Mariano: Variations on a Theme marks the first solo exhibition in the United States of works by the artist Mariano Rodríguez (b. 1912, Havana; d. 1990, Havana). This exhibition expands the artist’s known body of work, demonstrating how Mariano’s dedication to lo cubano (the essence of Cuban experience) and his evolving interests in modes of artistic expression from other parts of the world positioned him as a painter of universal consequence.
Mariano’s career spanned six decades of the twentieth century—almost the duration of Cuban modernism. Contextualizing the scope of Cuban modernism in relation to aesthetic movements in the Americas and Europe is fundamental to understanding Cuban artists’ quest for creating national artistic identity on the island. Mariano’s Cuban iconography particularly glorified el gallo (the rooster) and embraced other recurring motifs including guajiros (peasants), fruits, vegetation, and the marine world. In exploring variations on these themes, Mariano forged a distinctive aesthetic that incorporated other art historical styles, in turn, Geometric Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism, and figuration. By introducing the “grotesque” in his fantastic or distorted figures in dark settings, Mariano demonstrated virtuosity in hybridity, signaling a new postmodern orientation of Cuban art.