed by route.  One cannot help but wish that Rodríguez harnessed that remarkable technical ability into a more personal statement on the West.

It makes a superb cover for a paperback Western; as a finished work of art that stands alone on its ability to move us, it falls short.

More Rodríguez tomorrow!

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