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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

entry arrow11:12 PM | Love, War, and Other Horizons in Ink

Two art exhibits -- Heartistic Expressions in the Casa Amigo Room of CocoAmigos, and Wrong Horizons and Regiments in Mariyah Gallery -- opened within a week's space of each other, and some might take these as definite proof that art is alive and well and kicking in Dumaguete City.

Which is, of course, true. But this is also evident: that what may essentially be lacking is the imperial ambition of local artists, the kind that approximates the sweeping thematics of the best of Picasso, perhaps, or Pollack, or Bencab.

Instead, we get the bonsai brilliance of spurts, a tease really -- with us ultimately ending with artistic blue balls. Both shows are very good indications of promise, and while there must always be celebrations of promise, sometimes one also wishes that these scattering of "potential" will soon lead to the mature evolution towards astonishing (and singular) greatness and reach.

That's not to say that art in Dumaguete has become ridiculously small-scale, but I do miss the well-curated (and well-thought-out) exhibitions of Kitty Taniguchi, Paul Pfeiffer, Kristoffer ArdeƱa, Danny Sollesta, Jutsze Pamate, Raszceljan Salvarita, Babu Wenceslao, Maria Taniguchi, and Mark Valenzuela, which are only a few names among Dumaguete's largely unsung artists of the first rank. One remembers only too well past shows which bore definite (and highly personal) statements enlarged in the artist's unfolding series of canvasses depicting aspects of an aesthetic philosophy. There was, for example, Kitty's Crows series. Or Paul's The Pure Products Go Crazy series. Or Jutsze's Eyes Color Sky series. Instead, there is a current preference for the collective -- local art's equivalent of anthology effort -- which is only satisfying to a certain level. (But paradoxically, this tendency may result to a highly positive effect of wanting more.)

In CocoAmigos -- increasingly the art-friendly venue for Dumaguete artists -- we get the pen and ink exhibit titled Heartistic Expressions, an effort churned out by the members of the Alon collective (Alon, meaning Artists' League of Oriental Negros) to coincide with our current preoccupation with Valentine's Day. Curated by the indefatigable Susan Canoy under the directorship of Pamela C. Galvez, the exhibit showcases the works of some established artists, and a host of young ones still trying to break into a semblance of local recognition. All of the works figure in variations of love and coupling -- some successfully, and some not so successfully.

The more-established older artists are represented here by the indomitable duo of Sharon Rose Dadang-Rafols and Canoy. These are two of my favorite local artists -- but in this exhibit, one gets the notion that this is shadow work for them, like Leonardo da Vinci pausing between "The Last Supper" and "Mona Lisa" to do studies. The works, needles to say, are still gratifying, but by God I know these two ladies have something bigger in them. Canoy's "Ina-tay" series, for example, is straight-out pen and ink works about the travails of a single mother and her children. What redeem them are the softness of the depiction and the sincerity of the theme, as well as the sure hand of a master. Dadang-Rafols, on the other hand, goes for what I will call "baby baroque" in both "Manda Love" and "First Trans," giving us still life swathed in shadows and little circles and dots and snaky lines. There is also Rene Elevera who contributes something titled "Mother's Love," which may be the most visually accomplished -- as well as the largest -- work in the collection. It is as how its title implies, but the common melodrama depicted in the work is redeemed by its haunting quality. It is strangely moving, and one cannot help but feel that this is exactly how art transcends material to bring life to canvas.

Jaruvic Rafols' works are a pleasant surprise. In "Pinangga," "Wala'y Sapayan," and "Yayo," he creates an elegant softness with the inky and "hairy" squiggles that make up his figures, which lend a dreaminess to his portraits of, respectively, a mother and child, two lovers in satisfied post-coital clinch (thus the Cebuano for "You're welcome"), and a male babysitter. Three takes on love, and all of them satisfying.

