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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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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

entry arrow6:22 PM | Brushstrokes Signifying Longing: On Rianne Salvarita's Land and Sea

A way to approach a picture and determine its power is emotional surrender in the part of the beholder. Just a willingness to behold, and absorb, and see if there’s a fluttering from within that says something, that lingers in your head, that moves you. Nothing cerebral, not at all, nothing that reeks of –isms. That movement does not have to be cataclysmic, and does not have to have a tidal charge. It could be a faint fluttering, like the minute disturbance of air from the flapping of butterfly wings. It can even be cumulative, the immensity of something having moved you only made clear to you days, weeks, months later.

I have never ceased thinking about Rianne Salvarita’s Land and Sea, his series of paintings that quietly went into exhibition at KRI last November, and quietly egressed in January. I never wrote about it, for some reason or other. But I have never stopped thinking about those paintings.

And so here I am, finally succumbing to this belated surge, feeling the need to articulate what has remained unsaid for me, unformed in my head, even as I have mulled over these pictures so intimately, remembering with a strange affection the details, the misty composition, the haunting stillness of the landscapes that are at once familiar and unknowable.

What is Land and Sea? It is simply Salvarita’s attempt to capture the Dumaguete landscape with an eye that’s distinctly impressionistic. Here and there, rendered in brushstrokes that hint of the wistful and the romantic—actually the easiest way to appreciate these paintings—we see specific Oriental Negrense spaces—buildings, street corners, boulevards, beaches, ports—articulated in the manner of still life, borrowing the language of those ubiquitous Amorsolo knock-offs of the most pedestrian variety found almost everywhere in undiscerning Filipino living rooms, but. And there must be a “but” here. But Salvarita manages somehow to elevate his images to very good art, and the only reason that I can think of is alchemy.

They moved me, these paintings. A street at the public market. A skyline with the Bandera Building etched against a blue sky while a Ceres bus traverses the space below. Distant boats docking at the pier in the purple haze of sunset. A pristine Bacong Beach splendorous in the morning sunlight. A Rizal Boulevard lamppost standing guard over a view of boats in the distance. Another view of the Boulevard framed by a lonely acacia tree. Still another view of the Boulevard framed by another lonely acacia tree. A tree in flowery bloom shading what appears to be glimmers we can take to be fisher folk. Rolling countryside punctuated by trees, Cuernos de Negros in the distance covered in a mist. The small chapel outside of Bais City barely visible and standing out from surrounding vegetation. The campanario looming large.

They don’t feel empty, like how cheap art affects you. They feel like fodder for nostalgia, but also like a refutation of it. They feel romantic, but the images themselves evoke somehow an untethered sadness. Finally, they feel like depictions of tremendous longing, and perhaps they really are that.

I see these pictures, and I can hear the world sighing through them. Look at them, I tell myself. They are devoid of people, if you notice. There are only architectural spaces in them, as well as nature, formally composed, done in the representational style—and yet they look like there is a yearning in them, for people that’s absent in them for the most part.

It is good to be reminded once in a while that the appreciation of art can also be a Rorschach test that reveals more about ourselves than about the paintings or the artist. I don’t know what my reading of these pictures says about me—that I am a creature of longing? that I speak in the language of yearning?—but I am grateful for having seen these, and for the stirrings they have caused.

They also made me see my city in a new light, and if an artist must forever be tasked to defamiliarize the familiar in order to transform it into art, then Rianne Salvarita indeed has risen to that challenge. He made Dumaguete his own in Land and Sea, and I appreciate the vision that has been wrought.

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