Thursday, December 2, 2021

Young artist updates ancient art form

‘’La Amor del los Muerte’’.

‘’La Amor del los Muerte’’.

Tara O’Neill 

Dear me…where shall I begin…

Since undertaking the mission of uncovering art and artists for your pleasure, I, personally, am never so pleased as when I uncover a young artist or an art genre that runs well away from the mainstream. Today I’m doubly pleased. NOTE: in Art Speak it’s taboo to use age-related labels; acceptable nomenclature includes emerging, mid-career, acme, dead – too bad.

Because Esau [pronounced ee-sa-oo] Rodriguez is young – he graduated Lely High School in 2005 – and when I see so much skill and precision bloom from such young hands, I not only think it worthy of mention, but also celebration. And while he’s not exactly mid-career, he has certainly emerged with a bang. And he has opened my eyes to art de los muertos.

Back-up. Start over. Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican celebration with roots deep in Aztec tradition filtered through about 500 years of Christianity. Family and friends gather to celebrate, remember, and honor the dead, and to reunite with beloved ancestors. According to Rodriguez, “because it begins November 1, many Americans wrongly associate it with Halloween. But it is much more spiritual; filled with love and respect.”

The art surrounding this celebration is uniquely Mexican.

‘’Cryptic Vengeance’’ is ripe with dark humor.

‘’Cryptic Vengeance’’ is ripe with dark humor.

Rodriguez traced it back for me to the artist Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), who many consider the father of true muerte artwork. “Death, “ said Posado, “is democratic, because in the end, blond, brown, rich or poor, we all become skulls.” His bold and darkly humorous political and social satires presented the face of Mexican reality: chaotic, passionate, filled with death but very much alive.

Rodriguez, born in Mexico, moved to the United States with his family when he was one year old. While art de los muertos is by no means his only genre/motif/style, he kindly brings us his own delicious 21st-century interpretation of the form. He credits as mentor, Bob Domke, his high school art teacher. “He started it for me in painting, he showed me the basics along with wise techniques and a little about the business of art.” Rodriguez still keeps in touch with his mentor, but also relies on criticisms and ideas from his brother Edgar and sister Noemi.

After graduating high school Rodriguez completed a two-year culinary arts program at Lorenzo Walker Institute in Naples. “I considered this a good skill for working my way through college.” To study what, dear reader? Go ahead, guess. Wrong! “To study chemistry.

“Art has become so

This painting graphically bursts with colorful brio.

This painting graphically bursts with colorful brio.

naturalistic to me and I love it dearly, but it would not fulfill the academic push I crave. And I need something difficult to push me.”

Again, Rodriguez’s art is not limited to death motifs. I found his fish/sea-life paintings graphically bursting with colorful brio. And he really does enjoy experimenting with different styles and mediums. Hesitant to submit to a label, he is willing to describe his work as “realism, fantasial, outsider art.” I’m good with that – I wish more artists were brave enough to define themselves.

Right now you can see Esau Rodriguez’s art at Piola, a lovely Italian restaurant in the Mercato in Naples. It’s worth the drive. You can also check him out at or www. 

THIS JUST FOUND IN THE RUMOR BASKET: A mysterious source informs me that owners of Little Bar Restaurant in Goodland are plotting/conniving/wrangling to bring an exhibit of E.R.’s work to Little Bar for a Dia de Los Muertos celebration. My spies are investigating. Stay tuned.

Tara O’Neill, a lifelong artist, has been an area resident since 1967. She holds Bachelors Degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida, and currently has a studio-gallery at the Artist Colony at the Esplanade on Marco Island. Contact her through 

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