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The Paintings of 2021

Updated: Feb 5, 2022

I’m starting 2022 with a look back at the paintings I finished in 2021, and a blog is a good forum for just that. I know it’s a little dip in Lake Me, but it’s also giving you some very useful insight into my work. Yes, I post my paintings on social media as I finish them, but I rarely talk about them or explain them. My family will regularly ask questions about certain elements of my work and I always seem to ramble or answer in a vague way. It’s not that I’m not articulate, it’s just that the meaning of a particular piece still needs to coalesce and settle. Artists know exactly what their work is about, don’t believe otherwise. They may run some bullshit about not knowing where their art takes them or it’s a subconscious stream of thought, but in the end, they know why they did what they did.

As a surrealist that uses many symbols and freeform elements, I get that the viewer may indeed misconstrue the exact meaning of what I intend to express but there’s definitely a unique set of meanings that you bring to the proverbial table based on your own life experiences. A quick example, if I paint a sword, is that a symbol of strength and courage or pain and being wounded? Either way, you’re going to feel something, I hope. In this instance, I can give a little insight into what I was thinking as I was working on each piece. Most of the work I did was a series of paintings entitled Lyrically Painted. To me, each painting was like writing lyrics to a song. If you think about the paintings that way, it may serve as codes and keys to navigate what can seem a very confusing map to my creative process.

Lyrically Painted - Raven, Pisces and the Promise of Night, 2021

By Bobby Padilla

Oil on canvas, 12” x 16”

I generally like creating my own mythology. Raven, Pisces and the Promise of Night seems like it could be an illustrated fable. It’s graphic in nature with a full-frontal flat composition. This seems to be a key ingredient for this series. It’s like mixing up tattoos with a spell book and a peppering of alchemy. I also put a lot of significance on ethnic relevance. For this piece, I imagined a Native American story that was probably never written. The fact is, I like to juxtapose folklore with science, or in this case Native Indian legend with an astrological sign (mine of course). I imagine a young Native American woman telling a story of a Raven making a deal with Pisces to share the stars and mystery of the night sky. They both meet at twilight to plan their ascension yet there’s foreboding forces, the umbrellas, that warn of the danger of that union.

Self Portrait I and II, 2021

By Bobby Padilla

Acrylic on canvas, 5” x 7”

Nothing to explain here, what you see is what you get.

Lyrically Painted - Brown Child Pneuma, 2021

By Bobby Padilla

Oil on canvas, 12” x 16”

This simply deals with the challenges of a brown skin child. Whether African, Hispanic, or Asian, the reality of racism is seeded in our country. This painting too deals with the concept of promise, or unfulfilled promise more precisely. Trading ethnic traditions and indigenous ceremonies for an opportunity at better education and potential economic gain amidst the trap of urban sprawl and cultural assimilation. This is signified by the crumbled bridge. I imagined a child (which I rendered androgynous for the sake of gender not getting in the way, that’s its own issue) in what would appear to be a traditional cultural dress. This child stands firm over a coffin with candles and a raven’s skull as if performing a ritual that honors previous generations. Balancing heritage with cultural assimilation, and what is tribal with what is technological, the child must know pride in the face of discrimination, and exude the heart of a lion. The very breath and essence of having darker skin.

Lyrically Painted - HDONCI (Her Dream of Non-Captive Isolation), 2021

By Bobby Padilla

Oil on canvas, 12” x 16”

Lost in a dream, isolated by choice and hidden within a helmet of a mechanical bird. There’s no fear or anxiety, it’s a calm voice that tells you “You’re free” but makes you feel that you’ll never be free. The challenge here is being a male artist painting a female figure in a mask with an open cage swinging over her head and not having you think this is about bondage or oppression. Then again, maybe it is. Maybe she’s bound to expectations and her own perceived limitations. A cage to keep what is in it from getting out, or to keep out those external forces from getting in.

Lyrically Painted - Soft Angel’s Sextant, 2021

By Bobby Padilla

Collage and oil on canvas, 12” x 16”

Let me start by stating I wanted to convey a visual song that spoke of opposites in balance: the expanse of the sky and the depths of the sea; the delicate wings of a butterfly or sails at full mast against the cold steel of a revolver. I wanted to have an angel as a central character but with a different spin. An angelic cherub riding a butterfly seemed interesting enough a depiction. Again, it’s layering flat elements to make a balanced composition, including the transparent contour of a sextant and the imposed paint drips that seem to emerge from a flat ocean. Another subtle concept I wanted to express was the notion of great distance. A sextant is a tool sailors would use to measure the angles and distances between stars and constellations to navigate the sea. Despite the fact that one uses a sextant at night, it was important to me that the sailboat sailed in an azure blue sky, not at night. It was also important to me to imply the theme of speed as well. How fast does a butterfly fly in contrast to a bullet? I wanted to convey the slow methodical path of a sailboat versus the whimsical meandering of a butterfly versus the ultra-straight path of a bullet.

