When you are driving to interview an artist and the only thing you know about him is that his latest series of work is entirely black, as in… black layered on black, black poured over black, and black dotted with more black, you end up mind-diving through all the clichés. Is this guy Emo? Goth? New York City slick? Commander of the Night’s Watch? Darth frickIN’ Vader? Meeting Roderick Hidalgo in person defied all these preconceived notions. If I had to describe him in a word, it would be exuberant.
Hidalgo greeted me at the door of his Hockessin studio/gallery space dressed in—you guessed it––black. To be fair, I had dressed in black, too––a trick I was employing to put my subject at ease. But I didn’t need to put Rick Hidalgo at ease; he was already in his bliss. I arrived on the day that his work was being photographed. It was a celebration of completed works which lined the walls, but huge worktables in the center of the space charged the gallery with that edgy chaos of works-in-progress. Looking more closely at these densely layered relief paintings in the photographer’s queue, I felt grateful that I was writing about these pieces and not trying to photograph them. How could a camera capture all that is going on in this wall art without the usual delineating crutches of color and tone?
Many of the pieces are heavy in relief. That sculptural quality will help viewers of the photographs get a sampling of the work, but you need to see these painting/sculpture hybrids in person to have the full experience. I wanted to reach out and run my fingers over the terrain of them. Some areas are slick, transitioning to rougher textures, while other of the works are subtler and more nuanced in their layering. Hildalgo uses different mediums and often collages objects onto canvases. One series of small square canvases features clear cubes adhered to the surfaces. Another work is a collage made up entirely of toy army men sprayed black. And then there was a piece that I can only describe as a black breast with a mirrored finish. Think what you like. Hildalgo forgoes interpretation and invites viewers to come to the pieces with his or her own varied life experience. The army man piece has created associations for war vets and peaceniks alike but for different reasons. And for some, the connection creates a map back to their childhood.
Hidalgo’s work wasn’t always so narrow of palette. Perusing his online gallery, I saw examples of early encaustics and poured lacquer paintings where bright color bloomed and spilled into hypnotic galaxies of pattern. He told me that he was honing his craft, learning techniques and getting a handle on his materials. Seeing the progression from his earlier pieces, it was easy to believe that his current work is a rejection of color and all that came before.
Hidalgo denies this. “I’ve been developing this language over fifteen years,” he said as we survey the line of finished pieces before us. His wasn’t some deep descent into the shadow realm as much as a “coming full circle,” an embrace of all that came before. I considered this for a moment, and he was right. In painting, black is a coming together of all pigments, not the rejection of them.
“This is the work I have been gearing up for. I have found my voice.”
He isn’t using that voice for his art alone. Hidalgo transcends the scope of a singular artist by promoting other local talent. See him as a tastemaker or a rule-breaker, but either way, his vision is on the rise in Wilmington. Besides his Hockessin gallery where he hosts bi-monthly exhibits of local and international artists, Hidalgo has been curating shows in the corporate galleries of Capital One in Wilmington. And he is gearing up to present a group exhibition next month at The Delaware Contemporary that will act as a complement to “Blackout,” the solo show of his latest works. The group show,“The Fire Theft,” will showcase eleven local artists as they riff on the myth that tells the story of how the earth got fire (and color).
Curious, I had to look up the myth. According to the story, there was a time when the world was cold, barren, and bleak. In this devastating landscape, there existed one fabulously plumed bird with a rainbow of tailfeathers. This special bird was tasked with flying to the sun to steal some of its fire to bring back to the desolate earth. The bird was successful, but upon returning with the flaming torch, he scorched the whole landscape and all of its inhabitants. But fire brings new life, and from this blackened environment, bright flowers blossomed, and creatures started sprouting scales and feathers in every hue. However, the bird was too charred by the journey for his original jeweled plumage to return. He remained black and charred, sacrificing his own color in the process of bringing light and color to the earth.
Does that sound like a metaphor for a certain artist’s journey? Perhaps. But forget all the clichés about sacrificial lambs or tortured artists where Roderick Hidalgo is concerned. Dude is one joyful black bird who is bringing the torch of INspiration to Wilmington.
For more information on Roderick Hidalgo or RH Gallery in Hockessin, check out his website or Facebook page. “Blackout,” works by Roderick Hidalgo and “The Fire Theft” Group Exhibition, curated by Roderick Hidalgo, RH Gallery will be on display at The Delaware Contemporary, 200 South Madison Street; Wilmington, April 5-26, 2019 with an opening reception: Friday, April 5, 2019 from 5 - 9pm during Art Loop Wilmington.
Featured Image: Roderick Hidalgo's "Landscape III" photographed by Joe del Tufo of Moonloop Photography.