Francisco Rodriguez is interviewed for Art Verge

Yannis Kostarias, Art Verge, December 20, 2018

Francisco Rodríguez’s (b. 1989) iconography is open to dispute regarding his artistic categorization; his work oscillates between representation, abstraction and animation. The Chilean artist’s images converge motifs on male portraiture, memories from Santiago, the Chilean capital, and Japanese animation. Such contradictory visualizations on canvas illustrate the necessary painterly potential and allure even the unsuspected viewers. An additional aspect that makes Rodríguez’s work identifiable is his palette. Muted earthy tones, black, grey and salmon colours construct soft and restrained vibes, while his narrative is meticulously executed by his refined application of paint.


Rodríguez’s painting result can be seen as eerie yet balanced, and in any case it is captivating and enjoyable. His paintings mainly showcase figurative compositions with a dark and mysterious undercurrent. Shadowy male figures with sardonic grimaces and twisted expressions dominate his work. Big hats, dark green trees with flat needle-shaped leaves arranged in two rows reminiscent of firs, cigarettes swung loosely from his protagonists’ mouth and guacho clothing all signify the artist’s main motifs. All of them are remarkably infused with gloomy sentiments on the verge of fantasy, realistic representation and imagination. At another dimension, the facial features disclose the fleeting view of a mask. The pointed nose and purposeful smirk and semi-close small eyes enhance the idea of mystery, especially with regard to the male figure’s feelings or inner motivations. Paintings such as The Man (2018), It is just a dream (2018) or Dreaming with them (III) (2018) underline that enigmatic concept. An overall statement is that there is an inherent ambiguity and puzzling visual iconography in Rodríguez’s recent body of work, nevertheless the potential of the mask motif increases the visual perplexity.


The evocative atmospherics of his mysterious sceneries and his either woodsy or more urban landscapes are tinged with a significant blend of his Chilean juvenile recollections and Japanese cartoonish attributes; all rendered though with a colourfully clarity and density. Furthermore, his visualisations denote a creative quietism in forms and shapes providing an additional tone to his art. For example, paintings such as The Burning Plain (2018), Portrait (2018), Pine Trees (2018) and Sunset with dogs (2018) reveal a powerful interconnection and strong sense of painterly coherence. By exploring these works separately, the artist achieves to build up a big picture with common features. Attempting to break this big sequence down, the sundry elements of his paintings demonstrate a codified identity that proves the painterly consistency of the artist.


Born in 1989 in Santiago, Chile, Francisco Rodríguez lives and works in London. He holds a BA in Fine Arts from the Universidad de Chile in Santiago and recently received his MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art in London. The emerging artist has exhibited his work internationally in Chile, Ecuador, Spain, Poland and the United Kingdom. His latest solo show, ‘The Burning Plain’, took place at Cooke Latham Gallery inaugurating this new art gallery space in London. Moreover, 2018 has been a remarkable year for the Chilean artist thanks to receiving two important awards; the Boise Travel Scholarship and the Barto Dos Santos Memorial Award.


Art Verge: Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

Francisco Rodríguez: I would say that for each painting it is different. I don’t have any rules. Normally, for the smaller paintings, I just play a bit with paint, just drawing for a while, and suddenly the painting starts to become a picture. I just paint what I hold in my mind. I believe it is a dialogue between what I start to see on the canvas and how those marks configure in my mind. The process is like a ping-pong match, I make a mark on the surface and I get an answer from the canvas (because the mark that I do is never the same that what I had in my mind). Then I make another mark in response to this, and I follow with this process until I feel the painting is depicting what I see in my mind. For the bigger paintings, I have some sketches that sometimes come from some ideas born in other paintings, but basically is the same process –  a giving/receiving process.


AV: Has your Chilean origin/background influenced your recent body of work at all? If so, to what extent these memories are creatively developed on canvas?

FR: Definitely. I am a kind of sponge who absorbs every picture, sound, experience, feeling or idea. During the last paintings, I have developed a focus on my memories-feelings with the city (without deciding really it), either Santiago or London. This new series of paintings, “The burning plain”, are loaded with my memories, feelings, but also elaborated with my imagination. Some of the places depicted in these paintings are from my memories of the place where I grew up in Santiago; empty sites, semi-industrial landscapes, littered with some places I have found in London.


AV: Observing your work, it feels like that the Japanese animation is a significant source of inspiration to you; If this is right, which are those elements from this unique art genre that draw your attention and finally drive you to incorporate them in your imagery?

FR: I believe, I absorbed very much of Japanese animation made during the ’80s and ’90s when I was a child because this animation was cheaper to buy for the Chilean television during that time, so I spent several hours after the school watching these cartoons as well as almost the whole of my generation in Chile. During my whole childhood I copy them, so in a way I ‘learned’ how to draw with these series. So there are definitely some traces of them when I draw, not just in terms of characters, but also in this graphic characteristic of my paintings, coloured planes and strong lines, almost all of these features come from cartoons. But I don’t have any particular interest in Japanese animation, they just happen to be one of my earlier sources. Later on, I discovered artists such as Toulouse Lautrec, Daumier or Vuillard and I absorbed them as well, approaching my interest not just to the world of cartoons but also to the history of painting or in other words, I started to be interested in the production of images.


AV: What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space like, where is it now based?

FR: My studio is based in Hackney.  It is a simple space, just a nice studio with walls where I can paint and with good natural light (which I cannot really enjoy in this London winter).


AV: Which are your plans for the near future?

FR: I am coming back to the studio now to start to prepare my participation in ARCO Madrid and ARCO Lisbon with a Spanish Gallery, Galeria Leyendecker, and a solo show in their gallery space in Tenerife, Spain by the end of March. Then, and thanks to the Boise Travel Scholarship (awarded during my time at Slade Schools of Fine Arts), I will spend April on a research trip to Poland and Ukraine to study post-industrial landscapes and post-soviet cities. After this, I will lock myself again in the studio to prepare my first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, California with Steve Turner Gallery in September of 2019.