Valletta Contemporary

Artist Interview: Mareo Rodriguez

 

Interviewed by Ann Dingli 
December 2021

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Portrait of Mareo Rodriguez

Barcelona based and Colombian bred sculptor, painter and architect Mareo Rodriguez’s work is filled with the grittiness of natural territory: mountains, rocks, waveforms and lava. Nature, the ever-changing topography of the mountains and the condensation of light and its process of transformation and expansion of energy over time are his biggest inspiration.  He says: “Matter is condensed light” Referring to matter as a process of transformation and expansion of energy over time. His work is constantly moving like a tectonic plate and depicts beautiful earth forces. ‘I seek to cover different scales within my artistic approach.

Mareo has previously exhibited internationally in USA, Canada, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Emirates and England.

 

Mareo’s work looks to function across different scales, from the “massiveness of the mountains and rocks, through its decanting process and fragmentation up to the stone as the basic unit”.

Mareo speaks to Ann Dingli about his upcoming show at Valletta Contemporary (VC). Portals, curated by Elisa Massardo, presents a series of elemental works and a focus on a set of fissures, revealed within the physicality of the gallery itself. The show illustrates how “cracks can be an invitation to constant reflection, inviting us to discover possible worlds”.

 

Ann Dingli (AD): Your practice is influenced strongly by nature, but your work also appears to be very orderly, systemised, and intentional. Is this coming from your background in architecture?

 

Mareo Rodriguez (MR): Yes, my greatest influence is undoubtedly nature, contact with the landscape, natural forces, and the mineral kingdom; everything I need to learn is there. 

On the other hand, the influence of architecture is also very present, using in some cases geometry as a tool to understand space, section the territory, the ability to abstract and minimise the essence of the concept I want to explore, the choice of materials, and the subtlety of how they are used, constructive systems for the installations –all this mental aspect is undoubtedly marked by 15 years of experience in architecture. It is also complemented by the organicism of my relationship with nature – that is the emotional, visceral and spiritual part.

 

AD: Aside from form, your work seems to have a strong focus on monochromatism. Your palette is clean and often metallic, with light seemingly also being used as a colour. Can you comment on your use of colour?

 

MR: My colour palette is reduced and, as you mention, mostly monochromatic, the elimination of colour is based on the idea of extracting the essence of the work, without distractions; when I use colour it is to emphasise a concept and not as a decorative aspect. I sometimes use gold, silver, and copper as symbols of light and alchemy.

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Portals_Main Space, 2021 (Image by Peter Aquilina)

AD: Can you talk more about the materials you use in your works for VC? What are the major pieces made from and what’s your construction process?

 

MR: Most of the pieces of this exhibition are paintings – the mediums used are acrylic, enamel copper leaf, gold leaf on canvas or linen as base.

 

AD: Let's talk about your work for VC, which centres on the idea of a fissure or crack in these symbolic landscapes. What is the significance of these cracks, which you call 'Portals'?

 

MR: The crack is a very profound concept that several artists have used, and the interesting thing is that it has multiple meanings and interpretation. In my case the crack is born as a natural process and a constant outline in all my works. The crack is a symbol of fracture and separation that opens a portal of invitation to the void and the unknown, essential for transformation and evolution. Sometimes a crack means absence, emptiness, darkness, and then its line and fissure is transformed, opening up a gate with light.

 

Some of the shapes of the cracks on display come from my mind and previous sketches, some of them are real fissures found in different walls, ground or surfaces. As Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

 

I also have another sculpture made of two parts on show, symbolising matter and light, which are recurrent themes in my work. The light part is made in Plexiglas and LED light, the bottom part is made of foam, resins, fiberglas and painting.

 

Three other installations will also be presented, two of them making the outline of the crack in LED strip. The main one is in a dark room, where a profound crack is presented on a black drywall and a thermoformed polystyrene sheet is used to create the relief and texture.

 

The basement will host a video projection of a digital animation based on the crack as portal to enlightment; the animation was made by Los Angeles based artist Ivan Cruz.

