Figuring the Body

FIGURING THE BODY

Bone and flesh, skin and sinew, veins and blood, visage, torso, limbs and extremities: reduced to their physiognomic delineations, the human body is not much different from that of a lowly beast. And yet, by what marvel of Divine creation is the immense complexity of the interrelated workings behind this machine of humankind, itself a perfect work of art but accursed with mortal fate, and which begins to die thereafter the first inhalation of breath.

“Figuring the Body” is an exploration into the aesthetic and psychic identity of the human body, that fleshly terrain of pain and desire, pleasure and activity, energy and debilitation, ecstasy and exhaustion, instrument of bliss and superb engineer of procreation. Finally, in the end, whether ravaged by illness and disease or snuffed by accident or self-destruction, whether consumed by fire or gnawed by earth, this frail vessel of spirit will give up the ghost.

The artists in this show, curated by Robert Besana for Galerie Anna, share the secret of their insights, in varying shades of enlightenment and indeed, puzzlement, each artwork an aperture opening into a region of knowledge that hopefully sheds a ray of light into this most confounding of mysteries: the human body.​

 

Havent Stopped Dancing Yet

 

A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME

 

                        Nicolas Poussin (1594-1605), master exponent of French classical painting, created the work A Dance to the Music of Time, depicting four female dancers, hand in hand swaying to the lyre music of an old man. The four women represented the four seasons and their succeeding  passages through time, here symbolized by the ancient musician. This painting is at the heart of the solo exhibition “Ferdie Cacnio: Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet.” The show celebrates a decade of his dance paintings and sculptures,  with new works now view at the Galerie Anna.

                        To be sure, dance has always been depicted in ancient Egyptian tombs, Greek vases and bas-reliefs, Roman and Etruscan frescoes with their dancing bacchantes, down through the centuries, which saw another French master, Matisse,  depicting the subject in his typical simplified forms in large decorative panels, as well as his series of paper cut-outs, “Dance for Joy.”  The other painter who celebrated dance was Edgar Degas with his ballerinas delineated while in rehearsal, performance, and in repose. In Philippine art, National Artists Fernando Amorsolo and Carlos “Botong” Francisco featured our native dances, notably the tinikling. In particular, another National Artist, the late J. Elizalde Navarro, filled large canvases of exotic Balinese dances after his many visits to the Indonesian isle.

                        What distinguishes Cacnio from these artists who explored dance as a subject is that he himself is an active practitioner of the art. Not of the classical ballet, which has become a trademark of his art, but of modern dance, having done stints on television and the movies, indeed winning in dance competitions. Choreographers from classical ballet groups have in fact taken notice of his impressive height and virile strength and performance, making him a potential premier danseur in their imagination, but their invitations to Cacnio were unheeded. For the artist was keenly aware of his own temperament that will not easily submit to a choreographer’s  imperious will and dictate. Cacnio had taken to heart the words of choreographer Merce Cunningham: “You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no painting to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.”

                        Cacnio is clearly an exception to this understandable recrimination. As an artist himself capable of capturing the power and drama of dance through another medium, Cacnio has already created a still growing body of work, as attested by several exhibitions devoted to the subject.  Of his sculptural works, we have written:

                        “The essential impulse in Cacnio’ sculptures is the pursuit of the expressive gesture, specifically an arrested moment that seems like an eternal pause.  Though still and immobile, the lone dancer’s pose captures at once the elasticity of tension and the repose of isolation --- in the flailing of the arms, in the seemingly fluid rushing of sprightly feet, in the sailing of the body through the air, as if the space itself were the hollowed volume from which the sculptural figure had been carved.

                        Indeed, each part of the dancer’s physiognomy, each detail of her accoutrements, quickens our interest in her. From the vertiginous stiletto heels that look like a pair of dangerous instruments to the compressed flesh heaving beneath a stifling bodice, Cacnio is in control of his material. What awakens the audience to the thrill of her “performance” is the pleasurable vivacity of the vicarious experience, as any minute now, one expects the house to erupt into thunderous applause.

                        With the suavity of a trained stage performer, Cacnio shapes and molds the figure with the musicality of a born choreographer, swept by his own internal rhythm. By turns earthbound and spiritual, his dancers possess the compressed energy and fury of bodies articulating universal emotions ---joy and celebration, grief and despair r---  in the purest and distilled expression that dance can communicate.”

                        Cacnio’s  paintings of  dancers, however, were rendered with intensity and speed of brushstrokes, as though, not wanting to miss a beat, the artist instantaneously grasped the afterimage left by the dancer’s split-second movements and the flurry of their garments or outfits.  Visages and torsos, arms and legs and toes are mere silhouettes which direct our gaze to the motivation of the movement. As dancer-choreographer Doris Humphrey emphasized in her book “The Art of Making Dances”:  a movement without a motivation is unthinkable. Some force is the cause for change of position, whether it is understandable or not. This applies not just to dancing, but to the physical world in general.

                        The challenge and triumph of Ferdie Cacnio’s art has to do with the difficult task of transcending one art, dance, and transmitting its dynamics and energies through another medium. For, as Humphrey, totally self-protective of her art, never forgets reminding her audience: the dancer’s medium is the body, not paint or stone or sound. Cacnio’s  decade-long wonder and fascination with dance has made him its most worthy acolyte. This show is his own dance to the music of time.

                       

 

                       

                       

                       

 

 

 

BULL IN THE HEATHER

Bull in the Heather

Bull In The Heather, the titular song by Sonic Youth, and so named after a real Kentucky derby horse, is poised for this exhibit as a metaphorical open source to the myriad readings on power dynamics, value, labor, craft, functionalism,   mysticism, primal instincts, spectatorship, and performance, especially set on the strength and idiosyncratic vision of the artists involved, as to be an artist requires a considerable degree of conviction as headstrong as a prized race horse.

The song, with the exhibit not entirely being about it and for it, serves as a prompt as well as to embody the fervor and attitude of an inter-generational discourse pop savvy on such issues.  We are after all molded by the music we listen to, the films and TV programs we watch, the books we read, where we mine mostly the meaning of our existence, gleaning from the troubled and awkward age of our first awakening.   The song, however, and its entire inherent connotation, is not to be read through literally, as the lyrics and the way it was performed by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, comes out as a breathy seductive tease addressed ambiguously to neither man nor animal /creature /being :

Tell me that you wanna scold me
Tell me that you a-dore me
Tell me that you're famous for me
Tell me that yr gonna score me
Tell me that you gotta show me
Tell me that you need to sorely
Time to tell yr love story
Time f'r turning over and over
Time f'r turning four leaf clover
Betting on the bull in the heather

“Time to tell your love story “. For this exhibit it, is a love story as an op-ed confessional, broadly expressed as dainty wispy pen strokes of biomorphic expulsions , as sensuous lines streaming into rivulets of mane and waves of nymphs, as finely cut embroidered appliques of pre-pubescent girls, as  dense as a rubber tires bound by netted lace,  as vivid splashes of purple and tangerine on writhing bound bodies, or as brash as a glittered banner extolling anatomical proprietorship.

We thus embolden you to take on this exhibit as a Trojan gift horse to be looked on in its mouth, its ears, its teeth, its full form, inside and out, lest it gallops away with all your bets, for this art show will be gone, too soon. 

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.