“Summer Glow. Freddy Rodríguez.”
Over the course of Freddy Rodríguez’s five decade career as an artist, he has consistently engaged in a vast array of socio-politically and biographically-infused themes. This wide spectrum ranges from his native Dominican background, to subjects such as European conquest and colonization, and from the theme of baseball, to that of Church governance and dictatorial rule. His formal depictions of these themes are as varied as the subjects themselves.
This exhibition includes works that touch upon all of the afore-mentioned themes. However, given the temporal, seasonal, and aesthetic nature of summertime in the Dominican artist’s now native New York City, Hutchinson Modern has selected a unique series of works that go beyond their intended iconographic or symbolic function, and instead, through differing stylistic and thematic means, capture the formal notions and arrangements that reflect the glow of the current summer months, and the soon to be fading glow of summer past in the months to come.
The only figural work in this exhibition is the artist’s 2007 portrait of renowned New York Yankees' player, Alex Rodriguez, "A-Rod (Three of Thirteen)." Baseball players are commonly known as the “boys-of-summer,” and in this painting, the baseball superstar of Dominican descent is depicted in an all-black silhouette against a radiant and summery sunset orange background. This deliberate choice aligns with the artist’s aim to portray the accomplishments of MLB stars, rather than their physical appearance.
Formally, stylistically, and compositionally, "Cancer (Zodiac Sign)" (2010), stands apart from the artist’s array of work. Thematically, it captures the fourth astrological sign in the Zodiac that refers to those born in the summer months of June and July, and whose constellation is that of a summer crab comprised of stars.
2008’s "De la Nada a la Nada painting about nothing #48"s title captures its very essence: it is about the pure freedom of just painting, of tapping into unbridled creativity, and of connecting emotionally to a work of art. At the same time, the scorching colors exuding from this acrylic on birch plywood is reminiscent of a summer fire gone wild, of unrestrained flames, of wood being seared.
Three years later, after completing the commissioned memorial of AA Flight 587—the 2001 fatal crash of the passenger flight departing from JFK Airport to Santo Domingo— the artist became very moved by global tragedies. He dedicated his painted "Tsunami" series to Japan after the country suffered its most powerful earthquake to date in 2011. Tsunamis can occur at any time, however, they are most likely to occur in the spring through mid-summer months, and in this work, Rodríguez captures the swirling, formal elements produced when these disastrous phenomena hit.
Most recently, Rodríguez has created a series of paintings that explore the topic of gold through a historical, financial, and symbolic lens. Golden, of course, is also the peak of the summer months’ glow. The artist’s 2018 "Aprendiendo" series (of which three are included in this exhibition) are a product of his own exploration of gold as both an alloy and a financial investment. Along with "Vidas Paralelas" (2017), these works are all comprised of resplendently golden backgrounds, with acutely linear geometric features painted over gilded canvases.
Rodríguez’s work has spanned an array of stylistic movements: from his origins as a minimalist painter, to his engagement with Geometric Abstraction and Abstract Expressionism. The unique selection of works that follow, all capture the over-arching theme of summer’s glow, while also standing testament to the vast formal and stylistic spectrum found within Rodríguez’s oeuvre.
"Amarillo"’s (1980) glowing yellow canvas of diagonal lines, brilliantly captures the summer sunlight’s radiant rays. "Pirámide" (1980)—whose palette is comprised of fiery orange, yellow, and red tones—as with "Amarillo," conflates abstraction’s linearity with expressionistic, gestural brushstrokes. "El cuarto rojo" (1973) mimics the bright vermilion and burning yellow geometric structural framework of "Pirámide." Having moved to New York City fleeing his native Dominican Republic in 1963, this work was inspired by the exposed frameworks of buildings that the artist observed being constructed throughout 1970s New York.
In "Untitled" (1971), Rodríguez works within the formal elements of Minimalism and Geometric Abstraction; however, his specifically-chosen chromatic palette is deliberate, employing colors that make reference to his Dominican identity and to Caribbean culture at large.
"Domina" (1992) is a painting deeply infused with the artist’s own brand of biographical and historical iconography. At its core, the work explores the rich history behind the colonization of Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti) and the relationship between religion and control.
"Windows #3" (1999) is Rodríguez’s response to critics stating that a Caribbean born artist would not create either geometric or abstract work. The crisscrossing of hyperchromatic linear forms painted across a strictly structural framework, playfully capture the “concrete jungle” nature of the summer months in New York City. Above all, the work stands as a perfect rebuttal on the part of Rodríguez: a response comprised by the formal language of geometry itself.
Note: Most recently, Rodríguez has pursued a series of paintings that explore the history, value, and symbolic nature of gold in art and society. In order to conduct research for the series, Rodríguez sought and was awarded a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF), which facilitated work within significant cultural institutions in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Washington DC.
The result of this research culminates in the upcoming exhibition, "La Fiebre del Oro," to be held at the Museo Ralli in Santiago, Chile, from October 2 through December 15, 2019. Artist talk to be held on October 9, 2019.