By Nathalie M. Sánchez
Distinctive and symbolic images converge constantly in the works of Ernesto Rodríguez. Representations of icons that refer to medieval art reappear in his pieces as a form of historiography. Ernesto proposes reinterpretations of the Virgin and Child, of Jesus Christ, and of the angels, who appear as a parody. His art presupposes appropriating elements already established in the history of art, adding other characters from the U.S.A. industry of entertainment, i.e., cartoons and comics. This particular way of borrowing from past works and combining them with current characters adds him to the list of visual artists inclined towards appropriation.
When Ernesto appropriates the medieval scenes, he does so, essentially of their atmospheres and rigidness of the characters. Paradoxical of the scenes he constructs is his mixture of ancient knights and characters from the entertainment industry. He dresses both of them with ensembles that he invents according to what he wishes to convey. Works like Muerte de una nueva era (Death of a New Era) evidence his fascination with SpongeBob, considered one of the most important TV characters in history. The piece represents a medieval scene where four knights and his best friend Patrick mourn him. The background shows a turbulent battle, while the Latin phrase Deus vult (God wants it) is written on the upper left corner. According to scholars of the Catholic religion, this sentence suggests that Christianity and war have much in common. In general, both the work and the title present the culmination of a new stage in human life by superimposing the past with the present-future. The past is linked to the period of the knights while the present is dominated by the industry of entertainment. The burlesque nature of the work is expressed through the coexistence on the same stage of the religious theme, the sanctity, represented by aureoles on the head of each of the figures, and a contemporary animation character that, in addition, is presented as an alleged battle hero.
There are also other pieces in which Ernesto fuses the old and the modern, handling and playing very well with medieval themes. El beso (The Kiss), for example, a paradigmatic work in the history of art, has a version created by the artist in which he continues to use parody. The two characters kiss, but with gas masks on their faces, meaning the survival of the medieval characters in this age plagued with pollution; or simply the hypocrisy that is generated around political leaders. One of the protagonists has a suit with a sickle and a hammer, a symbol that represents communism and was part of the Soviet Union’s flag and coat of arms. The other character has in his wardrobe the symbol of the Red Cross, an emblem that represents the neutral stance in politics. They say the mission of the Red Cross is to work to prevent human suffering. This piece, therefore, can mean a cry against the suffering of humanity, given by a war of destruction of the planet.
Another character appropriated by Ernesto on several occasions is the fictional hero Captain America of U.S.A. comics. By making him appear like Jesus Christ, the artist intends to express the similarity he sees between both figures. While the former is a fictional construct, there is said to be historical evidence of the existence of the latter, although some deny it outright. Could Ernesto be one of those who state that both Jesus Christ and Captain America never existed? And hence their similarities? Or does he simply go further? Either way, the idea is humorous, while at the same time it has a solid background concept.
To talk about the work of Ernesto Rodríguez will always be complicated because of the concepts and symbols he handles, which are sometimes beyond what we normally see in today’s art. With the use of parody, this author has made it possible for us to see medieval art as always modern. He criticizes and satirizes, but does not fail to show us how we see things and to pose a real problem based on asking us why today we see things in this way and not differently.