Abstraction: Essence of the Real

                Abstract art is defined as “an art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colors, and texture.” It was the invention of photography in the 19th century which had brought reality to its highest and truest state of verisimilitude. Thus, in the early years of the 20th century, artists from various nationalities arrived, independently of each other, at the notion of an art of complete abstraction. Among these are the Russian Wassily Kandinsky, the Dutchman Piet Mondrian, the Frenchman Robert Delaunay, and still another Russian, Kazimir Malevich, who, with his so-called “Suprematist compositions”  liberated art “from the useless weight of the object,” proclaiming the “supremacy of pure feeling and perception.” Interior or spiritual reality is what counts most. As Kandinsky declared: “The harmony of color and form is solely based upon the principles of the proper contact with the human soul.”

                Of course, in other more ancient cultures, abstraction has existed, as seen in Chinese and Muslim calligraphy, where the depiction of the human form, is forbidden. Despite not understanding the meaning of their calligraphy, we can still enjoy the beauty and elegance of their lines and forms.

                In Philippine art, the pioneering abstractionists emerged in the 1950s from the so-called Neo-Realists, namely Hernando Ocampo, Vicente Manansala, Cesar Legaspi, Romeo Tabuena, Victor Oteyza, and Ramon Estella. In their search for an alternative reality, away from the defined and constricted world of Fernando Amorsolo, they searched instead for meaningful or significant forms, which led to the fragmentation of familiar and traditional representational forms. In consequence, their works manifested partial or complete abstraction. After them came another generation of abstractionists, in the persons of Arturo Luz, Jose Joya, Constancio Bernardo, Nena Saguil, Rosario Bitanga, Lee Aguinaldo, and J. Elizalde-Navarro.

                All these pioneering exemplars of Philippine abstraction have been inspirational to the succeeding waves of younger generations active in the vibrant art scene of today. In presenting “Abstraction: Essence of the Real,” Galerie Anna celebrates the visionary power of abstraction – of the emotive and aesthetic values of form and line, light and color, space and textural, relationships - to explore other dimensions of reality, beyond what the physical eye can see.

The Devil is in the Detail

MICHELLE HOLLANES LUA: The Devil is in the Detail

By Cid Reyes 

The Feminist art movement has never seemed more strident and aggressive in recent years for a 

simple reason that the issues that it raises have never been resolved, paid attention to, or wrought the 

changes  that it was meant to effect. The decibels of protest have risen more vociferously and, more 

significantly, in parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, where women have never been treated as 

equals of men. This world-wide phenomenon, which has brought to the fore the erstwhile controversial 

subjects of violence against women, domestic life as a form of modern day slavery, and respect of the 

female body away from the male gaze, is regarded as “the most influential,  international movement of 

any during the postwar period.” 

To be sure, we have seen exhibitions of feminist art hereabouts, instigated and inspired by the 

likes, for instance, of Julie Lluch, Agnes Arellano, and Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, and Pacita Abad, first rate 

artists all, and yes, whose works equal those  of men. 

Currently on view at Galerie Anna are the works of Michelle Hollanes Lua in a show titled “The 

Devil is in the Detail.” It is, of course, a twist of the familiar statement “God is in the details”, whose 

origin is unknown but was once attributed to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, more famous 

for his “God is dead.” Lua has described herself as a “scavenger artist,” indeed a graphic word that 

brings to mind the materials used by the movement “Arte Povera,” the Italian phrase for “Poor Art” or 

art that makes use of discarded and rejected materials, stuff from the refuse heaps, relics of poverty. 

Lua’s materials, however, have been drawn from a life that devolves from the world of vanity and 

superficial perfection, the obsessive pursuit of youth and beauty, an absorption with style and fashion, 

on which the American critic Arthur Danto once made a judgment, thus: For conservatives, who idealize 

good breeding in all things (code word, quality), fashion represents the ungrounded vulgar presumption 

of the arriviste.” In her Artist’s Statement, Lua brings up such designer labels as :ouis Vuitton, Chanel, 

Versace Gucci, Esquire, and Zara. Fashion is an aesthetic world unto itself. When Lua shares that through 

time she has collected “fancy diamonds from hundreds of broken shoes, belts, bags,” one thinks of a 

compulsiveness that carries more significance than meets the eye. 

