A Bout De Souffle

A Bout De Souffle

 

The JOQUICOS: Breathlessly Devoted to Art

 

            Blood is thicker than oils and acrylics: that’s the impression the viewer will get when realizing that the three artists in this group show all bear the same family name.  The Joquicos --- Gerry and his two sons Gary And Grae --- cross trajectories of influences such that a commonality exists, although that may not be as expressively perceptible at initial glance. Can members of one artistic family really avoid working by osmosis, as if by having shared common umbilical cords, or just plain breathing the same space of air, the artistic ties that bind are either tightened or loosened, depending on the comfortability of each to the other as practitioners of the same art? Are the Joquicosanother artistic dynasty looming in the horizon? Such are the questions raised by their group show to which they have given the French title “A Bout de Souffle,” literally meaning “out of breath” or breathless.

            Metaphorical narrative is Gerry’s strongest suit, where images partake of the transmission of allegories which emerge as unexpected guest in the viewer’s imagination. His canvases concentrate on a single solitary figure as if caught in a frozen dream. Even in a triptych such as the title piece, with its inescapable allusion to the expression “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil,” an extreme solitariness pervades the scene, a self-preoccupation that only b properly described as lost in their own world. In “The Lost Seeker,” the wooden boy Pinocchio continues to lie, his pointed nose lengthening as he dissembles, as to what is in sight of the telescope. In “Parable of the Moon,” a man nakedly ensconced atop a high stool, ruminates on the different stages of the moon, a sight perhaps more visible had he Pinocchio’s viewing equipment. In “Procrastination,” we gasp at the sight of a woman with a wooden arm, very like Pinocchio’s, an assumption driven no doubt by our wild imagination.

            A spirit as bound to earth as she is consumed into the fourth dimension is the woman, with her back to the viewer, in Gary’s “Rejection.”In this work, a lamb curiously looks out of the pictorial space, as though in a theater’s fourth wall. Is this the same lamb, or its counterpart,  prostrate in Gerry’s “Disenlightenment”? Like figures out of a Magritte landscape,emerge three men in dark, heavy overcoat, each one holding aloft an upturned black umbrella, as if to catch a downpour of blessings, in his “Waiting for Rain.” In both Gerry and Gary’s works, the figures have shut themselves out of the physical world as they wrestle with the universal anxieties and concerns of the human condition: deception, hypocrisy, alienation, frustration, unrealized dreams, all the miseries cast upon us by our internal demons.

            Very wisely, Grae strategically positioned himself as the abstractionist in the family. Opting to work  in abstraction, he was able to enter another dimension of insight and feeling. To his credit, however, though he has spurned the visible human presence, his abstractions of an open, immeasurable space harken to the ashen grey and mistral skies, at once hazy and luminous,  of Gerry and Gary’s atmospheric visions. It is said that Grae was influenced by the American-born but British-based James Whistler (1834-1903), whose iconic painting the artist has wryly titled as an abstraction, “Arrangement in Grey and Black,” though infact it visibly portrays the artist’s mother, a seated solitary figure, much like the women in Gary and Gerry’s works, albeit now bent with age. She has wrapped around herself a shawl of distance and mystery, calmly immobile in her stolid chair, an austere presence awaiting inevitable death.

            Indeed, on these works, Grae has bestowed the foreboding collective title “Requiem.” In specific works, allusions to ashes, flames, tears (“Lacrimosa”) rend the air of his abstractions. His triptych, a meditative oracle to nothingness, is titled “Trio Al Niente.”

            As to the eyebrow-raising title, it is expected that this show must perforce make some connection with the 1960 classic movie by the French director Jean-Luc Godard. There’s a line in the film says: “What we are determines what we do.” So lucid and pointed is the significance of its message that we need not wait with bated breath for what it means to our lives.

  • Cid Reyes

           

           

           

           

           

           

 

Coalesce

“Coalesce” is More

 

            When an artist holds a solo exhibition that displays a variety of styles, subjects, and techniques, you are bound to hear a familiar a comment usually passed along in whispers. The remark invariably is always: “Parang group show!”

            But when an actual group exhibition is presented, the challenge faced by the curator is the coherence of the assembled works. A group show is realized when artists create their works based on an agreed common theme. A group show, however, can also be presented from a selection ofartists’s previous works.  The curator sees a common thread, whether in subject or in sentiment. This was the challenge of artist MalynBonayog, who curates this group exhibition, to which she has given as title the very operative word that must be satisfied in order to justify the assembling of varied works into a curated group exhibition. The title is “Coalesce,” which synonymously means “to blend, to fuse, to blend, to merge.’  Indeed, curator is a title not to be taken lightly, as it carries with it the responsibility of being the guiding intelligence behind a show.

            The audience, too, must be engaged in a participative role, and should not expect to be, as it were, spoon-fed. Such an act in fact patronizes the audience.

