Las Vegas artist Miguel Rodriguez specializes in isolating cultural imagery and magnifying it to histrionic proportions, like clip art on steroids. This scheme manifests itself via familiar pictorial vocabulary that is skewed by scale, repetition or plain old attitude, to surprising results. Take Rodriguez’s monumental public art commissions: Whether giant concrete animals for the Las Vegas Wetlands or huge cartoonish hearts for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the artist uses scale to reveal an endearing approachability that highlights the magnanimous side of his chosen subject.
In the context of Rodriguez’s studio work, that cartoon heart takes on a more sinister mood. Grossly amplified dimensions suggest hierarchy, power or threat. Repeated forms can distort meaning or allege a complete lack of substance. Rodriguez’s 2009 exhibition, Dead or Alive, You’re Coming With Me, is a great example of the artist in top form. The endless wall of goofy John McCain masks and glow-in-the-dark car crash murals became an Adult Swim-tinged schlock horror-scape that explored propaganda, consumerism and pop cultural nostalgia with all the delicacy of Dawn of the Dead. Rodriguez can take a simple cartoon character, movie theme or political icon and contort it to reveal us to ourselves. His dark places are our dark places; we join him in battling our demons of indulgence.
Unfortunately, many of these characteristics are missing from So Sincere, Rodriguez’ latest effort for Trifecta Gallery. His formal devices are there: pop colors, oversized icons, fussy surface treatments. But there’s no coherent message.
- So Sincere
A triptych of cheeseburgers is elevated to heroic status, featuring a central realistic burger flanked by its alter egos: the shimmering ebony “Heartattackblack” and the deconstructed duo-toned “Cheeseburger.” Fun to look at, they never quite transcend their status as simple snacks.
With five playful Ganesh muted in matte pastel tones, the artist hopes to obscure meaning through iteration. But a series of 20 or 30 would more effectively overpower the singularity of the icon. As such, the effect is more Easter parade than torqued Hindu deva.
There are sexy soul zebras and man-eating plants. The references are hip, and Rodriguez is clearly well trained in fabrication techniques, but the show never quite surpasses expert casting and pretty surfaces, settling uncomfortably close to the realm of craft or boutique design.
Hints of subtext linger, most notably in the clip art mural of a man battling a crocodile. And there’s the title So Sincere. Where is this new dark place? Is the enemy revealed to be nothing less than art itself? Rodriguez is still exposing demons, but this time he’s fighting his own.