But her other materials such as aluminum, brass and stones are quite the accepted objects in 

traditional assemblage. It is the subject, however, of aesthetic surgery that has been invested with a 

gruesome starknesss in the work ‘Retokada.” The vernacular title suggests all the physical pain, despite 

anesthesia, that a woman is willing to undergo in order to maintain or force her body to conform to 

what is regarded as the accepted standard of beauty. Indeed, vanity is itself a form of self-flagellation. 

Lua’s work has a brutish, startling beauty, a three-dimensional cross between an anatomy book and a 

mad scientist’s nightmare, where bone, flesh, sinew and blood turn into the grisly car wreck deserted in 

a roadside accident. Here the devil of vanity has interwoven itself between the bleeding wounds and 

hanging sutures. For this particular viewer, this work has the power and shock one felt when first seeing 

the iconic work of Cajipe-Endaya’s “The Wife is a DH”, which is an assemblage of a Filipina whose body 

was a suitcase with a leg stepping on a coconut husk. Our very homes in fact host modern day slavery. 

The work “The Four Ages of Women” is an overwrought horizontal frieze, where the visages of 

women, each alone unto herself, emerge as if from a fourth-dimensional wall, festooned with all 

manner of dripping frills and decorative shreds, shrouded with stark, unmitigated grayness, a chromatic 

amniotic fluid from which our own mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters swim into life determined by 

biological fate. The artist speaks through her work, confronting her own pain. 

In Michelle Hollanes Lua’s feminist art, we find access into the innermost psychic passages of 

self-love. From birth to death, women have been incessantly bullied by societal expectations. Ah, frailty, 

truly thy name is Woman.

Residual Felicity

Jericho Valjusto Vamenta: Residual Felicity

 

One is fortunate to have seen the first two solo exhibitions of Jericho Valjusto Vamenta, and the 

experience allows one, as an observer, to track down the ways the artist engages his mind, sensibility 

and techniques, according to the impelling needs of his chosen themes. There was a show where his 

images focused on a Falling Man, which personified, obviously enough, man’s fall from grace. Or  

wealth. Or, most seductively, power. Thus falling, it looked as if the figure were floating in space, 

delivered from the laws of gravity, floating in space, in an existential vacuum. 

One remembers, more affectingly, his images of women, for Vamenta has a marvelous way of 

depicting women who seem otherworldly, and whose presence emerges in his imagination not in the 

way we see them in actual reality, but in the stirring way that conflates romanticism and surrealism. 

Ordinary scenes, with table still lifes, were presided over by these graces, elegant hostesses with their 

spectral apparitions, heightening our suspicion that these figures were no more flesh and blood than the 

cold, glacial vessels bearing wine, fruit and bread. Even in prosaic activities, like bicycling or waiting by 

the window, his women look as if they were in an unremitting state of combustion, ready to vanish, 

evaporate in an instant. 

On view at the Galerie Anna is Vamenta’s third solo show, titled “Residual Felicity,” an 

unexpected conflation of terms whose meanings remain teetering by turns at the edge of 

incomprehension and illumination. In his “Artist’s Statement,” Vamenta distinctly makes mention of 

Appropriation, which is “the taking over, into a work of art, of a real object, or even an existing work of 

art.” Indeed, appropriation has proved itself to be controversial approach to artmaking, dredging as it 

does issues of originality and ownership of visual ideas. To be sure, such public and universal images as 

the Mona Lisa and Mickey Mouse, are so widely known, that barring copyright protection, the matter of 

plagiarism is simply out of the question. Such images have become public property and part and parcel 

of popular culture and consciousness. 

By its very title alone, Vamenta’s “Madonna on the Rocks” is a homage to Da Vinci’s “Virgin of 

the Rocks.” The intentional, or perhaps unwitting shift of prepositions, engenders a different reading of 

Vamenta’s “take” on the Renaissance painting. “On the rocks,” is of course a phrase known to every 

scotch drinker. Is Vamenta’s Madonna imbibing the wrong kind of spirit? The tantalizing thought is 

irreverently irresistible. Furthermore, there seems nothing reverential in the way this Madonna has 

been depicted, with her strangely kicking up her heels, her long black tresses whipped up by the winds. 

