Forgiven Paintings: Tears Drop in a Blue Sky...
Noah Arthur Bardach
Rodolfo de Florencia was born in 1968 in Cuernavaca, Mexico. His work combine a playful and creative imagination with an anti-establishmentarian outlook towards historical institutions of Mexico such as the Catholic church, “machismo”, capitalism and mass-media. His subject matter ranges from cigarette addiction and copulating Saints to farcical, neo-romantic portraiture. With a nod to Mexico’s art-historical past, Rodolfo has created a purely unique style based on artistic irreverence, playful interpretations and innovative technical processes. In a mildly offensive way, de Florencia’s work sabotages and subverts the most holy canons.
The art of retablo painting, a Mexican tradition with a three century popular history, has been fundamental for many of the most important Mexican artists in their search for “Mexican imagery”. Rodolfo, in turn, has appropriated the look of the retablo. Traditionally painted on tin and used as functional religious objects, after about 70 years the retablos are characterized by a worn texture and oxidized metal. Rodolfo’s canvases, through technical processes involving wax, multi-layering and distress, have acquired this same look and, transitively, they possess and emit an aged presence.
The second tradition which Rodolfo has incorporated and, in his playful manner, satirized is that of aristocratic portraiture. Before the advent and popularization of photography, portraiture was used by the aristocracy of Mexico as a symbol of their wealth, power and stature. Upon reaching the age of 15 the daughters of high-society would have their portraits painted, a demonstration of their position of power and esteem. As is typical of his treatment of other pillars of Mexican art, Rodolfo co-opts, subverts and reissues this tradition. Present still, are the young women of the aristocracy in their finest lace, their posture perfect and exuding aristocratic self-respect. For his part, Rodolfo has removed their heads, a symbolic representation of their conformity and lack of individualism.
He has also superimposed his own iconography; unique symbols reminiscent of a stylized female reproductive system. As in many of his works, the meaning of Rodolfo’s symbolism is ambiguous and, at times, diametrical. This symbol of reproductive capacity may be a reference to the female power of maternity or, opposingly, to the mysoginist view of colonial Mexico which viewed a woman as nothing more than a means to reproduce.