Rodolfo de Florencia
Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros
From the catalogue Offside
One of the topics that produce the greatest attraction toward contemporary creators, is, without a doubt, that of their relationship with the environment. It could be said that this statement might be applied almost indiscriminately to visual artists of very different times and sorts, however, the approach that the authors have had in the last years to spaces like that of the city, the family, interpersonal relationships and couples, now occupies forums formerly reserved for the analysts of each of these disciplines.
Although, the approaches of psychologists, urban planners and family therapists, almost always occurred unidirectionally, from their professional postures to their created works, it is in recent times that the latter are now the ones that come closer to the big topics, and give body and voice to our relationship with the environment.
The comments made by the work of Rodolfo de Florencia (Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, 1968), to topics such as eroticism, the relationship between couples, the inner life of families or religion, while they are not thematically novel, they are so, in the formal treatment that this author has chosen, to carry out his approach maneuvers into seas often sailed, but never sufficiently known.
Rodolfo de Florencia has managed to place in each piece, a generous dose of references that launch our appreciation systems into places that, because they are shared, seem quite familiar to us.
Perhaps that is why his work, in all the times and disciplines to which he has resorted, produces anxiety. In it, occur a great amount of actions, which as a rule, inhabit our daily life. Under his view, those intimate interpersonal relationships are placed under a microscope and questioned severely.
Upon taking a journey through his creative trajectory, one finds a wide diversity of expressive modes and simultaneously, almost always the same thematic subjects. His approach to a work that is debated between nostalgia and psychoanalysis, allows us to see, in the first versant, the old objects that take new forms, and offer readings that, maybe in their time of validity in the past, they didn't have.
In the second one, the exploration of the most intimate manners of facing reality (or unreality, according to each case), is uncovered in works that exhume in voice, text and images, a complete panorama of contemporary inter-familiar diagnoses, many times buried in the same drawer where social disfunctionality and refutable religious speech reside.
1995 is an important year in the trajectory of Rodolfo de Florencia, since he, for the first time, includes words within his works, a practice that from that point on will become recurrent in his work. The first piece in which he writes over the cloth is Fuck you Honey, and what is written is exactly the sentence that gives its title to the work. In this diptych, a couple of mysterious figures covered by a blue cloth with golden embroidery, very similar to ecclesiastical textile designs, interact with the landscape, to which they become complementary by sending sparks to it from one of the splendors. Thick drops of honey accompany the composition, while some imaginary containers are empty.
In 1996, he produced works like The Girlfriend and The Cow Cake. In both of them, we can perceive a great admiration for the Italian painters, mainly those of Manierism. In the first one, the delicate presence of the woman wearing a dress made of precise fittings, contrasts with an environment that, without contradicting her, is openly different from the central reason of the work. At the height of her sex, a small image of the the girlfriend is repeated, this time on a blue background and, just like the one of larger dimensions, without a head and with her arms full of gold bracelets.
Cow Cake equally transfers the matrimonial values, represented by the three story cake (from which hangs a line with bonnet in the style of ornamental cushions), and in front of which, the image of a cow with big udders has been placed. At the top part of this tawdry work of prototypical confectionery, we again see the girlfriend, who possesses similar characteristics to the one in the other painting, annulled in this case and of course alone, without the imperious boyfriend.
Big Macho Mexicano, of that same year, approaches in a precise manner, the old topic of the sexuality of his country-mates. It is a triptych, in which Rodolfo de Florencia successfully resorts to images that, although not explicit in their form, they are so in their evocations of religiousness, fetishism, popular references (the five-legged donkey is perhaps the best homage to the imaginary alter ego...) and the aesthetics of the garment that must accompany, even in the moments of the detachment of the robes – even if it is only for its initial disdain and later removal–, the act of seduction.
An inverted skirt covers the woman's torso, and it leaves in view, from the waist down; there is a splendor around her hip, similar to the one that accompanies the iconography of the virgins, while her panties are decorated with red hearts, and her white stockings with stars are held up by garter belts.
To the right, a transparent skirt covers the body of a man, represented by a Mexican Charro hat in the upper part of the piece, and it allows us to see in the underpants, the bundle of his sex, while the external robe, halfway between the real and the imaginary, denotes a erect penis that has been rewarded with a sort of small splendor, which clearly indicates the area of its head and its directionality, which aims toward the woman at the other end.
These two anonymous people, who have been voluntarily robbed of a portion of their physiognomy and located in a mountainous landscape, inter-act directly and irrefutably with each other, donkey at the center of the composition, in a totally sexual attempt.