Another work appropriated from an Old Master painting is titled “Madonna with Cat.” Why has 

the feline creature replaced the Divine Infant in the Madonna’s affection? One then realizes that in the 

surprising discontinuities between the original source and the appropriated result are to be found the 

residuals of meanings, (residual being an almost formal word for left-over), that sparkle through the 

artist’s sly and insidious manipulation of original images. Felicity, on the other, connotes joy, bliss, 

contentment, happiness. 

 Other works in the show, such as “Sleeptalk” and “Glare, Glaze, and Glasses” do not easily 

disclose their original sources. It is more likely that Vamenta has purposely murked up their derivation, 

drawn them from personal and intimate experiences, accessed only through his own subconscious and 

memories. The two works make unnerving and candid references to intoxication, inebriation, the 

incessant consumption of alcohol. In “Sleeptalk,” a drunken man lies sprawled on a bench of a nipa 

cottage by the beach, a rudely awakening sight, while the alliteratively titled work is viewed from a 

prismatically shifting facets of planes, approximating the effect of alcoholic haze upon the vision. 

An oddly mystifying suite of works, in pen-and-ink on canvas, deploys a mannequin, disrobed 

and with breasts bared, possibly used as metaphor for Woman, which then invokes the disquieting 

manner men have treated the so-called “weaker sex.” On the head of this mannequin, the artist has 

unceremoniously dumped a heavy load of laundry wash. 

Jericho Valjusto Vamenta’s “Residual Felicity” generates questions that are left-over, because 

unanswered, from man’s prejudices and dereliction.

Leap of Fate

LEAP OF FATE

By Cid Reyes

 

                What has fate in store for me? Will the fates decide? In Greek mythology, the three fates were the three goddesses, namely Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, who presided over the birth and death of humans. In their view, human lives are like a thread spun, measured, and cut: a destiny over which humanity has no control.

For the 2016 ArtFair Philippines, Galerie Anna explores the subject of The Inevitable, in a show titled “Leap of Fate.” The word is derived from the Latin fatum, which means “that which has been spoken.” Destiny is a done deal.

No more iconic image is there for the subject of fate than the open hand uplifted by CJ Tanedo for our scrutiny and curiosity. It is after all a study of Lifelines, the creases in our hands that, if we were believe, foretell the destiny of our lives.

With his “Despondency” series, Cezar Arro plunges us into (a fate worse than death?) the abyss of his self-abnegation as a painter, his chosen profession, wondering if the artist has willfully cast himself as a victim of myth: the artist manqué : someone who has not had the opportunity to do a particular job, despite having the ability to do it; having failed to become what might have been.

                A pair of works by Jun Impas, (one typically titled in Cebuano, Pagtambayayong Alang sa Kalamboan and another, in current pop lingo, Tuba Pa More), underscore by turns the dignity of labor and the hardship and harshness of living, the brawny peasants pulling together as one to haul and harness something unseen; and the latter work, a shocking and pathetic view of humankind seen not in the best of light.

                High drama attends the visually ingenuous artwork in hyper-realism by Bryan Teves, with a lofty Latin title taken from the Fabulae (Fables) written by Hyginus (2nd century AD). Thus, Vestigia Eius (In his Footsteps). The fable is about “Hercules (who) killed his children and his wife in a mad rage to him by Juno. As a punishment he is ordered by Eurystheus, king of Argos, to perform twelve difficult tasks.” The artist conflates the fable with that of the Christ, at least in one interpretation of this work based on the stunning image. Bloodied feet suggestive of a long punishing trek upon rocky terrain are seen floating up in the air, with the artwork reaching a height of its own.

                Vincent Padilla is a pilgrim journeying to the past. His large body of work devoted to the meditation of the Philippine past is an unequivocal declaration of his obsession with our Filipino ancestors whose mere existence forms the crucible of our search for a national identity. As far removed they may be from our contemporary life, with its attendant existential anxieties and turmoil, they have nonetheless taken roots in Padilla’s imagination.

