Rolando Peña
By Guy Brett


Rolando Peña is an internationally known and widely exhibited artist with a long and varied career. Born in Venezuela, he originally trained in theatre and dance studies. Moving to New York in the mid-sixties he collaborated with Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary, notably on the theatre-piece The Illumination of the Buddha, and acted in several Andy Warhol films, before devoting himself full-time to his own art.

Like Joseph Beuys with his fat and felt, Yves Klein with his Monochrome, Andre Cadere with his rainbow-coloured stick, or Andy Warhol with his Brillo Boxes, Rolando Peña has made the gold oil barrel both an icon and an allegory of our times. Over more than twenty years he has identified himself both personally and artistically with the single theme of oil. He admits the god-like power we have given this dark substance (called mene by the ancient indians and put to modest use by them as a means of caulking canoe-hulls). He links it with the glories of the scientific discovery of the structure of matter, but warns us of the disastrous aspects of our relationship with it.

Oil appears in his work across many media: monumental sculpture, installation, happenings, video, computer animation. He is the author of a number of powerful and spectacular installations. Both he and his work have a complex presence: part masquerade, part scientific exegesis, part ecological activism, part ironic satire on the role of the artist. His oil barrel is a schematic module capable of endless repetition, a fetish in its isolation or a building block of further structures, other symbols. The links with minimalism are obvious, but instead of taking a comfortable place in the aesthetics of abstract sculpture Rolando Peña's monuments disturb by placing us in an ambivalent position between the holy and the infernal.


Guy Brett. Art Critic - Curator.
London, 2003