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Lotus Gallery on the rise

Paul Rodriguez solo exhibition opens March 18

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Fort Wayne's gallery scene has always been rather small and scrappy, finding ways to stay open while also promote the large number of talented local artists. Some of the more established spaces resort to commoditizing pieces until they become extensions of interior design, but a few ingenious examples have been able to preserve their spaces as experimental temples to fine art, allowing a broad range of works for the full audience of culturally minded Fort Waynians. Lotus Gallery, thankfully has chosen to follow the latter strategy, and if is becoming known for having some of the best exhibitions, and being instrumental in the growth of young artists.

Lotus Gallery owner Vicki Salzbrun has been instrumental in creating this space and momentum, and has been surprised by her success in crafting an exciting art space. Salzbruns' love for art has been ever-present, "I truly appreciate art and enjoy surrounding myself in the arts." While only reserving the term artist for those she works with through the gallery, she even dabbles in it to a degree. Already booking well into 2012, Salzbrun is looking for new artists and new work — works which are which is "different" in her words — reinforcing Lotus' current role as an incubative space for emerging artists. Capitalizing on recent successes, Salzbrun hopes to provide more concerts and events, and utilizing the Lotus Gallery as a truly multi-purpose space. An example of her successes with these events would be the "Lotion Show," a one-night exhibition curated by Josef Zimmerman, bringing together a large group of local artists to created work inspired by "Lotion Song” by the Silversmiths. This atypical exhibition filled the gallery on a night in between exhibitions, and provided an opportunity for a lot of artists who do not get the chance to exhibit some of their more challenging work.

This need to work with emerging artists can be seen in Lotus Gallery's next exhibition, "Paul Rodriguez: New Acrylic Paintings," opening March 18. Paul Rodriguez is an IPFW Fine Arts graduate who also studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As a rarely exhibited Fort Wayne artist, Rodriguez represents the majority of our art scene, creating beautiful work in solitude and as the stacks pile, wondering what can happen with this work.

Thankfully, Rodriguez's connection to Salzbrun has paid off with his first one-person exhibition. Rodriguez's work is steeped in formal concerns and tends to come from a heavy drawing background. Touching on styles ranging from abstraction, surrealism, magic realism, and post-impressionism, Rodriguez's paintings mirror the work of contemporary great Peter Doig in that they are teeming with painterly finesse. Also like Doig's work, the majority of the works presented exhibit a complex subtlety in their combination of color and form. Rodriguez interchanges the two when necessary, allowing the viewers gaze to sort of melt across the picture plane instead of being politely carried from point A to point B via a concerted composition or formal arrangement.

While not to be pigeon-holed as mimicking Doig's work, Rodriguez finds ways to freshen his style at just the right moments as you transition from piece to piece. Certain works such as "Youth", a beautiful, clean, seemingly simple portrait finds a way of creeping up on you with unconventional colorations which allow the viewer to become lost in the image. "Youth" displays this effect with the matching blues between the sky and man's color, the use of brown in the pattern of the shirt with the forefront of the background, the barely-there features on the man's face matching the same tones as the highlights on his sombrero, and the placement of the sombrero's string in relation to the figures face and the horizon line. All of these little notes correspond, creating an intense and evocative image.

Similarly, Rodriguez's piece "Pennsylvanian" utilizing many of the aforementioned techniques, but involves a much more complicated composition, a less impacting, but much more complicated color sense, and begins to touch on magic realism and surrealism. These two styles were developed in early twentieth century Europe and America which were reactions to cubism and the avant-garde. This "new realism" focused on the subordination of Realism's techniques by reducing them instead of abandoning them. Rodriguez does this in the flattening of certain areas, the patternation used to representing various aspects of the natural world like leaves and water, juxtaposed with very tightly crafted figures. In "Pennsylvanian", these fully formed figures include two men in bright orange hunters vests. The piece turns to the surreal when the viewer notices that they are carrying what looks both like what could be a mangled body, or some sort of ambiguous cloaked object. With another nod to the surreal, "Pennsylvanian" also includes a hunting dog which is rendered, but also seems to just emerge out of the streaks and dabs of paint referencing the brush of the scene.

Finally, Rodriguez takes the viewer for another turn with the massive, elusive, and stunning "Sedona". This painting is a far departure from the visual style that Rodriguez relies on in other works, but still exhibits the same painterliness and eye for coloration. This landscape and figure easily transitions back and forth between abstraction and realism, landscape and seascape, and between minimalism and decadence.With only three colors and perhaps a dozen gradations, "Sedona" masterfully uses color interaction and virtuoso brushwork to form the image. Rodriguez uses a number of washes and dry brushwork to represent both the sky and the sandy desert landscape, the rocks which provide the grounding foil, and the figure, which seems to be in movement as the sketching brushstrokes make it visually palpitate. In an odd yet successful choice, Rodriguez places a mustard yellow "zip", a la abstract expressionist master Barnett Newman, to set the abstract tone for "Sedona", allowing the viewing to flow through the piece, being effected by each placement and absence of paint on the painted surface.

Paul Rodriguez's first solo exhibition is a perfect example of Fort Wayne's need for more galleries which are willing to take small risks and give major opportunities to our many talented but currently unknown local artists.

"Paul Rodriguez: New Acrylic Paintings"
March 18th-April 27th
Opening Reception March 18, 6-9pm

Lotus Gallery
1301 Lafayette Street

Gallery Hours:
Tuesday-Friday noon-5pm
Saturdays by appointment

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