            Over a decade ago, we were introducedby art dealer and friend Norma Liongoren to the works of a young artist with a vision of Manila’s urban life seen from  a skyline perspective, more commonly known as “a bird’s eye-view.” The works showed a multitude of human figures looking skywards, for which reason their foreheads were easily misconstrued as balding pates. The artist is DansoyCoquilla, whose by now abundant body of works all carry his trademark and signature look.  His work submitted to the show is titled “Center Island Eatery.” This is typical of Coquilla’s work, which depicts the unique peculiarities and eccentricities of our urban denizens. The work captures what Coquilla has observed: how our masa eateries have illegally taken over public spaces.One may suspect that more than just spoons have been greased.  (Or has the barangay captain just looked away?)

            Glistening light, bouncing off sheen of flesh or plastic drapery, has become the signature of Jerry Morada.In “Coalesce,”Morada, as though shimmering from the suggestions of obese, weight-burdened figures of the Colombian artist Fernando Botero, succumbs to the lure of another medium: sculpture. His “Yakap” series, based on the classic Mother and Child theme, hugs, in a manner of speaking, the limelight. Both mother and child are so inextricably molded together that their mounds of flesh cohabit the same space, so intertwined are their merging bodies. A couple of paintings also assume sculptural volume and mass. A terribly witty and delightful painting depicts the convoluted figures of a mother and child in the guise of a child’s plastic balloon.

            Another classic subject inPhilippine iconography is the jeepney, still king of the road through all the tangled traffic of our metropolitan jungle. Previously, artists such as Vicente Manansala, Cesar Legaspi, Antonio Austria, Edwin Wilwayco, Manuel Garibay and a host of others have painted this public mode of transport in their own individual styles. Chris Magbuhos brings a sparkling Pop quality to the subject, with his serial frontal depiction of the jeepney, with a preponderance of signages which serve both as the title and a characteristic presentation of the attitude and temperament of all types of passengers. Stunningly, in “SagradaFamilia,” we are by turns amused and delighted by the sight of the Holy Family crowded together beside the driver.

            Suffering humanity is the misery-laden theme of Joseph de Juras, in works that are titled with specific strains of existential anguish and ecstasy. Thus: “Bliss,” “Sentiment,” “Desire,” “Void,” and in one work that mocks excessive attitudinizing, “Melodrama.” De Juras asks the inevitable universal questions:  Is man’s suffering imposed on him by some Divine Puppeteer, or are they the consequence of man’s free will? Is life merely an illusion of an individual incapable of confronting his fears and weaknesses, or is physical, emotional, and mental suffering his real destiny on earth?

            Josue Mangrobang’s work titled “Soul-Searching” is the image of a man whose visage is almost completely shrouded with the artist’s familiarschool pad, with just an eye peeking through. If the eyes are the vaunted mirrors of the soul, this one-eyed man must journey through life as though on one leg.But that single eye firmly caged within its socket, gazes out at the audience, piercing through our thick wall of indifference and apathy at the sight of a fellow suffering soul.

            Have the audience’s feelings and thoughts, ignited by these various images, finally coalesced into a single unity of impression about the human condition?

  • Cid Reyes

 

 

Broad Strokes

Life and Love, Death and Godin “Broad Strokes”

 

            “Humankind cannot bear too much reality.” Thus  the words of the greatest poet of the 20th century, T. S. Eliot. The burden of existence carries just so many complications that challenge human endurance and resignation, leading nowhere but to misery, despair, and ultimately, both physical and spiritual death. This was in fact the essential conundrum behind Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land,” the title of which aptly describes man’s existence laid waste, irretrievably and with finality.

            In the visual arts, it is the medium of painting that has carried the burden of visualizing and reflecting on the human condition, in all its vagaries and confusions. Thus, the procession of art movements that explored, in a succession of revolution and counter-revolution, the different facets of humanity, in all its gloried celebration and puzzling meaninglessness. Indeed, after the fascination with such novel approaches to art-making (think installations, digital and performance art),have waned, painting is once again in the ascendant, resurrected from the graveyard from whence it was once consigned by trendy and, yes, novel art brokers.

            In the current exhibition at Galerie Anna titled “Broad Strokes,” painting, as though in an act of restitution and compensation, makes up for the neglect to which it has been subjected. A dozen artists, all determinedly and predominantly figurative, paint with a resolve that tackles all the perpetual themes of human existence.They are Brian Teves, Lester Rodriguez, Efren Carpio, Fernando Antimano, Marvin Quizon, Jonathan Castro, Mel Cabriana, Janelle Tang, Jeffrey Salon, Mark Lester Espina, Dawn Arcamo, and Arman Jay Arago. These are the soul-searching artists  whose canvases  are saturated with  the fervor and vehemence of their conviction.

            Brian Teves’s “Bring Me To Life” and  “Chasing the Light”  both pull the viewer by the seductive explicitness of the subject. Both are tangible appearances of two  women, one naked and the other ethereally robed, but both are invested with angel wings; the nude, with elegantly tattooed wings on her back; the other, in ecstatic flight to the Source of Light. Several works of Teves in the past have already mined the angelic image as a propelling force in his art.

            “Cold Play” by Lester Rodriguez is like an eerie still life of a dump-yard  where a litter of plastic toy soldiers, in various arrested motions of battle, becomes a metaphor for the themes of war, violence, destruction, and death. The work is a searing reflection on the fact that childhood is the breeding ground  for the acceptance of war as mere child-play, writ large with real weapons of destruction.