                “Reverb” is the echo-suggestive title of the work by Robert Besana, an appropriation of a historical photograph of the Evil Personified, Adolf Hitler. In his commanding technique using a ballpoint pen, Besana presents his painting as a tantalizing specimen of the idiom of Appropriation, “the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them.” Besana, however, contextualizes his own work with the inclusion of the text “God is on our side.” Is it mere fate that six million Jews went to their gaseous deaths when God was seemingly not on their side?

                Two well-known American photographs are also appropriated by Toti Cerda in his paintings Anti-Virus I and 2. The first is that of workers, taking their noonday lunch, seated on a steel beam atop a vertiginous skyscraper construction in New York City (actually the RCA Building), hundreds of feet above the ground. It was used by the Rockefeller Center as a publicity stunt. Cerda re-situates the workers into a Philippine setting overlooking a poverty-stricken cityscape. Furthermore, he has stamped on it the familiar notice “Business As Usual,” heightening the ironic and sardonic quality of the works. The other more famous photograph, taken February 3, 1945, is the raising of flag by five US servicemen on the battle-scarred island of Iwo Jima. Again, the painting has been stamped with “Business As Usual” as though war were merely a workaday happening.

                Eschewing his favored sculptures of dancers, Ferdie Cacnio constructs a sculptural rising mound, upon which scraggly, attenuated figures, recalling Giacometti’s Existential Man, struggle to climb up this Everest of life’s challenges. Alas, by a cruel fate, these figures, having scaled the heights and reached the top, are destined, condemned by the gods like Sisyphus, to hurl themselves down, and ceaselessly clamber and claw themselves up again in a futile and hopeless existence.

                In Mga Imortal sa Norte, Ricky Ambagan thrusts us at the discomfited view of the so-called “hanging coffins” of Sagada, like a fresh airing of perspectives on mortality and death and the indecent voyeurism of tourists for whom nothing is sacred.

                In an ecstasy of transport, Michael Munoz presents the Blessed Virgin Mary in Immaculata, destined by fate to be the Mother of God. In Saint Luke’s Gospels, the evangelist recounts the prophecy of Simeon that seven swords will pierce her heart. It was the fate of Mary to be the Sorrowing Mother.

                Ivy Floresca embraces the surrealist enigma of life in a work whose meaning she keeps tenaciously to her breast. In seemingly unrelated images, contrived to make a whole, the tension remains intrinsic to her art. She creates works always touched by the fire of mystery and a gravita that teases the mind’s appetite for the incomprehensible.

                Was it by chance or by fate that a pair of unshod feet once again hang dangling, as in another painting in this show? As are all of Gerry Joquico’s artworks, his Procrastinator and the crestfallen skull in the bowler hat (shades of Magritte!) in El Final or el Principio? Are located in limbo, in a nether region, an undetermined landscape, such that these works assume the nature of allegory, where symbolic fictional figures are embodied statements about human existence.

                Alas, death alone is our ineluctable fate.

Ying Chun Zhan

THE LINGNAN SCHOOL OF PAINTING
Art and Revolution in Modern China

The Qing dynasty closed China to maritime trade in 1757, just at the moment when European nations were expanding their international commerce. Guangzhou (Canton) was the only legal port for trade between China and the outside world until 1843. This south-eastern region, which includes modern Guangdong province, was commonly referred to as Lingnan, and produced some of the most important political thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao, who advocated replacing the imperial system with a constitutional monarchy, and Sun Yat-sen, who established China’s first republic in 1911.

The development of a Cantonese manner of painting began in the nineteenth century, but did not attain national visibility and distinctive style until the first part of the twentieth century. The leader of the Lingnan School of painting was Gao Jianfu (1879-1950?), who joined the Alliance Society (Tongmeng hui), 1911 he devoted himself instead to a revolution in art. In his painting, publications, and teaching, he promoted the development of a New National Painting (xin guohua). He and his followers, most notably his younger brother GAO Qifeng, combined the local style with elements of Western and Japanese realist painting to create an art that they hoped would be more accessible to the citizenry of China’s new republic than the literati painting of the past.

