Monday, February 27, 2012

Irony in Numbers

The STUPendous Show, February 23 to March 8, 2012 at Gallerie Anna, SM Mega Mall, is here being peddled as one hell of a, well, “stupendous show” by eighteen select young and not-so-young painters whose training derive from the College of Architecture and Fine Arts of the Technological University of the Philippines (TUP).
     “Stupendous” may sound like a modifier edging towards a hardsell approach to positioning an art exhibition, almost puzzling by the fact that this show involves merely paintings and not gigantic sculptures and fearsome installations. However, looking on and hard, could the point of this show lie in that very title? For to tag a bunch of quiet paintings on quiet walls in a quiet gallery with that very adjective usually reserved for extreme sports (or for hyped-up artists from the bigger universities) is an act that does carry with it the juice of irony, even tongue-in-cheek parody.
     And so, looking further at the individual pieces, and expecting to find nothing stupendous, the irony I allege seem to be truly present in the pieces. See here, for instances:
     Alrashdi Mohammad’s Yellow Spot In Nebulae illustrates through its titling act a signification or valuation method (for paintings, at least) that might proceed from mere updated allusions concerning present-day realities, in this case present-day science. However, what is here achieved seems not so much a mimicry of science illustration as a parody of painting itself, the way Franz Liszt might mock his own program music if he were to say his themes are but mere afterthoughts upon the finished products of the composition act.

     Meanwhile, Arden Mopera’s title Hitting Z Birds In One Stone for an oil piece on textured canvas may initially strike the viewer as mere forgivable bad English, but yet, what really is the canvas but itself another wall of a big rock cave on which painters paint their hunting stories? And those stories become fossilized/embedded in the rock and not with the rock, the same way pigments (the metallic ones of which are from rocks) are fossilized in the (textured) grounds and may even be pushing themselves further (via their oil) into the gesso-protected recesses of the cords of the canvas weave.

     Further, in Warrior, Mopera also seems to push forth a comment on portrait subjects as could-be warriors, with umbrellas for shields, who might best be shielding themselves from the visual interpretations of artists (and critics) who treat portraiture as a kind of visual social-science-labeling medium.

     Now, could Cesar Delgado’s Counting the Cost—despite some obvious or latent other statement—also be a comment on portraiture, presenting a disinterested subject that’s either ignoring, or unaware of, the painter and his concerns?
     There are other works in this show that manifest the ironies in painting today in more elliptical ways, elliptical for being disguised within established traditions. Chriseo Sipat’s Toxic Zone explores yet again the Pop art poetry of treading the line between oil painting and poster art, while Demosthenes Campos’ abstracts (Passage and Trail) classically extend the mixed media painting tradition of asking yet again where painting ends and where sculpture begins.

Chriseo Sipat – “Toxic Zone” – 36”x36” – Oil on canvas

Demosthenes Campos – “Passage” – 34” x 48” – Mixed Media on canvas

Demosthenes Campos – “Trail” – 37” x 48” – Mixed Media on canvas

     Then there are the likes of Joselito Jandayan, who seems to be swinging to and fro between magazine-illustration-like 3D drawing/modeling and the established visual poetic form commonly known as oil painting on canvas. In The Liar and the Beast, is Jandayan offering the argument that both the Expressionist and the Surrealist traditions of figuration are no more fanciful than the current fiction of extraterrestrial-beings-representation? In appropriating all of these traditional imageries, is Jandayan both paying tribute to those traditions as well as parodying/mocking them? Or is a tongue-in-cheek “alienization” of figures (as against a Francis Bacon seriousness) in order here? If so, isn’t that, qua attitude, by itself already a reality slap (in the Surrealist sense) on painting’s and painting collectors’ all-too-serious regard for any figuration of things blue and green and flesh-brown under the Sun?

     Lexygius Calip’s Substance (Series 1-4), meanwhile, is a mixed media on paper series that yet again represents the sculptural potential of painting, almost as if to remind us and reiterate the painting or drawing field’s kinship with the installation-art space.

     Finally, consider such approaches as Sam Penaso’s nationalistic dark earth tones upon an ethnic-faced subject ironically called “Annalyn”. This mugshot portrait, ladies and gentlemen, is not painted in dye, but in plastic acrylic—a painting medium from the 1960s Pop decade of the plastic boom. How can you be more ironic and subtly sarcastic than that? And what about a female name that combines the Latin “Anna” (19th-century Hispanic Philippines) with the American “Lyn” (20th-century Philippines)? How can you be more contextually expansive than that?

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