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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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Monday, February 13, 2017

entry arrow5:45 PM | Deo’s Dark Romance: On Deo Baseleres' Daily

An exhibition is always an invitation — a passport, so to speak — to get inside an artist’s head. What indeed is a curated collection? It’s Alice’s rabbit hole to Wonderland, it’s Dorothy’s tornado to Oz. The world an exhibit reveals or leads to is a mindscape of images that can fascinate, can trigger a million questions, can be a purveyor of tempests. As such, it is very much a Rorschach test of how the artist views the world, and depending on the mastery of execution, an exhibit can be deathly dull, or endlessly fascinating, or downright dangerous. But that’s a given for the chance to behold a work of art and see where it can lead us: art’s ultimate goal is to refract the familiar world and reshape it through the singular point-of-view of the artist. We call this “defamiliarization,” and it works in two ways: to comment and to transport.

Let me be random in my choice of explanation. Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” a jagged greyscale immensity of great art, for example, can easily transport the one who beholds it to a world that’s abstract, disproportioned, and harsh in its choice of palette. Look closer, and you can easily get lost in the what-ness of the painting, its composition, its masterful command of hues, its figures that draw much from what is real in the word but stylized in certain ways that makes us take a closer look into the picture, and into the scene that is wrought. But it is also a commentary on war, the horrors of it, the unspeakable tragedy — and it means to overwhelm us with its angry message.

I thought about these things when I saw Deo Joseph Baseleres’ Daily, now on exhibition at KRI. AT first glance, it might be easy to dismiss these works done in pen-and-ink on canvas: they’re set on framing that’s too small to be considered arresting, and the medium itself — monochromatic ink — does not particularly bleed ocular invitation. The undiscriminating can walk past them and see only doodle art, but of the elevated kind, given the dubious privilege of being hung on a gallery wall — but that is a mistake. Because on closer inspection, Baseleres’ works are playful contradictions on one hand, and a fascinating survey of a particular psyche on the other.

Consider for example his artistic statement for this particular exhibit: that ‘Daily’ is the “crisp and exquisite … manifestation of the artist’s ideas [that] reveal hope, passion, struggles, inspirations, and everything that he beholds.” It continues: “The collection displays the things [the artist encounters] on a day-to-day basis, and how the artist lifts his spirits to go on everyday living.” Powerful, sincere words — but words, I think, that have more than a measure of playfulness to them.

Because “hope” or “passion” are not readily conjured by the images that Mr. Baseleres has wrought in this stark monochromatic series that recall a confluence of Tim Burton and goth art and Dia de los Muertos. There is a darkness to them. But it is a darkness, nonetheless, that play with the tension of lightness, indeed of a strange kind of uplift. Consider his “Adulation,” a truly disturbing piece that is framed like the coffin-shaped hexagon: at its center are two skeletal figures in an attempt to embrace, between them a diamond and a beating heart, and around them wispy lines that seem to indicate the two figures are from two different worlds — but joined here, perhaps even in the eternity of death, bonded by a rose. If there is such a thing as the romantic macabre, this is it.

Then there’s “Devotion,” a portrait of a girl in a Dia de los Muertos mask, deathly and devoted all at the same time, her face in spiritual repose. Then there’s “Tip of the Needle,” a painful study of punctures invading deep, suggesting skeletons and death and addiction — and yet the surprising inclusion of an outline in red gives us the mirage of a butterfly spreading its fragile wings. Is this the “hope” Mr. Baseleres is talking about?

To be sure, the other paintings in the collection are so much more darker. “Stereo Freak” gives us the suggestion of music technology as a kind of fanged monster, a hanging chain perhaps signifying enslavement — and yet we are also given subtle hints of wings and blossoming trees and a romantic moon. “Epicurean Fangs” follows up that theme, giving us an H.R. Giger monstrosity, and its not difficult to take a leap over what it wants to say about materialism and pleasure. “Liberty of the Mind” gives us a skull and what seems to be an all-knowing eyeball crowning it, ghostly wisps and jagged squares emanating from it suggesting perhaps its titular promise. “Neko,” which is Japanese for cat, is a whimsical portrait of that ubiquitous good luck figurine with the waving paw, king of a hill made of golden coins, its stare into the void of space serious and forbidding.

I like them all. They are windows to an exciting and disturbing point-of-view, one that introduces us to the idea that representations of death and darkness don’t necessarily extinguish life and lightness. They can be intertwined.

As executed, the paintings of Daily have the seriousness of relief art, of intaglio, its appeal and power rendered in lithographic preciseness. They remind me of the dark, romantic art of Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956) crossed with the playfulness of Tim Barnard. In the Philippines, there’s Kerry Rosanes who specializes in art of this kind — but of the whimsical. Deo Baseleres is his dark, romantic comrade.

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