PAINTING IS GOD to some. Religious or not, spiritual or not, transcendental or not, painting bespeaks an order, an ordering of things that’s testament to the painter’s faith in something bigger than the painter or painting but faithfully pointing with a giant finger at the world and the self through composition, symmetry and especially that dangling eyelash caught in the eye of a beautiful face. Daniel Rios Rodriguez’s paintings appeared in a group show in 2017 at Dublin’s Kerlin Gallery. If we are talking in terms of absolutes, his small paintings were the absolute highlight. His current solo show at Kerlin has been a year in anticipation, and by the look of things—theunionofthings—a year in the making, too (all painted in 2018). The raw surfaces and unruly edges of that blissful introduction over a year ago has given way to a room of paintings that seem at One with One another, as if Rios Rodiguez has found peace in a certain round format, what the robed Italians called the “Tondo”, a compositional device that gives priority to a mosh pit of figures in the foreground, while compressing space into unwieldy wedges in the background. The Tondo promotes perfection, but only One perfection; design: GOD IS DEAD didn’t you hear. Sometimes you find yourself being sucked into the centre of Rios Rodrigez’s Tondos like vortexes for the eye; other times they just feel flat, like desert runways miles away from the city, the centre. The gnarly edges from a year ago, where the eye tripped and fell and lodged on painted debris, is replaced by braided edges that fall away from the eyes rather than pricking them, and symmetries that wink at you as if asymmetry is a trick, a joke, an irony. There's no dangling eyelashes here, but I can't seem to shake something caught in my eye. [And Why? Why? Why? always the wholesome destruction? Is destruction—self and painted—more critical, more contemporary? Why not? Oh Why Not? resolution, completeness, a big oneness desiring big but forever always running on empty…..] The ‘as-you-were’ press release is brimming with cultural capital. The adopted mint includes The New York Times, Roberta Smith, Art in America, Kyle MacMillan and Forrest Bess. No surprise really considering the context. But all the same the chiffon is a little sheer, a little distracting, like walking in on Mam and Dad cuddling in a different way than they've been cuddling you since day one. Naiveté aside, legitimacy always needs a leg up when business is as usual. Up and over the wall the two cited ‘art critics’ (that's what they still call them in America) are pitted against one another to invoke an element of cachet subjectivity so you, me and everyone else can own Rios Rodriguez through their own personal Jesus. Forrest Bess is the bed with the most spring here, in a haunted room that bears a biographical cross; a big one. Last year I wrote in biographical detail about Bess (read here). In the act of writing I became entrenched in Bess’ biography as if his painting were lacking something in the present. [They’re not lacking!] Bess’ life story supplies another type of cultural capital that is sad but not irrelevant to the market, and for that matter the viewer’s appreciation and interpretation of his work. Like Bess, Rios Rodriguez is Texan; this is important in the artist’s referential attachment to Bess, not just by critics and galleries, but by Rios Rodriguez on his personal website. Biography (history) and the artwork have a sticky relationship in terms of cultural capital, and the interpretation and future legacy and love for an artist is sometimes dependent on biography; or at the very least coloured by it. Learning of an artist's biography will forever change how you look at their work. For good or bad, for or against, biography blinds. Those that indulge in those big, biographical banners spread-eagled on museum walls as a stand-in for the long-dead artist perhaps need to empathise with the artist through biography before they embrace the artwork in the gallery—we are suckers for a good story, especially a tragic one. This is a symptom of art appreciation that painter Merlin James asks us to ignore when critically appreciating painting. Merlin wants us to snip the umbilical cord to interpretation via autobiography altogether-—S-n-i-p-—Strange how when you disavow something like autobiography it ends up defining you: just you wait Merlin, those museum banners are in the making! (And don't worry, the less you give of yourself the more there is to fabricate by those ‘lacking’ biographers who may have given up on the present but will never give up on the past.) Bess’ autobiography is found in handwritten letters [Warning: “never trust the teller, trust the tale”]. The “tale” in Bess’ case is his paintings. For Bess, sexuality and immortality were somehow intertwined, and painting was a way to map his dreams and delusions to form a painting identity that was partly demonstrative of both a genetic and inflicted psychosis, what in friendly banter we call “eccentricity”. His paintings may seem raw and unruly but they are bound in rules: Bess played on a tennis court with the whole procession of umpire, linesmen and Hawk-Eye in attendance. Snipped from autobiography Bess’ paintings are securely placed in the “aesthetic plain”—the way his gallerist Betty Parsons wanted it. But his written correspondences tell a different story, of a man who stayed adherent to the thraldom of his dreams and delusions, and a grandiose desire to be omniscient: the “aesthetic”, in the end, was of secondary importance to immortality, which he may now have found, by proxy, in the afterlife through his paintings. And whether you negate or embrace the biography of the artist, in particular the tragic artist’s autobiography, Bess’ life cannot be denied. His visions, his choices, are all part of something bigger than him, beyond him, beyond aesthetic, beyond painting. I'm not saying that psychosis is the seedbed of creativity, of originality, but it is something we have to confront in many artistic personalities down through history, as sacrifice or seed. Bess’ biography is a mountainous iceberg both above and below the skin, both as unavoidable obstacle and in-road to his painting. Even a nod to this iceberg in a press release will distract from a biography and painting identity in the making, like Rios Rodriguez’s. Be careful whom you graft on to your work, you may end up wearing their skin. Forget Bess.