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Rodrigo Zúñiga’s Neon Ghouls

Words:

Edd Norval
April 6, 2020

Chilean artist Rodrigo Zúñiga’s artwork strikes at the heart of the intersection between internet culture and something more timeless and profound. Dancing on the razor-sharp tip of the sword, his neon-drenched portraits depicting otherworldly figures sit at the axis of Tumblr-friendly phrases and the age-old evocation of death in art.

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Ideologically inheriting his psyche from a lineage of artists that can be traced back to Mexico’s José Guadalupe Posada, whose stark and monochromatic images examined the ephemeral nature of life and the endearing prospect of how our souls are transformed afterwards, is Zúñiga's contemporary iteration of timeless themes.


His art captures the transcendent nature of life and death, infusing it with the neon glow of Blade Runner’s dystopian landscape. Brought into the internet age through a vaporwave facelift, Zúñiga’s depictions of death - skeletons, plague doctors, ghouls and demons - draw on the history of esoteric artworks that inform his aesthetic sensibilities.


In-keeping with his neon colour palette and the fetishization of Asian symbolism in internet and post-internet art, the samurai or warrior is heavily featured in various states of undead. Their noble and lone-wolf mythology develops part of a larger narrative in the Chilean artist’s works - that of loneliness and isolation, of watching society from its fringes, hypocritically invisible and omnipresent.

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Not all of the figures are alone though. A few have found a kindred spirit in someone (or thing) that’s just like them. Connections can be made. There is someone out there just like you. Such positive sentiments don’t override the melancholy though. The companionship struck in some of his pieces are still lonely characters, only with each other as company.


Accompanying some of the images are semi-ironic poetic phrases offering both a sense of doom and hope for the reader, depending on how their mood is able to influence their interpretation. Minimal sentences like ‘reckless dark desire’, ‘we’re running out of time’ and ‘never listen to their lies’ are attached to graphics that both work alongside the phrases, but also vaguely contradict them, leaving the audience with work to do.


It’s not uncommon to see similar image-text posts pepper our newsfeeds, however Zúñiga has carved out his own niche amongst the milieu of artists who use a similar style of work to speak to a disenfranchised audience, many of whom find themselves scrolling through their newsfeeds and momentarily finding solace in his art.

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During times of existential contemplation, simple statements can feel sage-like - a respite from the cyclical nature of thought which can easily progress into a more vicious overthinking.. For those tired of motivational images, Zúñiga has something for you, a quiet whisper, an indiscernible smile that doesn’t hide behind a facade of kindness. The figures seem to be there with you, a mirror image of another face shrouded in darkness yet extending a hand. If you help me out, I can help you too.

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