Special for Infobae of The New York Times.
Freddy Rodríguez, an artist who explored colonization, immigration and other aspects of his Dominican ancestry and found success in the United States at a time when artists with Latin American roots were not attracting as much attention from the art mainstream, died on 10 October in Queens, New York. He was 76 years old.
His wife, Mary McKenna Rodríguez, said the cause of his death was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Rodríguez, who was born in the Dominican Republic and came to New York as a teenager, had a wide-ranging artistic career. His earliest works, from the late 1960s and 1970s, were geometric abstractions, inspired in part by New York skyscrapers.
“I had a job in Manhattan and at lunchtime I would make sketches of the surrounding buildings and then turn them into paintings,” he once explained.
Later he acquired a more expressionist style and began to resort more explicitly to history: the colonization of his native country and others in Latin America; the role the Roman Catholic Church, in which he was raised, had in deepening oppression and later sex scandals; the migratory experience and the tension between maintaining his customs and adapting to a new country.
“One has a good time watching ‘The Heart of the Quixote’ by Freddy Rodríguez from the Dominican Republic,” William Zimmer wrote in The New York Times in 1990, reviewing a group show of Hispanic artists at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “This heart, deep red on a pale blue background, not only bleeds, but is divided.”
Rodríguez liked to create series; He was very inspired by literature, in particular by the works of the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, and considered each painting in a series as a new chapter. One series dealt with slavery. Another was a tribute to Dominican baseball players.
Another, the “Vestment” series, created in the 1990s, when allegations about Catholic priests were drawing attention, spoke of those controversies, as well as the role of the Church in the elimination of native cultures. Clergy garments, Rodríguez said in a 2015 interview with celebrated art historian and curator E. Carmen Ramos, were a kind of suit, evoking and obscuring at the same time.
“They have a duality for me,” he said. “Some, they can make you feel very reverent. But others, I think they use it to hide something.”
Rodríguez’s primary medium was painting, but he also incorporated other materials into his works, branching out into collage, sculpture, and other genres. With each new idea, he told her, “I had to find a new style; I had to find new materials to put into my paintings.”
“I use metal with canvas,” he added. “I use leather with canvas. I use land. I use glass, sawdust… all these things.”
But perhaps his most viewed work was his outdoor memorial in Queens to those who died in the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in November 2001. The plane had just taken off from Kennedy International Airport bound for the Dominican Republic, and many of all 260 people on board were either on their way home or were returning visiting immigrants (five people also died on the ground). The memorial, which opened in 2006, is a curved, perforated wall with the names of the deceased inscribed on granite blocks and spaces for people to leave mementos. There is also a large portal with views of the ocean.
“Look at the light that enters through the wall and through the portal,” Rodríguez told the Times in 2011 at an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the accident. “Light is like the soul. And the light passes through the gate of paradise.
Federico Augusto Rodríguez was born on December 2, 1945, in Santiago de los Caballeros. Dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, known for his brutality, was in power, and after his assassination in 1961, the country was plunged into a period of chaos. In a 2014 interview with artist and curator Marcia G. Yerman, Rodríguez said that he was part of a student movement seeking “the kind of freedom that is denied in a dictatorship” and began to feel that his situation was precarious. .
“Friends were tortured and killed. Things got really bad,” she said.
He went to New York in 1963 and graduated from Haaren High School in Manhattan. A teacher gave her a pass to go to the Museum of Modern Art, where she was able to see abstract art for the first time.
“I immediately fell in love with abstraction, particularly geometric abstraction,” he said in the interview with Ramos.
He returned briefly to the Dominican Republic, then lived for a time in Puerto Rico, but in the late 1960s he returned to New York to stay. She studied Textile Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and also at the New School.
Rodriguez married Mary McKenna in 1977. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Erin Rodriguez and Caitlin Rodriguez Elberson, as well as three grandchildren.