The art of Esau Rodriguez is dark, yet comical. In his vibrant oil paintings, skeletons wear masks and smoke cigarettes, keeping company with dark, beautiful, tattooed women. Animals take on human characteristics and subjects are often involved in parodies mocking the darker sides of life. Much of his work draws subjects from Dia de los Muertos, and many of the characters materialize from the artist’s imagination.
“I drew this skeleton wearing a sombrero, I just made him up one day,” Rodriguez said. “That was before I researched Dia de los Muertos facts. I thought I invented it, and that’s how you know it’s your heritage.”
Rodriguez said that he didn’t know much about the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, although he remembers the candy that his mom used to bring back from visits to Mexico when he was a child.
When he moved away from home to go to college and his subjects took on a darker facade, he began doing more research into his heritage and the celebration of Dia de los Muertos.
“It’s very strange that we put this kind of parody on death to relieve the angst and anxiety of it,” Rodriguez said. “Eventually we accept it and celebrate our loved ones that have passed away.”
Masks, skeletons and other macabre subjects are prevalent during the celebrations and often show up in Rodriguez’s work, but with certain twists and commentaries that come from the artists’s mind.
Rodriguez will be showing his art this weekend at The Little Bar in Goodland during his first public show, “Dia de Los Muertos Weekend Arthouse at the Little Bar.”
The show will include some of the artist’s latest paintings as well as giclees, prints and magnets of his work. He will also be selling traditional masks, many that replicate characters from his paintings. The art show is all part of the Halloween and Dia de los Muertos fun that will take place at Little Bar this holiday weekend, beginning with a pumpkin carving contest on Friday. The Arthouse featuring the work of Rodriguez will take place Saturday and Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m. On Monday, there will be an evening Halloween costume contest.
Rodriguez doesn’t always know where his subjects come from. In one painting, “Viva La Verguenza” (long live the shame), a business man has a bag over his head with a rope noose for a tie and holds a drink and a cigar. A woman wearing a mask smokes a cigarette while a skeleton holds up a mask of Emmet Kelly’s face wearing a frown.
“I knew I wanted to include Emmet Kelly but I wasn’t sure how,” Rodriguez said. “So I drew him as a mask.”
Similar to Dia de los Muertos, his subjects are often making light of the darker traits of humanity. He says that often his work comes from that time just between sleep and wakefulness, when the mind is still in a dreamlike state.
“The ideas that I come up with are either out of nowhere or that area between asleep and awake,” Rodriguez said. “I get a flash and wake up and draw it.”
His artwork is filled with bold, vibrant color, juxtaposed with dark grays and blacks. His paintings are always done in oil, making the subjects seem to come to life on the canvas.
The artist said that he began with oil and that it has always been his favorite medium.
“I always drew for fun and for a challenge and when I was younger I wanted to be a cartoonist,” Rodriguez said. “Later on that didn’t seem feasible for a career but I still wanted to do something artistic because I had an eye for it.”
His Lely High School art teacher Robert Domke encouraged him in art. He would give him extra exercises in class and told him to try painting on a canvas.
“I got a canvas and started painting and he was pretty impressed,” Rodriguez said. “You usually don’t start on canvas until later.”
Although Rodriguez was offered a place at the Art Institute, he decided to not pursue art as a career, but to continue teaching himself. Instead he got degree in the culinary arts and currently works in that field while attending Edison State College as a chemistry major.
“A lot of people enjoy the idea of working as an artist, but I don’t,” Rodriguez said. “There is always that deadline, and sometimes you have to create art you don’t want to do and just do it for the money. I don’t want to do that.”
The artist says he enjoys creating work from dreams and ideas and seeing them come to life on canvas.
“I enjoy when people buy them and want to hang them in their house,” Rodriguez said. “That is the most exciting thing next to painting.”
The Little Bar is located at 205 Harbor Place in Goodland. The Arthouse will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 29 and 30. Information is available by calling 394-5663 or at www.littlebarrestaurant.com. More information on Rodriguez is available at www.Facebook.com/EsauRodriguezArt.
If you go
Dia de los Muertos Arthouse at the Little Bar featuring the work of Esau Rodriguez
1 to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, The Little Bar, 205 Harbor Place, Goodland 394-5663, www.littlebarrestaurant.com or www.Facebook.com/EsauRodriguezArt