Francisco Rodriguez has created a now familiar world through his painting, a menacing urban hinterland of lone figures and flaming horizons. In his new exhibition The Silence that Lives in Houses Rodriguez reveals another side to this narrative. The series is comprised of quiet interiors: a classroom, a sitting room, a bedroom, an abandoned art class. The exhibition's title is taken from a 1947 painting by Henri Matisse and perfectly describes the palpable silence that pervades the paintings.
The interiors depict 'safe' spaces from Rodriguez's teenage years and are painted from memory without recourse to reference materials. Rather than trying to paint something allegedly universal, he engages the viewer with the authenticity of his own specific experience. This is not a perfectly rendered reality but instead the recollections of adolescence as informed by his current influences and interests.
In Assembly, 2021 we are witness to an abandoned classroom. The tables are disordered, the blackboard still etched with chalk and there is a jarring absence of chairs. The work pertains to 2006, an important year in Chile for Rodriguez's generation in which the student union started a new political movement against the last vestiges of Pinochet's dictatorship. The chairs have been borrowed for the student meeting taking place outside. On the blackboard is a fragment of the Manifiesto Zapatista from 1996. Translated the text reads: "We were born of the night. We live in the night. We will die in her. But the light will be tomorrow for others, for all those who today weep at the night, for those who have been denied the day. The light will be for all of them. For everyone everything." This poetic text was written by a military rebel group in Mexico who fought for indigenous rights and against the exploitation of the jungle by the US and Mexican government and private industries. The juxtaposed political references, along with visual clues to the artists current influences, disconnect the work from a specific place and time.
Rodriguez's landscapes are defined by strong intervening horizon lines and dominating skies. At first glance the new exhibition is in fact void of a horizon, until one notices the raking angle of the compositions and depth of field achieved through the large expanses of floor. The horizon line continues in the soft join of floor and wall. The ceilings of the rooms are cropped to a narrow margin. The agoraphobia of the limitless horizon has been replaced by the comfort of the four walls while the edge of the canvas acts as a proscenium to the empty stage within.
Rodriguez incorporates numerous disparate references to create his distinctive aesthetic language. The painting The Silence that Lives in Houses, 2021 is inspired by the living room in the artist's childhood house. The bold colours are reminiscent of Japanese woodblocks, while the furniture is reduced to the unmodulated decorative plains of the Fauvist school. A cat, flattened to a silhouette, pads across the canvas. Recurring throughout the exhibition as a domestic motif, the cat is used by Rodriguez to symbolise safety; dogs prowling outside are the menacing antithesis.
In The Twin Room, 2021 the posters on the walls are portals to the events taking place outside. Earlier paintings by the artist are rendered in miniature, self-reflexive reminders of his continuously evolving visual language. There is a continuum between this new body of work and the artist's previous paintings. An intricate, non-linear narrative runs throughout, a nod perhaps to the experimental literary heritage of Latin America. Rodriguez has built a world in which each painting adds another layer of complexity and comprehension to the whole.
Apollo (the drawing lesson), 2021, is perhaps the quietest of all these large-scale works. It is as though the viewer is an art student returning for a sketch pad who inadvertently catches the empty room unawares. It is also possibly the most tongue in cheek. On a ubiquitous classroom table rests a plaster cast of the Apollo Belvedere, long held as the western signifier of aesthetic perfection. It sits gently mocked by the proliferation of student interpretations across the walls. One can hear the dust settle.