Unframed Honesty / Rodrigo Echeverria Noriega at Oz Studios

OZ STUDIOS (134 Ossington Avenue)
January 9 – 23, 2012

Oz Studios is an inconspicuous, small gallery space on Ossington Avenue. This quaint little space is just enough to host the solo show by Mexican artist Rodrigo Echeverria Noriega. Conservative Honours, the artist’s Canadian debut, uses a variety of media to depict a village that draws from imagery of the artist’s native country.

Installation view of Rodrigo Echeverria Noriega: Conservative Honours at Oz Studios, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Upon entering the gallery, you will notice Noriega’s clever touches all over the place—from the walls to the floors to the windows—engaging the whole space for a total aesthetic experience. I was particularly delighted by a red stripe that runs along the walls of the gallery. “I’ve installed a red bulb at the entrance,” Noriega happily explained, “so that when people walk in, they have red on their minds. Then they see the red stripe and they unconsciously recognize it, and feel welcome.”

Rodrigo Echeverria Noriega, Reclining Woman, 2011. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Noriega’s earthy paintings depict traditional Mexican imagery of figures and landscapes. Yet, the close embrace of a man and a woman in Redemption is evocative of Klimt’s Kiss (1907-08), and Reclining Woman seems to be in keeping with the long tradition of the reclining nude that goes all the way back to Giorgione.

Rodrigo Echeverria Noriega, Redemption (A man and a woman hugging), 2011. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist

When I observed that some of his paintings evoke references from art history, Noriega nodded thoughtfully. Although he didn’t necessarily create his paintings based on those works, he does acknowledge the influence. “I value the tradition in art history and learn from the Masters. They’re the ones who got it right, you know? I take the tradition, and make something of my own, something modern and avant-garde,” he said.

Even as his paintings invite nostalgia and contemplation, Noriega does not forgo his creative gestures. In between the paintings are bright orange pipes containing flowers. While they seem wonderfully quirky, Noriega said these flowers are for honouring the paintings, one adjacent to the other. Or, they could also be referencing the notorious Piranha Plant as seen in the Super Mario video games. “In that case, they’d take on a much more dangerous role,” added Noriega with a grin.

Installation view of Rodrigo Echeverria Noriega: Conservative Honours at Oz Studios, 13-23 January, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Noriega likes to experiment, as evident in the exhibit. “My primary focus is always painting, first and foremost,” he declared; but his art is undoubtedly informed by his forays into different mediums. The media he experiments with are not the end game, but a means to an end—which always comes back to painting.

Loyal to his work, Noriega intends the paintings to be seen with “unframed honesty.” Instead of frames, the canvases are visually enclosed by strips of yellow he painted on the wall. He prefers that the paintings interact freely with the surface of the wall, and that the viewers experience the works in their bare form. “I don’t want my paintings to pretend,” explained Noriega. “I don’t want them hiding behind a fancy frame, or big stuffy conceptualism. My paintings are honest.”

And that is precisely what I liked about Conservative Honours. Noriega’s paintings are delightfully down-to-earth and exude warmth. They are a welcome relief from the January blues.

By Seowon Bang

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