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May 4 - June 28, 2002 at Jan Baum Gallery, West Hollywood

by Judith Christensen

Tino Rodriguez, “Sweet Smells of
Farewell,” 2001, oil on wood, 12 x 8”.

Tino Rodriguez, “Zephyrus,”
2002, oil on wood, 14 x 11”.
Categorizing what we see, hear and learn in our encounters with the world is a useful, even necessary mental tool. Without it, we would be lost in a sea of chaotic sensory experience. But it has limits. It seduces us into making false assumptions that form the basis of every ism--from ageism to sexism. It is this latter tendency--the tendency to reduce or narrow our perspective--that Tino Rodríguez explores in his small (most less than a foot square) oil paintings.

For Rodríguez, worldviews or religious tenets that define experience in terms of only two categories--good and evil, body and spirit, male and female, birth and death--do not and cannot represent the complexity of the human condition. His images blur rather than reinforce the boundaries between these familiar categories. An exquisite array of intensely colorful butterflies surrounds a figure in Sweet Smells of Farewell. The delicacy of the soft blue, deep blue, fiery orange and pale green wings offers a distinct contrast to the figure's strong features: The thick, dark eyebrows; the sensuous, red lips and the piercing, brown eyes. Describing the figure necessitates the use of language that is traditionally considered gender specific, that is, is it beautiful or handsome? Powerful or tender? He or she? For Rodríguez, the answer lies somewhere in between--in a synthesis of these dualities.

Figures in other paintings further confound categories. Is the figure in Zephyrus experiencing pain or pleasure? And in Spring Lullaby what is hatching from the egg, a human or animal form? And who is its mother, the colorful bird on the branch above the egg or the humanoid figure sitting beside the egg?

In the Mexican Catholicism of Rodríguez' youth, ancient indigenous beliefs are embedded in the European Catholic framework. It is a culture of synthesis, especially in a family such as his, where relatives and friends passed along Northern European fairy tales as well as Mayan and Aztec myths. Studies in Paris as well as the United States only reinforced his sentiment that categorization, as useful and rational as it is, belies the richness of the human spirit.

Except for their small size, the Turneresque landscape paintings of Susan Wickstrand provide an entirely disctinct visual encounter. She utilizes the encaustic process over oil on linen to enhance the luminosity in her Allegory of Atmosphere series for this, her first solo exhibition here. Her attraction to the landscape genre and her fascination with light and the dance of light on water is rooted in childhood memories of watching the ocean change from one minute to the next and from one time of day to another.

The brooding darkness of Turner's and My Sea elicits a sense of foreboding and anxiety. Gray clouds threaten to completely conceal the full moon rising above a churning ocean. In Turner Seascape, the horizon line is flat, the ocean calm and the sky, although cloudy, is bright. The mood here is serene in contrast to excitement of Radiant Light. In the latter, the water seems to be on fire as it reflects the glowing sunlight searing through the blue of the sky. Whether wave or land formations, the horizon and the dark forms in the foreground are jagged, suggesting unpredictability. But it is not only nature which manifests a range of moods. The ethereal light depicted in these images reflects the ethereal nature of our psyches, which is as varied and changeable as the landscapes Wickstrand paints.

Susan Wickstrand, “Radiant
Light,” 2002, painting.

Susan Wickstrand, “Turner's and
My Sea,” 2002, painting.