In 1997, he produces The limit (the artist's look), an important triptych, in which a landscape is altered simply, separating one of its parts and relocating it on a different support, or, placing a frame on the same landscape that limits a part of the total piece. The reading of works such as The limit... although these remit us to authors like René Margate, denotes the development of his trajectory in which one discovers how, little by little, series by series, he approaches visual moments to which, although for different causes and by walking different roads, authors of other times and countries also arrived.
One year later, his work displays significant changes that will remain (mainly in the way of composing each piece), in later works. 1998 is the year of Macabre Dreams and of The Meaning of Dreams. In both cases, we encounter a bolted imagery that reminds us of some of the works that relate us to the best and darker moments in the battle for the dreams, the eternal trench of freedom and the field untouched by the untiring regents of “morality and good customs."
They manipulate our dreams and our fears, knowing that fear is never innocent... If they were not so terrible they would make us laugh. If they were not so harmful they would cause us pity. Because like ghosts, without pause and without rush, they are nothing, if you remove the sheet from them –wrote Juan Manuel Serrat about the priests[i]..
I bring up this quote, because of the enthusiasm I feel for all the works of 1998 mentioned above. With direct references to the tortures carried out by the Holly Inquisition, Rodolfo de Florencia illustrates in a fortunate oneiric-sexual mixture, along with a rigorous documentation of the instruments of torture and death, actions that in their best moments contribute to the legends of the past, some ideas that without a doubt, had the fundamentalist executioners of the mandatory conversions known them, they would have adopted them and applied them at leisure. In the work of Rodolfo de Florencia we find an important approach to the age-old problem of the situation of man confronting the issues of Divinity.
Dream II, of 1998, is one of the pieces of greater iconographic abundance, executed in ink and composed by six panels. Here converge the deepest formal concerns of Rodolfo de Florencia, who is able to create in this work a sort of graphic identification, in which there is a succession, section to section of the poliptych, of the most unexpected situations, in which human bodies are the main characters. With the enormous gift of a drawing ability in evidence in works like this, the invention of objects that link the characters, the postures of those who act in the scene presentation and the significant background selected for all this to happen, tell us that this is a visually informed author, an avid reader of the works of his ancestors of previous centuries, and also a careful observer, of the prototypical manners of presenting the drama of contemporary times. A man with nails in his back, another penetrated by a funnel in his anus, and yet another who urinates seeds, are just some of the moments of this oneiric occurrence, which completes, in an overwhelming manner, the trajectory of this author.
The investigative wandering of Rodolfo de Florencia, finds refuge in some of the emblematic works of contemporary art of the last century. The urinal, by Marcel Duchamp, the can of Campbell’s soup, by Andy Wharhol and that of Piero Manzoni (this only as a reference), when placing an excrement patty on an elegant marble column.
The year 2000, is also that of a severe question through words. The accent is now seemingly upon the apparently immovability of art, and the substitution of his object-oriented values, represented to be turned into pieces of intellectual reverence. Logbook, as its name indicates, sets clear through his own handwriting over cloths of the painting, the hours and the activities of an ordinary day, referring of course, to the works mentioned above of Manzoni, Wharhol and Duchamp:
8:21 AM. I evacuated the most impressive sculpture carried out in the smallest possible time (12 seconds)
2:02 PM. I threw away in the garbage, a work valued in Thousands of Dollars.
3:45 PM. I urinated into what for some is a masterpiece work of art.
It may be imprecise to venture into trying to tie into a knot, every one of the elements that appear in his work. It will be safer perhaps, to seek among the hidden meanings of things, the weak edges that make them pertain to each other. And it is because nothing is centered only unto itself, and at the same time everything is connected to everything else. The overpowering entirety does not possess, in spite of its categorical character, a single unique, firm, certain center. Partially we could understand the all with the all, but an explanation of that fullness is impossible with any on its parts, at the same time complete, while inter-acting with the rest thereby present.
Suddenly, everything would seem to be hieroglyphic, and in that calculated representation, each image makes reference to another image. I think that there exists some reminiscence of Manierism, fundamentally in the manner of presenting objects and characters in his work. Along that route, we discover that religion and eroticism are related, in a manner as direct as eroticism and family. A woman who places ads in the newspapers looking for a sexual partner, or a man who longs for partners substantially younger than himself... all those aspects, slowly shape a Rodolfo de Florencia who, cautiously but with determination, approaches all the cracks that we daily try to jump, in order put our public image to good account, many times detached from inadmissible intimacies, but already denounced in this author's work.
