Denver, CO — Like many people, Diego Rodriguez-Warner has spent the pandemic quarantining at home, and the paintings and drawings he has created for Horror Vacui at Leon Gallery present material evidence of an artist forced to make due with supplies on-hand. Leftover acrylics, crayons, watercolors and spray paint adorn scraps of plywood and drywall that serve as canvas.
But the work avoids illustrating the grand themes of isolation and worry that other artists have wrestled with this year. Instead, Rodriguez-Warner spent his days creating pieces he labels as “attempts”: dozens of disparate efforts to distract from boredom and hone the complicated stenciling technique that has won him wide attention lately — including a spot in Crystal Bridges’ State of the Art 2020 and a grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation (which no doubt enables ample “attempting”).
As the show’s title suggests, Rodriguez-Warner traffics in the artistic practice of leaving no bit of surface undecorated, and so he crams canvases with a mish-mash of imagery and bottomless nods to art history. A piece may start as a reclining nude, a hummingbird, or one of the violent battle scenes he favors concocting, but it could end up a swirl of allusions to everyone from Michelangelo to Matisse to Yoshitoshi, and everything from graffiti to comics to Japanese animation.
Little is left on the table and the work comes dangerously close to overindulgence. But Rodriguez-Warner possesses the skill of a DJ who knows his source material intimately. He mixes it all together with his signature move — a series of swirling, curvilinear ribbons he weaves throughout his scenes with sensational skill, created with stencils cut from contact paper and deftly-applied spray paint. They add depth and dynamism and transform what might be mayhem into compelling narratives.
Horror Vacui: New Works by Diego Rodriguez-Warner continues through January 16, 2021 at Leon Gallery (1112 E. 17th Avenue, Denver).