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Lordy Rodriguez & Rina Banerjee @ Hosfelt

Untitled 809 (Murakami/Kors), 2013, ink and artificial gems on paper, 42 x 74" 


Lordy Rodriguez’s mash-ups of visual languages put a fresh spin on the familiar postmodern strategy of mixing disparate signifiers.  Born in the Philippines and raised in Texas and Louisiana, Rodriguez, who in 2008 earned an MFA at Stanford, understands intuitively how such things operate.  He also understands, as well any product designer or Jungian psychologist, the power of symbols, shapes and colors to achieve what corporate types call “branding”.  Rodriguez, by appropriating their designs, has done the same for himself.  His art looks like nobody else’s.

Untitled 775 (Ugly), 2012, ink on paper, 36 x 36" 

Using the linguistic term for mixing verbal idioms in conversation, he calls the show Code Switch – a reference to his mix-and-match approach to selecting source materials. Each refers to different levels of consumption, culture and taste. At the high end his borrowings range from goods produced by Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors and Jonathan Adler to the globally recognized tropes of Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst.  At the opposite end of the class/taste spectrum, his sources include a found sofa, patterns culled from reality TV shows (Toddlers & Tiaras and Amish Reality) and the iron cross, the erstwhile symbol of German militarism, now embraced by bikers, skinheads and heavy metal bands.

Many artists operate within a similar conceptual framework.  What sets Rodriguez apart is that he creates imaginary maps, blending the factual approach of cartography with the aesthetics of corporate design, a practice that employs archetypal forms that resonate across cultures.  Rodriguez doesn’t sort out any of this complexity, mind you.  If anything, he complicates it further.  His role is akin to that of the provocateur/party host who invites volatile guests to see what fireworks might erupt. His works generate plenty of sparks, but they don't come from product associations conjured by his appropriated logos and patterns.  Rather, they come from  what Rodriguez does with them, and the results are retina-tingling.  They recall Op, psychedelia, Pop, Neo-Geo, The Hairy Who group and ‘80s P&D.  
Untitled 807 (Tartans), 2013, ink on paper, 22 x 36"

One key device Rodriguez employs is slicing designs into light-toned shapes that read as landmasses or bodies of water.  These he superimposes onto darker motifs, creating positive and negative shapes that, like mirrors, flip back and forth in appearance to create the illusion of windows.  Untitled 809 (Murakami/Kors) and Untitled 804 (Mondo/Adler) are particularly strong examples.  Rodriguez also proves himself to be adept at organic and geometric abstraction. Untitled 775 (Ugly) is a gorgeous drawing that pits wave patterns against a cartoonish outburst of what could be magma erupting from the sea.  The animate, graphic character of that segment, with its thick contoured, topographic outline and its irregularly shaped stones, recalls Karl Wirsum and Keith Haring at their most energetic. I was similarly engaged by Untitled 807 (Tartans). It features two plaid patterns, one laid across the other diagonally.  Smaller puzzle-piece shapes, with lines running parallel to those in the background, float on the top layer, making for a mind-boggling, beautiful work that turns the eye into a shifting zoom lens.  I can't think of an image that better describes the complexity of urban living.

Rina Banerjee’s sensuous drawings and monumental replica of the Taj Mahal are devotional works inspired by historic Indian painting and architecture.  Their subject, as the poetic titles make clear, is love. 

Banerjee: Take me, take me, take me…to the Palace of love

Her installation (Take me, take me, take me…to the Palace of Love), which occupies the gallery’s front room, is a knockout: a metal armature covered in plastic wrapping, which when struck by light, fills the space with a fairy-tale pink glow.  Inside the structure, a carved chair, suspended off the ground, overflows with humble baubles and tourist trinkets, also swathed in pink.  They read as jewels, telling us that grandeur needn’t be dependent on marble and gold; it can be achieved just as effectively with cast-off or store-bought junk.

Banerjee’s elegant, erotic drawings of female figures in anatomically challenging positions seem to have been inspired by the fantastical longings seen in Indian miniatures, as well as by other traditions.  For example, the teardrop shapes that populate them suggest that at some point in her storied career, the India-born, New York artist may have struck up a meaningful relationship with Symbolism and with the whimsical drawings of Paul Klee.  Most of what we see, however, comes from her florid, hothouse imagination.
I could expend a lot of words describing what comes out of it, but the artist’s own titles, like this one, do it best: Like honorable apparel sunny clouds would change/her and some windless net in motion would engage/her figure forward, braids will often wander/stealing air as treasure
Mark this exhibition as a must-see event.
Lordy Rodriguez “Code Switch” and Rina Banerjee “Tender Mahal – Lifted” @ Hosfelt Gallery through July 13, 2013.

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