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Portals installation view, 2021 (Image by Peter Aquilina 

AD: You talk about the ‘crack’ as referring to absence or emptiness elsewhere in the history of art. Perhaps the most ubiquitous puncture artist is Lucio Fontana – his tears breaking otherwise concluded ideas of dimension in art. His work also alludes to other worlds – spiritual or cosmic transference. Is there a 'place' that you envision beyond the crack in your work?

 

MR: Exactly, although the crack has been used in different ways, I believe Lucio Fontana's vision may be the one that is closest to my perception of emptiness, which opens the doors to an infinite world of possibilities – the idea of separation, of detachment. That makes evolution possible.Tao also speaks a lot about that emptiness, which makes existence possible, and gives shape to everything that surrounds us.

In the words of Lao Tse: “we put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel; but it is in the empty space that the usefulness of the wheel resides. We mold clay to make a jug; but it is in the empty space where the usefulness of the jug resides. We open doors and windows when we build a house: it is these empty spaces that make the house useful. Therefore, just as we learn what it is, we should recognize the usefulness of what it is not."

 

AD: Your work for the show engages directly with the architecture of the gallery. Does this engagement enhance the wider themes connected with nature and landscape that you are looking to evoke? That is, are you looking to comment on the universal by engaging with the specific?

 

MR: Exactly, for me the dialogue and relationship between the space and the work is fundamental. In this particular case, the gallery’s architecture it could not have been a better canvas, I think that having historical stone elements within it, in contrast to more contemporary architectural elements, makes it perfectly integrate with and complement my work.

AD: Your work "explores the strength of the topography and natural territory". How has this been impacted in an age of a rapidly changing climate? Does your practice specifically respond to this condition?

 

MR: Although my practice is based on topography, territory, and landscape abstraction, it has never been directly linked to a specific real space-time, but rather from an imaginary condition. On the other hand, my work is a tribute to nature and its close relationship and connection with the human species, which since the Anthropocene is considered one more force of nature, therefore there is a direct degree of responsibility, respect, and care for Mother Earth; everything that happens to her affects us and vice versa. We are one with nature.

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(Detail from) PORTALS 33_, 2021

AD: What other artists – visual or non-visual – influence your practice?

 

MR: Anish Kapoor is another big reference, since in most of his series is talking about scape portals in different ways.The cracks of Alberto Burri, the use of black of Pierre Soulages, and Japanese calligraphic minimalism are also big influences in this recent series.

 

AD: You are interested in the epidermal status of territory, the topography, and the idea of difference in scale. Have you explored the earth, land, and natural composition of Malta? Has this had any bearing on your work at VC?

 

MR: One of the aspects that most caught my attention when I visited Malta is its desert appearance and that almost everything is built with limestone and on limestone. I also had the opportunity to visit some salt quarries with Norbert that caught my attention, as well as the different cracks that exist in the old stone walls in Valletta.

 

A curious fact is that the shape of the crack in the black painting in the gallery's main hall is inspired by a crack that I saw in a column at the Malta airport, just before returning to Barcelona.

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(Detail from) EXPANSION textured (3)_, 2021

AD: Had you been to the VC gallery physically before you designed these works, or did you organise the interventions from afar? If the latter, did the two-dimensionality of designing from imagery help or hinder your creation process?

 

MR: Yes, I visited the VC gallery in person, and that was undoubtedly vital to understanding the space, different scales and proportions. A lot of ideas came to my mind immediately while I was walking the space and talking with Norbert. 

 

AD: Can you talk more about your views on the Anthropocene? Is this show a form of protest for the way humanity has allowed itself to negatively impact nature?

 

MR: I do not know whether to call it a protest, I do believe that we are in a process of evolution and everything that happens is to achieve that purpose; without a doubt we are rapidly destroying and exploiting our resources, but surely we have to live this experience to hit rock bottom and become aware that we are one with nature, and what happens to her will affect us sooner or later.