            An enigmatic work by Efren Carpio  is a serial imagery of a young girl,with a burst of blossoms emerging from her mouth, suggestive  inevitably of childhood’s favorite cotton candy, but bears, to be sure,  a far less saccharine  message, judging from its sardonic title: “Sugar Coating.”

            “Lady with Piglet” is a comic and affectionate send-up of “Lady with Ermine.” It is attributed to Da Vinci.  In  FernandoAntimano’s amusing work, the artistic process of appropriation, beloved of the young, rears its hydra-headed countenance, sending off sparks of meanings that only a wily or perceptive viewer can decipher.

            Marvin Quizon takes us on a not-so-jolly joyride as we reflect on “ A Reserved Trip to the Carousel.” Circuses, clowns,  and carousels are mythical devices for sinister and horrific goings-on, deceiving the audience, and feigning the innocence, delight, and fun-house world  of childhood.

            A dig at the Pinoy penchant for affectionately addressing personages of importance is the title of Jonathan Castro’s work: “Papa God.” Rough-hewn, like a wooden sculpture of the Christ, with his hand pointed at the aflamedSacred Heart, the work intriguingly provokes guilt and repentance.

            Mark Espina’s “Smile” is a portrait of a seated woman, with the artist’s purported intent of merely displaying the model’s appeal and pulchritude. The artist, however, stands the art of portraiture on its head, by ingenuously depicting her dress as a multilayered impasto application of white pigments, thereby effectively effacing the achieved illusion of the subject.

                        “Swatches” by Janelle Tang invites us to a perception of a self-contained world as a virtual collage of experiences filtered through a feminine, more specifically, a domestic sensibility. Studiously delicate and gentle, a pastel-colored universe, the work is gracefully underscored by images redolent of flowers, fairy tales, and womanly crafts.

            Dawn Arcamo’s “Descend”  conflates a welter of bold geometric patterns, stripes, fractals and Escher-like illusions, startled by a flight of birds. The presence of a woman in the central area surrounded by all the spatial paths strengthens its lineage descended from Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical urban landscapes.

            Three works by Mel Cabriana might at first seem like each has gone on a diverging separate path, but all in fact share a collective glimpse of reality, with a manic resolve to evade it. “Ilusyon” depicts an amorphous figure behind a white shroud struggling to set itself free. Likewise, in “Fragile,” a female nude is trapped within a constricting bubble-wrap.  In “Hidden Smiles,” thick foliage and vegetation serve as camouflage for unseen forces leering at the viewer. (Try hard enough and

            An unlikely vision worthy of a comic Magritte, the Belgian master of surrealism, are the two works of Arman Jay Arago, respectively titled “No Waste” and “Shrimp.” A voluptuous nude reemerges with the head of a chicken and a pink crustacean.

            GalerieAnna  presents“Broad Strokes”  as a show that depicts humankind struggling to bear the curse of too much reality.

  • Cid Reyes

           

           

           

 

           

 

 

Et Habitávit in Nobis

Michael Munoz:  And The Paint Was Made Flesh

 

            In Michael Munoz’s current exhibition “Et Habitavit in Nobis” at the Galerie Anna, there is a painting titled “Papal Blessing,” which depicts the silhouette of a pope in a gesture of benediction, dispensing his blessings on an implied, unseen multitude. It is of course delightful to assume that the distinction of the image still resonates in the afterglow of a recent papal visit on our shores. Based on a photograph, with the identity of the papal personage intentionally effaced, the painting is not dependent on the persona of the pope, but rather on the ritualized act, the ceremonial motion of hands emitting, as it were, flashes of divine energies, raining down on an audience so overwhelmed by the sacred presence.

            If Andy Warhol was crowned the Pope of Pop, then Munoz might well be the exemplar of what can only be regarded as the Pop of Popes, an emergent and emblematizing fascination with religious imagery, enormously profound in the contemporary piety of an unflaggingly religious people such as we Filipinos. By the artist’s own admission, it was the Baroque painter named Caravaggio (1571-1610) who is the star in the firmament of his own artistic imagination. Munoz has succumbed to the seduction of Caravaggio’s tenebrism that dramatically theatrical presentation of figures, by turns bathed in deepest shadows and radiant in the intensity of light. Caravaggio’s paintings were, not surprisingly, highly favored by the popes.

Excepting Michelangelo and Raphael, no other artist has had as great an influence on a succeeding generation. Indeed, Caravaggio did his elders one better: his influence crossed European boundaries and remained transparent in the works of Italian, French, Dutch, Flemish, and Spanish masters. From Peter Paul Rubens to Simon Vouet and Valentine de Boulogne, from Orazio Gentileschi to his daughter Artemisia, from Diego Velasquez to Juseppe de Ribera, the influence of Caravaggio, it seems, remains as sizzling as ever. Not only across borders, but indeed, across centuries, as witness Munoz’s referential obsession with Caravaggio, through several of his past exhibitions.

Of course, to traffic in religious imagery in these clearly irreverent, if not sacrilegious times, is to invite a search for irony, as though Munoz’s paintings, in referencing scriptural events sustained by the masters, were expected to bridge the irreconcilable fusion of our faithlessness and the present times’ frivolities. Not disenchantment but exaltation with the inexhaustible richness of the Christian faith, as lived and experienced through its sacraments, rituals, and symbols, is the brandishing armor of the artist.  What Munoz deftly inculcates in the viewer is an awareness that our pop culture can accommodate, not in an exploitative manner, but in a celebratory way, the centrality of religious images in our midst. The intent is not the aestheticization of our piety but a renewal of a lost relationship with the Divine, demanding no less than a conversion and a turning back from the waywardness of our lives. The edification of the faithful must be achieved in the mood and temper of contemporaneity where the impact of sacral images must perforce make their meaning felt, situated at the crossroads of peoples’ meaningless existence. They must find their voices, thus vox populi, in images that have risen through the complacency of centuries.

Apropos the subject of dangerous art, the critic Arthur C. Danto, in another context wrote: “In an age, such as ours, of what is termed image appropriation, where painters as it were quote images without being thought any the less original as artists for doing so, the appropriation of pornographic  images is perceived as pornographic in its own right.” Substitute the words spiritual, religious or Biblical for pornographic, and sense if a tension of parallels has been provoked. Again, the disparity in intent is not of the moment. Recall that Warhol himself engaged in such images as Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna.” Danto observed: “He uses thus the logos of well-known products, curiously sacral in the context. It is an inspired idea to see in the stylized dove with which Dove soap is imprinted a symbol of the Holy Spirit (as it is an inspiration to see, that paradigm cleansing agent, as the emblem of purification, of wiping out the stain of sin). In the case of Munoz, his references ingest such things as cut-outs, like pop-outs that enliven children’s books, or church interiors with their triangular steeples and roofs, pointing heavenwards, and glass windows through which that symbol of spiritual illumination, the shaft of light, shines through, and in the multiple paneled works, an allusion perhaps to dismantled predellas.

Munoz has also persisted in christening this suite of paintings in Latin, mercifully with parenthetical English translation. The viewers’ senses are impelled to imagine the sounds of Gregorian chants, the scent of incense wafting in the air, the visual dazzle of papal ceremonial robes. It is an experience at once vivid and vicarious in the hallowed space of a church or chapel, distinctly singular in its spiritual affect.

The show’s title, by the way, translates as “And Dwelt Among Us.” It is the line that follows the more stunning and revelatory “And the Word was made Flesh.” After past shows invested with such titles as “Christiadum,” “Oculus Fidei,” and “Deus Historiae,” Michael Munoz continues to feel the aching beauty and sublimity of the Church and celebrates in these canvases a living theater out of the aura of scriptural narratives as integrative in the works of old masters, now the Paint made Flesh.

            

MANDIRIGMA

Florence Cinco’s Mandirigma: The Way of the Warrior

 

“I know what I am capable of; I am a soldier, a warrior. I am someone to fear, not hunt.”  - The Rise of Nine

 

            In celebration of Philippine Independence Day, Galerie Anna presents “Mandirigma,” a solo exhibition by Florence Cinco. A prize-winning artist born in Calbayog, Samar, Cinco studied Fine Arts, major in advertising, at the University of SanCarlos in Cebu, and is now based in Manila.  Not surprisingly, the artist takes as the locus of his narrative the very place of the first encounter with a foreign invader. This is the historic battleground from whence emerged the iconic Filipino warrior named Lapu-Lapu. Though this slayer of Ferdinand Magellan is regarded as the original “Mandirigma,” he shares the spotlight with other warriors, past and present, in Cinco’s show which beams the light on all the warriors unnamed by history but who first drew blood on fabled shores and mountain ranges.

            One of the rewards of the exhibition is the portrayal of warriors as flesh and blood individual personages caught in the intense glare of contemporary attention. Cinco has released them from the chambers of the past, surprising the artist and his audience with the tension that springs from the conjunction of past and present. They find themselves as a reflection of our country now caught at the crossroads of a crisis that threatens the autonomy of our race. Against the tense-filled scenario of the geopolitical aggression of a neighboring giant power, the situation is deliberately evocative of another potential foreign invasion. The circumstances of the past and the present may vary but what is undeniable is the underlying basic evil of a mightier force intent on dominating a weaker and helpless entity. With his show, Cinco raises the question of our country’s readiness to defend itself.

            The emotional temper of Cinco’s images range from the intensely meditative to the violently fierce, from distant indifference at the intrusion of the artist’s attention to an almost fiendish, black humor. The collective visages of Cinco’s warriors constitute a narrative tableaux of wars won and lost, from the start of the Spanish conquista down to the Philippine-American War, from the persistent struggle of the NPA driven by its own ideology to the conflict with our Muslim brothers, hinting at the ironic sorrow that divides one people leading to a tragic and immense loss of lives. 

            Cinco limns the images of his warriors not on canvas but on the surface of discarded wooden objects others may deem as inhospitable to precious art-making. But in so doing, the artist achieves some powerful and intriguing effects that empower these images to communicate with their audience otherwise accustomed to looking at art only in pristine galleries and sacrosanct museums.

            It has been said of a warrior: “Whatever you are physically…male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy… all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, there on the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.” With his “Mandirigma” show, Florence Cinco turns on the light of reality so that generations of Filipinos, young and old, may value our hard-won independence.           

            

BOCETOS

Toti Cerda: The Master Sketcher sketches the Masters

 

            “The first principle in drawing is concentration on essentials: the artist states his ideas with maximum directness; he resorts automatically to the basic elements of his art; and he exposes his sensibility without the decorative disguises that may be part of his finished creations. Drawings are often a species of visual note-taking, intended only for the artist’s own use. In recording observations of nature, illustrating abstract concepts, suggesting the outlines of a work to be executed in a different medium, their natural vehicle is the sketchpad.” Thus wrote the critic Harold Rosenberg, reviewing an exhibition of American drawings.

            In his show on view at the Galerie Anna, Filipino artist Toti Cerda presents a collection of his drawings titled “Bocetos.” A boceto is the Spanish word for drawing or a sketch, as “bozzetto” is the equivalent Italian word. Cerda’s sketches, however, are not mere sketches of landscapes or studies for the composition of a still life, nor are they merely portrait sketches of certain individuals. What gripped his interest and imagination is the recreation or imagination of what were possibly the sketches done by Philippine and Western masters in order to create their iconic masterpieces. In so doing, Cerda places himself, as it were, in the shoes of those masters. Moreover, he was aware that this gesture may be construed as a brazen act of over-confidence, as though Cerda regarded his own technical skills were equal to those masters.

            In the catalog essay of a drawing show curated by the critic Barbara Rose, she states that drawing is “a private and intimate art.” Cerda, however, conceived this show, naturally enough, for public exhibition. When he created his drawings –or rather, the “drawings” of the departed masters - he meant for them to be shared with the public. Cerda thus performs an act of “intervention” between the masters whose drawings (if they existed at all) suddenly resurrected, and the contemporary audience, now wondering if the masters had actually left any of their studies for posterity and history. Furthermore, one can stretch an analogy, but in reverse. When Rauschenberg asked the acknowledged master Willem de Kooning for a drawing which he planned to erase – itself an unthinkable act of desecration – the younger artist intended the gesture as a refutation of the very idea of originality: who is the actual creator of the work henceforth titled “Erased De Kooning Drawing”?

In Cerda’s case, there are the confounding factors, by turns, of reverence and homage as against arrogance and superciliousness. The audience may well ask: is Cerda placing himself on the level of the masters? Is it possible, in fact, that Cerda is an even more accomplished draftsman than the masters he purports to emulate? Were the bocetos of these masters to emerge on the market, would they be as good or would they put Cerda’s bocetos to shame? Such are the conceptual tensions elicited by Cerda’s own bocetos, while at the same time, eliciting the aesthetic pleasure that surely such exemplary draftsmanship will unfailingly deliver.

While at this, it is noteworthy to mention that Cerda is himself a master of another most difficult medium: watercolor. Indeed, in the “Hall of Fame” section of the competition “Kulay sa Tubig,” Cerda was declared winner above all other “hall of famers.”

Just who are the masters in Cerda’s own hall of fame? They come of course as no surprise: Juan Luna and his “Spoliarium” and “The Parisian Life,” Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s “Christian Virgins Exposed to the Populace,” “Edades’s “The Sketch,” Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Vermeer’s “Girl with Pearl Necklace,” and Magritte’s “The Son of Man” (familiar to most as the man with the apple on his face). In Cerda’s bocetos, their iconic images better known are deeply embedded and affective in a mimetic and non-paraphrasal manner.

To his credit, Cerda is throughout unself-conscious about being a “Luna,” a “Hidalgo,” a “Da Vinci,” et al. He never steps out of character, while remaining true to himself as “Toti Cerda.” As an added fillip, Cerda sketches the portraits of these masters.

Judging from this “Bocetos” show, the viewer realizes that a humble sketchpad can throw up such jewels of draftsmanship…

 

WHAT GROWS IN YOUR GARDEN

Ricky Ambagan:

What Grows in your Garden?

“And the Lord God planted a garden eastward of Eden.” – The Bible

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden where the flowers are dead.”

 

It’s a seemingly innocent question which artist Ricky Ambagan dares us to answer, the response of which  reveals the state of our life. He has used the garden as a metaphor to contemplate the condition of humankind. A garden, as we all know, is a plot of ground where herbs, shrubs, ornamental plants, fruits, flowers and vegetables are cultivated. Our  personal garden is a piece of precious nature carved out and reserved for the nourishment of our spirit. In assessing the state of our garden, we are made aware  of its condition. We can  reflect on its  sorry vision of neglect  or exalt in its blessed nurturance.

Larger concerns, however, are implied by Ambagan’s meditation on the allegory of the garden. In three of his artworks, he invites the viewer to probe into the transformation of man, from his original state of bliss down to the contemporary realities that threaten our very existence on earth. Indeed, like a garden overrun by poisonous ivy and sickening weeds, our lives are now in a state of dissipation, despair, destruction, and virtually an invitation to death.

