After God created Adam, who was alone, He said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone’ (Gen. 2:18). He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith began to fight. She said, ‘I will not lie below,’ and he said, ‘I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while am to be in the superior one.’ Lilith responded, ‘We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.’” Adam and Lilith argued, and Lilith flew away into the air, and when Adam begged her to return, she refused. God’s angels sentenced her to drown in the sea.
This story comes from the writings of Jesus ben Sira, a Jewish scribe responsible for a Second-Century text called the Wisdom of Sirach. ben Sira’s alternate history tells a creation story in which Lilith, not Eve, is Adam’s first wife, and the first woman on earth. Unsurprisingly, this version did not make it into the Hebrew version of the Bible. Eve, the submissive wife created from Adam’s rib, has been embraced by most of the modern world as earth’s first woman. The powerful story of Lilith speaks to many, however. Mariano Rodriguez Cevallos paints her in many forms, mostly female, but with the hope that all will transmit Lilith’s spirit.
While he prefers to promote equality rather than “feminism,” Rodriguez Cevallos doesn’t deny the importance of the feminine in his artistic career and development. It was his mother, Patricia Mazzitelli, also a painter, who encouraged his artistic side. He went on to study at La Escuela Bellas Artes Pueyrreddon, now IUNA, Instituto Universitario Nacional del Arte, where he developed admiration for impressionist and baroque art. While he admits his technique is rather traditional, he grew to believe that the most important aspect of art is being able to transmit a certain spirit rather than an idea, and his composition is anything but traditional.
His art can be characterized by three “series” — Skirt-boarders, which portrays female skateboarders in Buenos Aires; Kisses, a series of sometimes mismatched couples kissing in unexpected settings; and the last, Women, a series of women usually jumping joyfully in the air in a wide spectrum of settings. Rodriguez Cevallos believes that women, as those who give birth, represent a “creative force,” and seeks to represent not the sensual, romanticized woman, but the modern woman just as she is, unaware of the observer and beautiful in any environment. He does not seek the perfect composition or a pallet of colors that match and complement each other — he seeks contrast.
Sometimes, as in the case of the red couch in “Euforia de Amapolas,” he sticks something in the painting just so people will say, “But what is that doing there?” Or he will paint something that could easily be a scene from a ballet on the stage of the Teatro Colon if it weren’t for the ballerina’s wild, black and white striped tights (Bailarina en la Oscuridad, 2011). Those misplaced objects draw people to the paintings in different ways, and in the case of “Euforia de Amapolas,” the woman who bought the painting said she loved it because the red couch reminded her of one she had in her house growing up, and that the girl looked like her daughter, whom she loved to imagine as joyful as the subject of the painting.
Rodriguez Cevallos doesn’t mind that people are drawn to his art for different reasons, because he still believes there is an underlying spirit that serves as a common denominator for all possible interpretations of his art. In many cases, he believes the women he paints could be interchanged between his paintings, because regardless of the subject, the “feeling” in the painting remains intact. It isn’t about the settings, either – those are probably interchangeable as well. He purposefully represents all seasons of the year, because the point is that no matter one’s life situation, no matter where one is, one still has to be true to oneself, and that there is something to celebrate in any scenery, situation, and time, whether one’s situation is “perfect” in an aesthetic or emotional sense of the word. “One has to find a way to be ok,” Rodriguez Cevallos says, disregarding the external and holding on to what is real — one’s convictions. He paints “women who do not compromise,” like Lilith.
One of his favorite “mini-series” was a group of paintings of people sitting on things that were not there, as in the case of “Desde Cero,” which portrays a woman sitting in a wintry forest on an invisible, non-existent bench. He explains that this series came from a feeling that many people “support themselves on things that are not there,” centering their lives on something imaginary and transient — a side-effect of consumerism and a society pushed by the media and celebrities who do and say nothing of importance. He also makes references to the culture of drugs and substance abuse by painting poppies and wormwood flowers, from which opium and absinthe are made, respectfully. In showing the women leaping over seemingly harmless plants that are actually used to make destructive substances, he comments on people’s tendencies to numb themselves through substance abuse in order to avoid facing reality.
There are many scenes in his art that seem less than perfect, and a few that initially, make little sense. In “Locura,” a girl decked out in punk attire is seen jumping through a barren winter field with a balloon in her hand. What is she doing there and what is with the outfit? On one hand, he loves painting winter scenery, but having never lived anywhere “plagued” by harsh winters, the many colors that make up the shades of winter are difficult for him to paint. Few of the classic impressionist artists painted winter scenery, and he considers it a personal challenge he would like to conquer.
On the other hand, he finds people’s characterization of winter as cold and unfriendly to be unfair and sought to replace that sense of desolation with life in painting a carefree, light-hearted “punk” jumping and bounding in search of a utopia where all live by the same values, rendering government unnecessary.
Like Lilith, who dreamed of a world where being created from the same earth gave no man or woman power over another, Rodriguez Cevallos knows that this utopia is far from a reality, but chooses to fight for it anyway. Lilith’s defiance was met with a harsher punishment, but while the story tells us that she sinks deeper in the sea, he prefers to think of it as floating. In Rodriguez Cevallos’ world, there is something beautiful about floating and sinking alike – it’s all a question of perspective.
Mariano Rodriguez Cevallos
Arroyo 862, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Monday – Friday, 10 AM – 8 PM
Solange Guez + Arte Contemporaneo
Zapiola 2196, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tuesday – Friday, 2 PM – 7 PM