What I like about Raul Arbon's works is their recall of komiks art, a genre that is often misunderstood and ridiculed before (and even after) the explosion of Roy Lichtenstein's pop art. In Arbon, however, what is immediately evident is the Pinoy finish that reminds us of the best of Filipino illustrators such as Alex Nino, Nestor Redondo, Rudy Florese, Francisco V. Coching, and others who made the reading of Kislap and other komiks such a delight. In "The Circle of Love Triangle," Arbon charts the steps and missteps of courting and loving. In "Unrequited Love," he becomes a romantic in his exploration of heartbreak -- notably the prototypical harana -- and in this work, he does that by inking in the drama of a singing man, his sweetheart's face floating about him in fantasy. It is whimsical, but it also breaks your heart.

The scandalously Botticelic quality of Ekals Villatiempo's works, especially in "Lovely Endurance," is a pleasure. Here, you get a woman who is barely dressed, with breast showing through, carrying a pail full of water while guiding behind her a very young boy. What to take of that? I smiled widely, because it invites that kind of reaction.

Then there are the others who invite various levels of the same reaction. Bhoy Imbo, forsaking ink on paper and instead going for wood, goes for the traditional feel, evoking Amorsolo in his variations of the Madonna and Child theme. The treatment goes for the pastel Pinoy pastorale we used to be familiar with in olden years, but eventually the works leave you wanting for more than just beautiful pictures. Rey Dante Legaspi's "Heart in Shape" series -- studies of various stages of coupling encapsulated within heart shapes -- is whimsical, leaving the drawings vibrating almost, like real hearts. Jess Bactol, on the other hand, goes for Matisse in his depiction of the various "firsts" in our romantic lives (my favorite being "First Kiss"). There is a certain charm to these works which puts them somehow way up above mere kindergarten doodle. Joshua Canonigo's "Love Hurts" -- a bleak rendering of a mother clutching a child while seated upon a banig staring out at the darkness on the opposite frame which seems to creep towards them -- is a masterpiece in miniature.

What may be the most successful installations in the exhibit are the works of Hersley Casero, who is the token conceptual artists in this bunch of romantics. He takes the Valentine theme and turns it on its head. In "A.k.a. Mr. Loverboy," he portrays the Romeo as a yin-yang of angel and clown. I consider them successful because they embody for me a very basic function of art: to go beyond the merely mimetic, and to render what is known into a personalized, but beautiful, defamiliarization.

There is still much to be desired in the works of Dan Ryan Duran, Daisy Mae Aloha, James Tatoy, Phil Omaguing, D. Aguit, Johnny Delfino, and Paul Lumjoc. Lumjoc, for example, finds an interesting and morbid fascination in Valentines, and in his "Death's Call to a Desperado," he manages to juxtapose death, two lovers, a nuclear mushroom cloud, and camaraderie in a chaos done up in Japanese manga style. Which illustrates for me the point that these artists are still very much in an inchoate state, still finding the still elusive artistic tone that will define their mature selves.

But Alon being a group of young artists on the make (it is a collective of artists that come from Silliman University, Foundation University, Saint Paul University, and Negros Oriental State University), that is perfectly understandable -- and in a sense, a show like this should only be lauded because they provide the best venue for exposure that the true artist needs in order to hone his or her art. Groups like Alon are essential because they provide the umbrella of development that eludes artists without a community. We have seen evolutions of this group, from past efforts by Wenceslao, then Taniguchi, then Pamate, then Dadang-Rafols. With Pamela Galvez finally at the helm, one hopes for the final flowering of promise.

Kitty, in fact, spoke of that hope when, in her introduction to the exhibit, she told of being witness to three decades of seeing how art has developed in Dumaguete. "It's so refreshing," she said, "to note that talents in Dumaguete are not giving up despite real hardships like the inevitable economic limitations. Shows like these contribute to art development in the country, for the promotion of our cultural community."

The Alon exhibit then, despite the forgivably small focus, should be taken as a call for sustenance and growth of Dumaguete art.

But in Kitty Taniguchi and Mark Valenzuela's Wrong Horizons and Regiments (currently on show at Mariyah Gallery along Larena Drive in Bogo Junction), the works may be admittedly "small" but they come off for the viewer as studies for larger ambitions. And in a sense that is exactly how one should take them.