“Behind The Trees” is an unmitigated reversal to the original Eden. In this work Ambagan depicts the moment of expulsion from Paradise, when Adam and Eve, having lost their innocence, find shame in their nakedness. As observed by the convention in Western art where nudity is concerned, Ambagan covers their bodies with the use of a pictorial devise: a floating, undulating, serpentine overlay of designed patterns. The Expulsion from Paradise is, in fact, a classic theme in Western painting. Its most famous representation is of course part of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings, but through the centuries, the expulsion of Adam and Eve was painted by the German artist Durer and down through the works of the Marc Chagall.

The sight of a contemporary painting on this subject, such as this work by Ambagan, seizes us with an uncomfortable feeling. For so long, we have been influenced to believe that the story of Adam and Eve was a mere fairy tale. But whether it is in fact a figment of the imaginative storyteller deny by the science of evolution is not the point. Ambagan departs from this iconic image to hold it up as a  mirror to modern man. From this expulsion came the curse and the onslaught of vice and all manner of evil that have brought man down to his knees. Acting on the gift of free will, he is given the challenge to rise up and transcend the misery of his downfall.

Almost Pop in the stark reality of its association with daily news, a forest fire envisioned by Ambagan is suffused and seething with blazing hot colors. This forest covers acres and acres of ground, which Ambagan now imagines to be in state of conflagration, where nature is quickly being reduced to ashes and smoke, ethereal substances that are now the remains of their once  towering existence.  The helplessness of two fire fighters  is a metaphor for the futility of man’s  brave attempts to overcome a force of nature gone wild and beyond control. Ambagan strikes resonances with the power of images to depict their dominance over our mind and spirit, if only to fill our cynical spirits with terror and fear.

The magisterial work in the show is Ambagan’s panoramic “Beast from the East”. Spanning a range that challenges the eyes to consume it in one glance within the constricted space of a gallery, it is a piece whose meaning cannot be obscured.  It whips the viewer into submission, demanding that we deal with the impact of its meaning. Bearing a compositional weight that depicts personages and a beast of overweening weight, the painting buzzes alive with the presence of its teeming powerful images. Dominating the aerial space is the mighty dragon, galloping haughtily as though it owned the world. Unless the viewer has been living under a rock these recent years, he is aware that the dragon is the symbol of that unstoppable power from the east that has been usurping our islands with impunity and to our utter helplessness and despair. Elsewhere, a pair of sumo wrestlers, suggestive of another powerful country, are in a state of combat. The sight alludes to the survival of the species, where the powerful shall have dominance over the weak, though this grossly overfed pair look just like each other’s alter-ego.  The puzzling presence of a mosquito coil and a food blender may not be so odd and mysterious. After all, from the perspective of  these countries, we are merely the slavish and voracious consumers of their goods.  As indicative now by the present crisis in the South China Sea, the threat of a mighty country may just as soon consume us.

All these images are projected against a seeming barren ground, with dried twisted branches creeping all around. Alas, it was once a garden, now sunless and a graveyard for dead flowers. The message of Ambagan has not eluded us. When the artist asks “What grows in your garden?” we should rightly feel uncomfortable, assailed by our conscience. In haste, we must restore our garden and bring back the sun and the field of flowers. Upon this depends our own, and our country’s salvation.

            A sage once shrewdly asked, “Did perpetual happiness in the Garden of Eden maybe get so boring that eating the apple was justified?” Like Ambagan’s query, we are stunned into silence.

 

 

 

           

 

WHAT REMAINS

WHAT REMAINS

 

  Much has been said about photography killing classical art, of how the function of art is no longer mere representation, but a transcendence of the experience of life itself. True mimesis has ceased to be the priority, has become mere affirmation, what with everyone having a camera phone and claiming to be an artist nowadays. How then can new generations of artists ever hope to be “original” or at the very least, not be accused of being derivative?

 

  The artist’s gumption to alter one’s perception of reality is what makes art relevant to us--it is not just a photograph or reproduction of what the eye can see, but an event wholly different from the actual. Think back to the first time you encountered a Kandinsky or a Goya, and recall the amazement at not just the product but also the process behind it. This focus on the artwork and the rigorousness of the practice of creating art is a big part of what makes the experience profound--tangible through one’s bones, as if you are there enraptured by what the artist has left behind, even if you do not see him break a sweat.

 

  In printmaking, the end product deceives. The audience does not see first hand the effort in producing one work, especially in the age of digital production. It might seem that machine has taken over man, that as with the invention of the camera, the human need to make things more convenient and faster to finish has surpassed the desire for art. But the two need not be mutually exclusive. For what is produced will have weight--the tools may make it easier compared to the process of lithography, or say, aquatint, yet the sheer inventiveness of the idea is what gives it gravitas.

 

  On the other hand, the use of printmaking techniques such as woodcut or stencil gives the artist ultimate pleasure--it is still the work of the hands that is most intimate, the gift of the creator’s indentation left on the page, as when one writes with a heavy hand so that the pages that come after it show us, however faint, that which came before it.

 

  In print, the cutting of any material, whether wood, metal, stone or paper, concretizes the abstraction, emphasizes the artist’s view of the world that is his own and transfers it into another surface, as a form of reflection. Each impression is now imbued with its own character, no matter the number of prints that come from the same matrix, for the act of printmaking itself makes each piece not a perfect reproduction of the original but in a way, unique in its blemishes and flaws.

