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Capturing the sensation of a season in transition


'Hot Spring' by Daniel Rios Rodriguez (2020, oil on wood, 56cm x 43cm). Image courtesy of the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin

'Hot Spring' by Daniel Rios Rodriguez (2020, oil on wood, 56cm x 43cm). Image courtesy of the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin

'Hot Spring' by Daniel Rios Rodriguez (2020, oil on wood, 56cm x 43cm). Image courtesy of the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin

Hot Spring by Daniel Rios Rodriguez

Daniel Rios Rodriguez grew up in Texas, Germany, California, Virginia, Panama… and back to Germany, where, he says, “I lived in Nürnberg and Bamberg, for all four years of high school.”

His Mexican father had enlisted in the US Army in the 1970s, his mother, a Mexican-American with Kiowa Native American ancestry, was from San Antonio, where Rios Rodriguez now lives, and the family moved from base to base.

Firmly working class, his family had “aspirations for middle-class stability and sensibilities”. 

His background was, he says, more “cultured than creative”. His father drew. Flea markets and museums were frequently visited and a paternal grandfather – a tailor – made fine suits. His maternal grandfather played tenor sax.

“Like a lot of artists, I wasn’t well suited for a traditional school environment,” he recalls, but in Germany his high-school art teacher gave him a set of oil paints, six canvases, and he stayed up late “drinking schnapps and trying to make surrealist landscapes”.

He also painted images directly from Lowrider automobile magazine.

“My dad owned a ’54 Chevy Bel Air, I read his collection and later subscribed. My collection included a yearly art issue inspired by Chicano lowrider culture, and my paintings were basically de Chirico landscapes – with Aztec temples and lowriders.”

After school, Rios Rodriguez enlisted in the air force but, he says, “the discipline and lack of freedom drove me back to art”.

"I vividly remember being in my barracks in Louisiana making a drawing of Al Pacino from The Godfather.”

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There followed a BFA at University of Illinois, an MFA at Yale, which he says “was more conceptual in nature”.

"I never really learned proper technique. Much of the way I went, and still go about painting, is by incorporating other objects and materials into the painting.”

The oldest of images inspire Rios Rodriguez. “The first fingers to draw in mud or sand, the first animals to be painted on cave walls” are “efficient, simple, and yet so mysterious.” They are “images we know so much and so little about”. But his dreams and his children remain his mainsprings of inspiration.

For several years, he had a vision of "a serpent consuming something bigger than itself. In order to do so it had to unlock its jaws to great discomfort. Despite what felt like a great pain for nourishment, there was no other alternative. The serpent represents me, I am the one unlocking my jaws.”

He’s painted what he calls “very unconventional portraits” of his three children (now aged 14, 12 and two), and believes that “only a parent can know the depth of love for children. Anyone who loves like that can only do things in service to that kind of love. Part of what I do is in service to them.”

Hot Spring uses oil, rope, copper wire, wood. Within its wood frame, it is a painterly and sculptural work, “not a picture so much as a sensation”, and incorporates other materials “to keep the painting fixed as an object to be reflected on”.

"It was made after a run along the river, when everything seemed clear and the season was transitioning. There is a kind of crisp heat in the springtime in San Antonio. It’s not quite the humidity of summer, and still retains the clear skies of winter.”

Born and raised a Catholic, Rios Rodriguez is still in awe of the mystery of faith, the mystery of life.

“The whole thing for me is completely unknowable, the possibilities are seemingly infinite.”

Daniel Rios Rodriguez ‘Serpentine Dreams’ at the Kerlin Gallery, until November 20; danielriosrodriguez.com

TWO TO VIEW: Also showing...


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Sarah Long 'Pushing up daisies'

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Shelagh Honan's 'Water Witching'

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South Tipperary Arts Centre, until November 27

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