In one of his most recent stages, and resorting to (among other resources), what I will call the interior text –letters, highlighted in a different color that the rest of the text that supports them, and which form separate words – de Florencia accurately describes some of the main characteristics of the characters depicted, whom we generally see with their backs turned and concealing, so it would seem, their identity. ' Lie ', ' Insanity ', ' Sadist ', they are some of the denouncing words, which accurately point out the profile of the alleged author of the texts, similar to those published in the classifieds sections of the newspapers.
In the pieces of the series Extinction of New Species, where we see great men of universal thought, we find that each one of the small portraits is a box of light, and the object that Rodolfo de Florencia has selected for each one, is related with his personal reading of the one depicted. In this series, they all have represented weapons on their heads. The forced question is whether thought is the best weapon, and the conclusion is the revelation of an overvaluation of ideas and rational activity in our time, which have displaced other abilities (those of the other intelligence), such as intuition, ingenuity, instinct.
In another of the series of similar characteristics, Family Portrait, the objects on the heads of the characters, are more directly related with the perception that Rodolfo de Florencia has of those people. Thus, the displayed object synthesizes his personal recollections and perceptions of coexistence with them. Neither is there a detachment from the symbology that, in themselves, possess each of the selected objects: the revolver is aggression, violence, but in a simultaneous manner, it is also virility and decisiveness; the fist is militancy or drive; the evocation of the hammer and the nail comes closer to sexual references, etc..
Family portrait is one of the most complete pieces in this stage, since it involves, visual plastic, object-oriented and auditory languages: two recordings reproduce sentences that reveal the evident polarization of the inter-familiar relationships such as, I adore You"!, " Get the hell out of here", You are an asshole!" and others, that would seem to have been selected from a typical trimester in any Mexican home. The text in this piece is a sort of script, which takes us by the hand into the visual and auditory group, which is without a doubt, one of the most powerful proposals in this work stage of Rodolfo de Florencia.[ii]
The last work stage of Rodolfo de Florencia, allows us to see an author who veers, in a radical way, to new expressive spaces. Abandoning the speech of his previous work, and even approaching new thematic subjects, he intrudes, he frontally approaches roads through which he had not been before. At the end of 2002, he presents his exhibition
O f f s i d e, in the Nina Menocal Gallery, undertaking the theme of soccer. The title refers, explains de Florencia, to the old and controversial rule of the offside, a rule that is many times limited to the questionable appreciation of a referee and which is applied according to the location of the players, the referee and his assistants around the play-field.
Made up of three stages, O f f s i d e exposes some of the weaknesses of the most popular sport in the world, taking pieces of the play-field to the very gallery: a corner, a part of the shot area, and another of the goal area. There is the grass, the white gypsum that defines the areas, and there is also, the need to water that grass in the gallery, of tending to its growth and of making sure that this small, cut-off part of the play-field, survives and is expressed with the same force, with which the complete greater one does it inside a stadium.
The ball-head (the model is in fact Rodolfo's own brother), questions the mania to which the fans become victims, mainly during the times of the World Cup every four years. The pain that could be felt by a soccer-ball, its abandonment, once the match has ended, the foot of the players on it, as if it were a hunting trophy, make that spherical object, now with a face and hair, express to us, some of the sensations that the soccer-ball may experience and is unable to show us.
The third aspect of O f f s i d e, refers to the big idols of world soccer. Figo, Batistuta, Zidane and Ronaldo to just mention four, are represented only by their legs and by the stockings of the team to which they belong. Next to them, and as merchandise that they are, the millionaire sums of money that the different sport clubs have paid for these players.
The work of Rodolfo de Florencia, is the kind carried out with the will to circumscribe making art, into a strictly self-referential environment. In the case of O f f s i d e, it is easy to remit to the author's personal liking for soccer, however, in all the periods of his trajectory, there are points of encounter with his phobias and of dis-encounter with his philias. That is maybe one of his biggest contributions, in the course of his becoming visual artist. We are without a doubt, before a hieratic personality who approaches at one time, apparently intimate and domestic, a world that mundanely overflows throughout religious, family, social and even sporting issues, that are seen from reduced cavities, but whose projection covers spaces substantially larger.
1 Juan Manuel Serrat, fragment of "Los macarras de la moral", in his album Sombras de la China
2 The text in the work says: “Mexican Family of middle class, disfuncional, 5 members. Father retired prffessional, 70 years, gray-haired, height 1.85mts. Mother psychologist, color honey eyes, light brown, unemployed. Older Sister of 33 years, therapist and single mother, white, with good body. Sandwich brother, terrible and audacious, 76 kgs., tall and slender. Younger brother, 27 years, brown hair, handsome, psychologist and musician, temperamental. Desirous of being a good family they have fought to be happy. Beautiful. “