 

  What remains in the end is the sublime, the corporal need to celebrate what the process of creation has left, a stripping away of the body to get to the heart of it, only to compound the essential with layers. There is merit in cave shadows after all, in a world where Plato’s Forms have become malleable. The spiritual is now an afterthought that lingers years from now, when memory has left thought, but what was once lost and regained through art cannot be forgotten, as with the works you see before you demand to be remembered.

 

-- Vyxz Vasquez

PASSERBY

The Paschal Passerby

 

                        On the week after Easter Sunday, also Pasch or Resurrection Sunday, artist Robert Besana opens his solo exhibition at the Galerie Anna. The title is simply and mysteriously billed as “Passerby,” someone who happens to be going past something, especially on foot. The artist shares that his show is simply about man’s mortality and the transient nature of our life on earth. An intensely meditative suite of paintings serves as Besana’s reflection on the meaning of life.

                        Indeed, there is a species of still life painting known as “vanitas,” an assembly of inanimate objects meant to suggest the transitory nature of life. To be sure, still life painting has existed since ancient Roman times, as part of a larger canvas of nature, but it became an independent form when the 16th century Dutch and Flemish painters began to paint objects such as   flowers, vegetables, vases away from their natural setting, and presented them indoors, usually assembled on top of tables. These paintings showed objects that are symbolic of death, the most universal being the skull. These included guttering or melting candles, butterflies, and the hourglass or watch, meaning that time is limited and passing. The term “vanitas” comes from a quotation from the Ecclesiastes, “Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas.” Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. The message is clear: all of man’s vanities and obsession with luxuries will in time come to pass. For this reason, we may be surprised to see in “vanitas” paintings, such objects of luxury as “rich vases, oriental carpets, gilded cups,” silk and velvet table cloths. Books were also depicted to imply that knowledge is temporary. So too were musical instruments to suggest that music is an indulgence of the senses, and that “beauty, wealth, wisdom” are all of temporary nature.

                        Are we justified then to regard Besana’s paintings as “vanitas”? Judging from the work with two skulls, unnervingly titled “Man and Woman”, there is no evading that it is a vanitas painting. The sight of the couple’s skulls insepararable even in the afterlife, still bound by the marriage vows - ‘till death do us part” - is extremely touching and not at all bizarre. In fact, we have been so numbed by the familiar sight of a skull that the controversial British artist Damien Hirst succeeded in shocking us with the ultimate “vanitas” – a diamond-encrusted skull!

                        In Besana’s show, there are two paintings, however, which conjure the works by the Baroque painter Caravaggio (1571-1610). Interestingly, Caravaggio lived a fairly short life – was he merely a Passerby? Caravaggio was commissioned to paint two pictures of Rome’s patron saints, Peter and Paul. The painting which Besana confronts us with is “The Conversion of Paul on the Way to Damascus.” The image is sliced, a sharp jump cut devise, which jolts us away from those early Roman times to an awareness of contemporary life. Besana’s vision is ornamented by the presence of a looming rose, starkly forlorn. In the Acts of the Apostles, it is narrated that Paul fell off his horse, when he heard the voice: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Indeed, the same may happen to modern man. One day, out of the blue, you may suddenly hear your own name, and there you go tumbling out of a jeepney, a tricycle, or worse, thrown out of an excursion bus, plunging down a deep ravine. The rose, too, which will inevitably wither, is a symbol of transient life. Through the example of Paul, we are anchored on the thought that the time for conversion is never too late.

                        The other Caravaggio painting is titled “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas”. The narration is based on St. John’s Gospel, where St. Thomas the Apostle, who missed one of Jesus’s appearances to the Apostles after his resurrection, declared, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will  not believe it.” The painting is a realistic depiction of Christ forcing Thomas’s finger into his wound.” Besana christened his painting “The Paschal Lamb,” which of course directly refers to Jesus whom John the Baptist proclaimed: “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote: “Christ the Paschal Lamb has been sacrificed.”  The viewer’s reading is ignited by these constantly intersecting and expanding allusions and references, attesting to the richness of the paintings’ content beyond their visible aesthetic appeal. Again, the specter of the rose looms, allusive of death lurking just beneath: Repent, for we know not the hour.

                        In the website “Theology Forum,” a discussion on the inspiration of religious art, a respondent remarked, “Death is our enemy. We were made to live. I want to live forever. But I cannot save myself from death. That’s why the resurrection of Jesus is so precious to me.” Thus are we consoled by the words of the Lord: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

                        Instructive still is the life of Caravaggio (the name comes from the town in Lombardy where he was born). The baptismal name, however, is Michelangelo Merisi. His biographers describe his life as “turbulent and tempestuous.” Socially he was “belligerent, rude, violent, a homicidal hothead”, but artistically he was “a daring rule breaker, who thwarted the classical rules of art.” His style of painting was called “tenebristic chiaroscuro,” suggestive of shadows and darkness, with the dramatic contrasts of light and dark, marked by “resolute realism, meticulous attention to naturalistic details, approachable.”  In 1606, Caravaggio had to flee Rome “with a price over his head after committing murder.”  The mystery of his death has never been resolved until some years ago, when his remains were found in Tuscany. Thanks to carbon dating and DNA checks on the excavated remains, scientists are “85% sure.” Caravaggio’s suspected bones were found to have a level of lead “high enough to have driven the painter mad and helped finish him off.”

