Daniel Rios Rodriguez’s quirky, unassuming paintings don’t fall into any easily recognizable niche or category, as was seen in the up-and-coming San Antonio artist’s first solo show at Western Exhibitions. With their homemade and found wood frames, their collaged elements (shells, river rocks, feathers), and their deliberately unrefined paint-handling, these works have a rustic, do-it-yourself feel.
Rodriguez holds degrees from the Yale School of Art and the University of Illinois at Chicago but seems intent on subverting any overt artistic sophistication his education might have gained him. He draws on folk influences, especially the work of Forrest Bess, a self-taught Bay City, Tex., artist whose recognition has continued to rise since his death, in 1977. Largely moving away from Rodriguez’s earlier, Picasso-tinged figuration and vanitas symbolism, the eight modest-size paintings in this show, which comprised work made in the past two years, draw on nature and generally exude a brighter, more upbeat feel. Though not as obviously autobiographical, the new paintings are suffused with what a gallery statement aptly describes as his “deeply personal cosmology.”
Among the standouts was Old and New Dreams, in which a twisted snakeskin (filled out with bits of canvas and fabric and featuring a tiny leather strip protruding from one end like a tongue) is attached to the whitish-painted canvas along with an easy-to-miss seedpod-shaped piece of leather higher up. The snake overlays what looks to be a rendering of a sliced pomegranate, a seeming reference to the Garden of Eden. The composition also includes a painted branch with cobalt-blue and green leaves, as well as a painted border of school-bus yellow, purple and black—a good example of Rodriguez’s weird, alluring palette. Surrounding it all is one of the artist’s suitably ramshackle wood frames.
The snake was a recurring motif in the exhibition. A painted incarnation was seen in High Moods, a semiabstract landscape with a frayed rope and a rock notched into its frame. In Sound and Vision, which is as much an assemblage as a painting, a length of snakeskin is embedded in wax along with matches, elongated seedpods, dried flora and other materials.
A small hunk of concrete and a bit of red-painted wood, collaged at the center of South St. Marys, evoke a small house sitting on a horizon line. The form appears within an eye-shaped enclosure with rays emanating from it that conjures one of the all-seeing eyes of God common in medieval art. Jutting from the canvas is a semicircle of metal nails, which are all but invisible beyond a few feet away.
Rounding out the compact show were 30 graphite drawings hung salon-style—quickly executed renderings of everything from flowers and faces to airplanes and even dashes of erotica. While the drawings no doubt helped Rodriguez work through ideas, they have less of a presence than the expressive paintings. There is nothing grand or groundbreaking about those paintings, but they satisfy in their elusive and offbeat way.