This Revolution in art has not spared the culture of the overseas Chinese in Manila. The adherents to Lingnan School style of paintings in the mainland and overseas grew in such numbers. Over the years, the style has been handed down from one generation to another. Currently, the foremost authority and Teacher in the Lingnan School Tradition of Chinese Painting in Manila is Master Ceasar Cheng, who received his training from several masters both here and in China. He teaches art ath the Confucius Institute of Ateneo de Manila. Together with other Lingnan adherents Lita Gelano, Nei Nei Hui Chun, Lupicinio Ng and Myrna Rivera, Master Ceasar Cheng will highlight in this exhibit, the vivid and graceful brush strokes of paintings done in Lingnan School Style.

A Lingnan School painting is vibrant and visually pleasing. It is “more realistic as it combines realism with fluid bold expression”. It liberates the sense and touches the soul of the viewer.

HighBreed

High Breed 

Something of mixed origin or composition, such as a work whose elements are derived from different languages.

In art forms, hybridity could mean the blurring of traditional distinct noundaries between artistic media such as painting, sculpture, film, performance, architecture, and dance. It also can mean crossbreeding art-making with other disciplines, such as natural and physical science, industry, technology, literature, popular culture, or philosophy. Hybrid art forms expand the possibilities for experimentation and innovation in contemporary art. 

Today's artits are free to make art with whatever material or technique they can imagine. this freedom creating hybrids occupies much artistic work today. however, making meaning in art-whatever tools, materials, or techniques are used-remaines central to artistic practice. Ot is impportant for viewers to keep this in mind as they explore innovative art today.

This show breaks tradition and blur boundaries.

 

Tranquility, Ripples and the Absolute

ANNABELLE CADIZ: TRANQUILITY, RIPPLES, AND THE DIVINE

 

          “We are surrounded with things which we have not made and which have a life and structure different from our own: trees, flowers, grasses, rivers, hills, clouds. For centuries they have inspired us with curiosity and awe. They have been objects of delight. And we have come to think of them as contributing to an idea which we have called nature. Its rise and development is part of a cycle in which the human spirit attempted once more to create harmony with its environment.”

          Those were the opening words of Lord Kenneth Clark in his series of lectures on the subject of “Landscape into Art.” Words it would do us well to remember as we join an artist on her “travelling” exhibition.

          Currently on view at the Galerie Anna is a solo exhibition of Dra. Annabelle Cadiz titled “Tranquility, Ripples, and the Divine.” (Those who have seen Cadiz’s show previous to this one, exhibited a couple of years ago, are “in” for a surprise, for these landscape works are at a far remove. Her last show was of a different landscape; “nightscape” may be a more appropriate descriptive word. In those works, Cadiz depicted images of those who work in the night, and through, and that subtle hint should modestly suffice even to those who are more worldly-conscious.)

          This time, Cadiz has found inspiration in her many travels all over Europe, America, and Asia.  Indeed, the exhibition will unreel like a personal visual odyssey, elevating the sights beyond the merely touristy. The works are imbued with a quiet atmosphere and serenity, as if in fact, the artist were all alone when she visited the sites. And though, of course, hordes of tourists were busily snapping away with their cameras and iphones, Cadiz, the introspective soul, “owned” the views, for she sensitively observed, and absorbed, the spiritual energy of the place, and placed her retentive memory at her disposable. While photographed images have their own practical value (excellent for jogging memory!), nothing can replace the sensations one felt at a particular place, or triggered by a specific view, nor the intense emotion that swept her, provoked by the grandeur and magnificence of the vistas that emerged before her.

          At the outset, it should be said that these works have a gentility and mistiness of watercolors, though some are in fact in oils. (It was Cezanne, the forerunner of modern art from whom Picasso saw the origins of Cubism, who treated oils as though the medium were watercolors, as witness his late still lifes.) With her light, felicitous touch, Cadiz creates sensations that are both feminine, lyrical and romantic, for which reason one can call her works “Wordsworthian”, after the poet who wrote a line of poetry which every college student can still remember: I wandered lonely as a cloud…

          And so did Cadiz wander all over the world, filling her heart and mind like a diary, with each page overwhelmed by a welling of emotions. There are views that are grand and lowly: cathedrals, manor houses, and castles are awe-inspiring, the stuff of travel brochures, such classic edifices as the Notre Dame in Paris and the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. There are tableaus of mountains and meadows, beaches and streams and rivers, blossoms and vegetation. Each can be relished quietly in the spirit of tranquility and contemplation, our eyes and hearts lifted to the Divine Creator Who has brought all these into existence.