                        In his painting techniques, Besana sought the same resolute realism that Caravaggio achieved, in a process that one can call, alluding to the recent Lenten season, penitential and punishing.  The artist uses, not the fluid and fluent paintbrush, but the tedious instrument of ballpen, limned not on smooth canvas, but on roughhewn wood panel. A viewer might think of it as artistic self-flagellation, but such is Besana’s passion for his medium that, once understood, the viewer can belie the labor of the execution, and share in the joy and jubilation of the artist’s creation.

“Passerby” is the perfect Easter show!

 

 

 

 

MATTERS OF TIME

Matters of Time: What Matters Most to Arvi Fetalvero and Ivy Sinugbuhan

By Cid Reyes

Time does not pass, it continues. – Marty Rubin

            Surprisingly two artists, in the prime of their youth, in the pink of health and just now commencing their artistic career, should choose as a theme of their two-woman show, a subject that should expectedly be the concern of people in the autumn of their lives. But such is the power of time that it has consumed the concerns of Arvi Fetalvero and Ivy Sinugbuhan, about the meaning of the passage of time.

            Both are former students of Robert Besana, who is Executive Director of the School of Multi Media and Arts at the Asia Pacific College. Besana, like a proud and shepherding Big Brother, has taken the pleasurable task of curating the show billed as “Matters of Time.” Neither Arvi nor Ivy has had a solo show, though that in itself is just a matter of time. This tandem exhibition is an exercise in collective as well as individual contemplation on the theme of passing time.

            In Arvi’s Artist Statement, she writes with clarity and precision about herself and her vision, thus: “I identify myself as a Filipina artist and I strive to define my art practice in terms of the continuously evolving role of women artists in Philippine society. In line with this objective, I am currently focused on the study of the roles that women played in 19th century Philippines.

            “Recently I have become interested in old photographs that archive obscure but interesting pieces of Philippine history….I am a storyteller and my works echo my inner voice.”

            It is interesting that Arvi has discovered for herself the wealth of materials that our archives can offer contemporary artists. Indeed, it was National Artist BenCab who paved the way and the inspiration with his landmark series, the “Larawan” paintings, started in 1972. Hence, succeeding generations accessed themselves into this visual granary, drawing from them meanings, messages, and significations that only the individual artist can proffer to their audience.

            Because these archival photographs carry with them memories of the past, they are the perfect vehicles for Arvi’s meditation on the passing of time. Thus, in her work titled “Phases” adverting to the phases of the moon. She conflates the various images and roles of “Virgin, Mother, Queen, Crone” as personified by our ancestral Filipinas of varying ages to signify the different phases of life. In dramatic quadriptych, Arvi conjoins four separate canvas panels into one cohesive work. What connects the four female figures are the staircases that ascend and descend, intersecting and traversing each separate pictorial space. The art history student may recall its reference, perhaps unintentionally, to the ambiguous spaces of the Dutch artist, Escher. The gesture also suggests the fluidity of time, where past becomes the present, and the future recedes into the past.

            Between birth and death mankind navigates his life through its various vicissitudes. Intriguingly, Ivy has chosen the subject of sleep as a metaphor for death. Not the sweet angelic sleep of the guile-less and the innocent, but the turbulence of the awakened consciousness out of the deep black night. Ivy adverts to what is called “sleep paralysis,” with its fearsome word in the vernacular, itself a nightmarish word: bangungot. Sleep, of course, is a kind of temporary death; one never knows whether he or she will still wake up to this world, or the afterlife. Ivy translates a personal experience in a couple of works that reveal much of their germination: “She Slept and Chased Death” and “The Visitor at 3 AM.”

            The first unveils the dual image of a woman and a skull, rising in a midst of lotus flowers. The merging of a woman, with eyes intensely and dreamily closed, and a skull equates the moment of sleep as the time of departure into the netherworld. Without engaging the viewer in the physiological reasons for “sleeping sickness”, for which only a medical practitioner can speak, the artist has permeated her work with anxiety and poetry that allows her to churn the emotions of her audience. The second work is also personal to the artist but she ascribes the experience to a male figure. Shrouded in a swirl of smoke that seems to suffocate him, the inert figure is a hapless victim, who, in the deep of the night is visited by the Grim Reaper.

            Disturbing though these images may be, Ivy redeems herself with the work titled “The Endless Round of Rebirth.” It is a celebration of life and its resurrection, its re-emergence through the mysteries of nature. Birds, butterflies, and the lotus flowers, all richly symbolic of the passing time, festoon the space. They are in fact the staple images found in the 17th century European still life’s known as the “vanitas” paintings. The word comes from the Biblical reminder of life being all vanity, which will all pass away in time.

            “Matters of Time” by Arvi Fetalvero and Ivy Sinugbuhan should beckon us to keep still, and stop the frenetic whirring of the clock. After all, time waits for no one.

                                                                        ******