It's possible that Rodney Zelenka's graduate studies in Economics and Latin American Politics at the University of Cornell, in the United States, were some of the best art training he could have had for they gave him subject of his work. Both in his paintings and installa tions, the human condition and the precarious situations of our natural habitat erupts as the subject matter.
In addition to these studies, the frequents trips to Europe since his teenage years have played a significant role in his artistic development. The many family trips, which were organized around museum visits and excursions to historical sites, gave him his visual language.
He was born in 1953 in the Republic of Panama, where he still lives, to European parents who had fled the II World War Holocaust. Perhaps his Austrian heritage, on his father's side, brought him close to a school of austrian painters active in Europe after World War II known as "Fantastic Realism", which combined the diverse elements of fantasy and imagination with a strict attention to realistic detail. Yet, in Zelenka's native Latin America another version of "Fantastic Realism" manifested itself in art and literature. The strong sense of place in his personal fantastic realism is composed of fragments from both influences. Zelenka's work extensively embraces many historical and political realities of the contemporary world.
Zelenka aspires to transform reality into fantasy-contrary to the prevalent tendency of transforming fantasy into reality. As much as fantasy plays a visible role in his art, it is not the only player. Some of his paintings(e.g. El color de la Supervivencia or Personalidad desubicada, both from 1995) give the impression that these fictional narratives are closer to threatening outrage than anything else. Mixing fact and fiction, there are no sweet dreams. There are no sweet dreams. In some works we see iconic symbols of war, vandalism, desperation and nature destruction all sharing the space of the canvas. In other displaced figures are depicted without all of their body parts, and are often mutilated or emerging from metaphysical forms.
This imagery is displayed against rich backgrounds where blurred mandalas act as the link between the inside and the outside; between the object and the subject of the painting. These sun-like icons that permeate his canvases are an important element for the perceptual experience of Zelenka's paintings which does not turn its back on the world. In his paintings the background fragments the space of the canvas and opens it to many interpretations.
The beginning of this century witnessed the dismantling of traditional views on the idea and constituency of space. From being thought of as an inert void in which objects exist, space has become "active" and "full". The revised understanding of space energized a succession of discoveries, inventions and innovations that spread well beyond their own borders of specialization.
In painting, one effect of this "transvaluation" was the "breakdown of absolute distinctions between subject and the background, while in perception, the objective universe became a subjective one. From being a negative, enclosed, and empty space contributing only to the composition of a painting, sculpture or architectural work, space became a “positive negative space" and was integrated as an equal with the other elements of an artwork.
Zelenka's tenacious background serves as a guide for his work, pushing the viewer's eyes into continual motion. As he says, "you have to imagine yourself looking through a microscope with one eye, thru a telescope with another eye and thru a third eye in your forehead, each eye focused in a different direction.".
The coalition of these directions is only possible on a mental stage. The forms and the ideas encountered both in the paintings and the installations are real and fantastic at the same time. Perhaps they just reflect contemporary society where frontiers between the reality and the fantasy have become a dissipated focus.
Zelenka's works exists amidst these cosmos. There is an intensive production of new symbols, images and concepts which reflect our whole and fragmented world and self, each one searching for the same private and public space, simultaneously.
Berta M. Sichel Curadora y Crítica de Arte.
Reside en Nueva York PH.D. Cultura y Comunicación, New York University
M.A. Media Ecology, New York University M.A. Comunicación, Universidad Federal, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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