          Yet again, we are awakened to the realization that certain joyous scenes can be gleaned by turns from the ordinary and the overlooked, the simple and the sophisticated, the homey and the humble. As Lord Kenneth Clark right observed: “In general the popular landscapes are those in which the lazy or uninterested eye is suddenly jerked into responsiveness by an unusually resonant contrast of tone or color. This is  true of the stretch of water lit by evening skies, set off by dark trees; or of the evening sun shedding an orange light on the hill-tops.” For myself, I am drawn towards the fresh appeal of often ignored sights, such as Cadiz’s “The Lady in Yellow”, where an unrecognized solitary woman is seated among white-topped tables, just like a scene at Tuileries in Paris. Another is “The Traveller” which will not really pass muster as a view, but a rather as a vignette, of a place observed and of time unrecoverable. It is merely the sight of a motorcycle parked along a wall.  In both, one feels an underlying narrative, certainly unvoiced, but nevertheless brushes against your imagination. Still another is “Same Time, Same Place”, unequivocally a transcription of an assignation. While all these do not belong in the traditionally accepted notions of landscapes (but why can’t a park not be a landscape?), we have to accept them as the products of the artist’s impartial eye. Even a work titled “The Spirit House”, such as one often sees along the streets of an Asian city, is a moving sight. A humble, makeshift contraption of a small house, laden with flowers left by devotees, awaits the arrival of the Divine.

          For all these, we have to thank the artist Annabelle Cadiz for inviting us along on her journey of discovery.

 

 

 

Reliquaries

EXHIBIT STATEMENT

 

History and geography are witnesses to the myriad funerary beliefs and practices that have arisen. The Egyptians take pride in their pyramids. The Chinese have their tombs equipped with objects deemed necessary to bring in the next life. The Romans boast of their sarcophagi with inscriptions pertaining to the deeds of the dead. The Mesopotamian royal tombs house not only the king but also include his guards and ladies of the court who are to be his companions in the afterlife. Given this variegated society at large there comes a universal chord which embraces all cultures and societies.

 

Temporal life displays giving of honor to the living as manifest in manifold awards, honors and prestige it bestows. However, after some years, if not decades, of existence in the world comes the inevitable reality. Each one has that day when sister death knocks upon his door. There may be a wide range of reactions towards this departure - fear, restlessness, optimism, hope – and yet something common remains. The same respect for the living is extended to the dead, if not greater. Tombs, pyramids, coffins, urns and reliquaries prove the veneration people have for the dead, and in turn, point out to the belief that the departed continue on living. Death signifies not the end; it is only the beginning.

 

The belief in the afterlife shows forth the reality that in a human being there is not only his physical body, but, there is a soul that animates his being. The separation of the soul from the body marks the physical death; nevertheless, the soul continues to linger on. With the belief in life beyond comes consequently the regard put in how earthly life is lived. Undeniably there is always tension and friction in life, a struggle that is persistently waged. The attraction to the good and happiness and the joys and triumphs are invariably present, but common experience tells that there is a constant battle against disorders found in deception, idleness, stagnancy, reclusion and lack of purpose. The kind of earthly life stamps itself in the soul that continues to live on.

 

            In sum, whoever man there is the place to go to after the end of life is one and same. This is depicted in “All Go to One Place” and “Limbo’s Cradle”. The remembrance of the dead is displayed in “Bouquet” and (title of Paul Eric Roca’s works). Man’s care for how he lives his life – a purposeful life – shines through in (title of Vincent Balandra’s works), “Towards a Purpose”, “Hindrance and Obstacles”, “Lady Lazarus”, “Vacant Lot”, “Holy Eucharist Parish Church, Armstrong Avenue, Moonwalk Village, Paranaque City, Metro Manila”, “Villa Sto. Nino”, and “Sacred Hurt”.

 

Reliquaries take this perspective that life and death, and death and Life are realities that are not mutually exclusive.