Lyrically Painted - Faced with Explaining Myself, 2021

By Bobby Padilla

Oil on canvas, 12” x 16”

A self portrait of sorts, a flowing stream of consciousness that extends into a waking dream. My creative thoughts reside in a palace on the moon. My face is a thin mask flowing like a banner that the crows are flying away with. This painting symbolizes the relative out of body experience I have when I get lost in the process of rendering any painting. My paint brush is a spear that pierces me leaving a stigmata as I make marks upon a canvas. As this title suggests, trying to explain a painting is like trying to stop a rambling freight train. I may sound like I’m all over the place, but I definitely have a destination. I even made a nod to my Puerto Rican lineage with the Taino Indian symbol of the coqui frog.

Cape Cod Lavender Farm, Harwich MA – (pastiche I, II, III,) 2021

By Bobby Padilla

Oil pencil and watercolor on watercolor paper, 5” x 5”

Visiting a lavender farm in July while vacationing, I took some snapshots that later I turned into this little set of studies.

Lyrically Painted - Silently Mapping the Heavens, 2021

By Bobby Padilla

Oil and ink and collage on canvas, 12” x 16”

Of late, I have had a fascination of antique maps and constellations and it’s evident in my recent work. For Silently Mapping the Heavens, I layered a classic astrological map that prominently features the constellation Hercules with a piece of Byzantine architecture then bordered it with a fictitious map of the stars as a more decorative feature. Keeping with the series theme, it’s a blunt flat composition that’s graphic in nature. I thought a lot about the cold silence of space while working on this piece, considering the endlessness of the universe being compressed in a tight little piece of architecture. I played with the idea of the natural pattern of stars and the man-made patterns of architecture.

Painting sometimes arouse other sensations, and it’s not always visual. Take for example the lavender studies. While I was painting, I was taken back to the pungent smell of lavender that hung like a cloud over the lavender farm on that muggy July day. In Silently Mapping the Heavens, I kept imagining the soft crackle of vinyl records when you first put the needle down. I wanted to connect the symbolism and relationship between the maps and the architecture with a symbol of something graceful and silent. I thought about birds or even paper airplanes made from sheet music, yet I settled on dragonflies.

Sons Strumming, 2021

By Bobby Padilla

Oil and gold leaf on canvas, 16” x 20”

This is a companion piece to a similar piece I did in 2020 (available on my social media). Simply, it’s my boys playing guitar together. Back in 2020, when the world shut down, my boys passed the time playing their guitars together. One evening, I had them pose on the front stoop while I snapped some reference photos. I then put the compositions of choice on gold leaf (I love gold leaf). This is a set of two by no coincidence as each son will own one commemorating that moment in time. A bright spot and a shimmering memory forever captured amid a global lockdown.

The pieces are similar in appearance, differentiated by orientation (one portrait, one landscape), and in the upper left-hand corner, where one has the word “Corazon” in graffiti script the other has a dream catcher. As their dad, both elements have equal meaning and significance.

As I move forward in the Lyrically Painted series, it’s important to note that my approach to crafting these works is like the one I imagine a songwriter takes when crafting the lyrics to a song. In this instance though, I’m using color and symbolism. I juxtapose themes that are real to those that are not. I’m looking to give substance to those fleeting thoughts and tangent feelings I have throughout my day. Letting those thoughts manifest into paintings. I want to make visually appealing works that draw you in for a moment even if you get confused on my intended meaning. Think about a favorite song you have that you don’t know all the words to, it can still bring you to a place in your mind of joy, remembrance, pain, sadness, etc. You may trip over some of the words to that song, but you enjoy singing along anyway. Art is that way too. As an artist I try to take as much responsibility for presenting my intentions in my art as possible. Yes, somethings get lost in translation, but overall, a successful painting for me is one that gets you engaged for a few moments and brings you to a place in your mind, other than just confusion. One of my favorite artist/instructors at Maryland Institute, Raoul Middleman, once told me when I was in his narrative painting class, “For every answer a painting gives you, it should give you five more questions.”

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Bobby Padilla
Bobby Padilla
Oct 11, 2022

It was a good year!

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