What to say about this combined exhibit by two masters? First, I must say that the exhibition is saddled with rhetoric: "It is," the concept paper reads, "a tiny art exhibit with a big concept to draw in -- that of putting up possibilities that will dagger in [sic] ideas like bringing discourses on meaningfulness and/or meaningless, [and the] construction or deconstruction on matters like curatorship, projection, subject, and material." But also this caveat: "This exhibition, however, does not claim to offer academic, institutionalized, and even esoteric touch in drawing in discourses, nor does it presume to present metaphor of ideas. Rather, [the exhibit] presents the consciousness of 'thinking and rethinking' outside the established norms of physical and mental net of artistic rendition."

Which is really jargon for the old artistic excuse: that an artist's work is a personalized view of the world, and that one must always be on guard with regards any efforts to meaning-making -- because meaning is always political and is always ripe with biased intentions. I don't agree with the apology, though, that the exhibit does not presume to present metaphor of ideas. All art is metaphorical, whether we like it or not. Even its final acknowledgment of itself as a presentation of "the consciousness of 'thinking and rethinking' outside the established norms of physical and mental net of artistic rendition" is really a metaphor of a peculiar kind. Without metaphor, art is empty and is reduced to just senseless squiggles and blotches on paper or canvas.

But let me stop right there and reconsider this thread. I really don't wish to sound like a graduate student in this art review.

Taniguchi's works are numbered pieces all bearing the title "Wrong Horizon" -- and I do like to think of the new series -- studies for larger works, really -- as a graduation of sorts for Kitty, from the female babylonia theme (replete with rich primary colors, dancing figures, and exotic animals rendered in Mesopotamian splendorous lines and colors) that is her trademark.

That Kitty herself grows in her work is a testament to the need for artistic evolution for all artists. Kitty herself extricates similar themes -- particularly of the female body caught in the clash of modernity and barbarism and wildness -- in all her works, but in "Wrong Horizons" (all of them mixed media, consisting of pen and ink, watercolor, and dry pigment, done on Fabriano uno paper) she becomes almost minimalist (only to a certain degree). This is a strange turnaround since she is almost always a wonderfully maximalist artist.

Her new studies depict ballerinas -- a favorite entity in Kitty's paintings -- in various positions, dancing to a standstill while surrounded, almost like a benign threat, by prancing horses, flying yogis, exotically feline leopards, wild well-maned lions, and moon-shapes that also suggest blackholes. The works range from the simple flows of geometric shapes done in basic monochrome to the usual Sumerian wildness of previous works.

Mark Valenzuela's Regiments, on the other hand, seem to suggest ink blots -- which lends them a deeper psychological dimension. (Think, for example, of the meaning mechanism engendered by Rorshack inkblots.)

"Tug of War" -- which consists of four panels that act as a kind of storyboard -- is Mark's most accomplished work. It is a simple pen and ink study of a man -- let's say a man, not a boy -- almost innocent-looking in his plain white shirt, his head consisting of dissolving shadows that blend to a nightmare of sorts. Because, roughly like a dagger through the head, there is a string of soldier figures (digital prints of those common plastic toy soldiers) in various movements and positions that display preparation for conflict. That string of toy soldiers extends to the middle panels, and ending in the last panel with another man-figure absorbing, with his equally-shadowed face, this nightmare. The work's power is emphasized even more by the shrewd use of orangy watercolor that acts as background, blotches almost like splattered blood. Is this an indictment of man as being eternally deluged by war dreams, or nightmares of conflict? Perhaps. What is enough for me is that there is a raw balance to this work. Mark Valenzuela, for me, has finally come into his own in this work.

The theme is replicated, in varying degrees of effect, in the other works of the series, which all still portray toy soldiers -- sometimes with mysterious wings attached to them -- caught in the middle of sudden bright splashes of bloody watercolor, or hovering around human figures, as if to incite them to violence.

That last supposition seems true for his APO triptych, which depicts a history of violence for the popular fraternity: in this set, you are given three men with specific years emblazoned on their sweatshirts (supposedly years which saw a horrific brutality in the fraternity), with the swarm of threatening soldiers -- symbolizing a potential for violence -- hovering around them.

In the end, these works by Kitty Taniguchi and Mark Valenzuela are really mere promises for the larger, and more seriously rendered, works that are supposed to spring from these studies.

Given that, and given the potentiality already explored in the Alon exhibit, one finally wishes for the final reaching of the destination. Because, in art, that is what will finally matter.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich