David Rodriguez Caballero moves with the grace of a jaguar through a Wynwood gallery. Sporting a trim beard, jeans, and a light blue shirt, the tall, slender, 42-year-old Spaniard stops before an aluminum wall sculpture that looks like a large piece of metal origami. The surface appears to have been raked with razor-sharp talons. Its surface, glowing with a crimson hue, refracts the overhead lights.
"I'm interested in painting without painting," he says.
The piece, simply titled 13.January.2013, is on display in "Reflections," Rodriguez Caballero's solo debut in Miami, which is on view during this weekend's Second Saturday Art Walk, beginning at 6 p.m. The work is part of a pop-up exhibit staged at O. Ascanio Gallery that features more than 30 aluminum, brass, and vinyl abstractions, wall installations, and free-standing sculptures.
The artist grew up near Pamplona and graduated from the University of the Basque Country, in Leioa, Vizcaya, in 1995. He majored in painting and embraced abstraction as his pictorial language. His father, Angel, worked for a multinational corporation specializing in technology and medicine. His mother, María, was a homemaker who encouraged his creative urges.
"I was always interested in art as a young child and even dabbled in graffiti for a while," the artist says. "My family [is] constantly asking me for new works to fill their house with."
Today, Rodriguez Caballero, who exhibits internationally, is represented by Marlborough Gallery, one of the world's leading art dealers, which has outposts in London, New York, Madrid, and Monaco.
The artist, who maintains studios in New York and Madrid, cites jazz music, classical African sculpture, architecture, and his world travels as major influences. Japanese novelist Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows, which describes the collision of shadows and light, is a major source of inspiration.
"I like to work in different locations because it keeps me objective and distanced from what I'm creating," he says.
His show carries viewers on a journey from experimental explorations of painting to three-dimensionality. During a recent tour, he looks more like a cyclist on vacation than an artist whose star is ascending. He stops in front of one of his pulsating, monochromatic works rendered from luminous strips of vinyl tape. The piece, made with vibrant translucent red tape on paper, brings to mind everything from Mark Rothko to a tropical bamboo thicket at sunset.
"I started my career as a painter and used to create lyrical abstractions... but after I moved to New York in 1998 and found myself surrounded by soaring skyscrapers and gleaming architecture, I started to explore using more industrial materials such as Plexiglas and aluminum."
At the gallery, Rodriguez Caballero leads spectators to a large wall sculpture titled 17.November.2010 (Trinity), crafted from large sheets of aluminum that have been curved and folded by industrial machines to resemble curled sheets of paper. Each of Trinity's three sections weighs about a hundred pounds, he says.
Unlike many other artists who send out their designs to fabricators, Rodriguez Caballero is fully involved in his work's creation.
"I like to get my hands dirty," he says. "I start by making a maquette out of paper before going to the workshop, where I work with assistants to create the pieces."
The artist says he communicates a painterly effect on the metal — in this case a startling chiaroscuro result — by sanding it after it's been machine-folded and welded. "First I use a heavy grade of sandpaper to erode the surfaces of the metal... Later I use a lighter-grade paper to smooth them before I begin the process of making the final marks, which look like thousands of scratches that catch and shift light to give the impression of brushwork. The entire procedure can take hundreds of hours on each work," he explains.
The show is being staged by C-Art Gallery and was curated by author and art historian Kosme de Barañano. C-Art director Cesar Rodriguez is in the process of opening a permanent space in the area. Rodriguez Caballero's show, the director says, "sets the tone for what we plan to do next."