Sunday, December 23, 2007

Filipino Art on French Walls

Published in What's On & Expat, 23 December 2007

The French have a long and proud tradition of association with the visual arts with many 19th and 20th Century French artists being household names throughout the world. Who has not heard of Monet, Degas or Duchamp to mention just three? Less well known is the 17th Century French printmaker Jacques Callot. His innovations improved etching to such an extent that his work became a favored collectable of the Dutch master Rembrandt, a formidable printmaker in his own right.

Continuing in these footsteps, the Alliance Française de Manille is host to the Philippine Association of Printmakers’ latest group exhibition, The Medium is the Message. Meandering throughout the public spaces of the Alliance’s Nicanor Garcia St premises, this exhibition showcases almost the full gamut of techniques available to the contemporary printmaker. From serigraphs (screen prints) via wood cuts, lithographs, mono prints, intaglios (which includes etching and engraving), lino prints known colloquially as rubber prints to digital prints, which are often referred to by the French name of giclee, all are represented.

Two impressive woodcuts by Virgilio Aviado hang by the exhibition’s catalogue table. Architypal Pinoy I and Architypal Pinoy II are full length scrolls depicting life size renderings of contemporary Filipinos. The first is about the male of the species presented as a peace loving, guitar playing hippy on the left and a baton holding security guard on the right. The second shows 3 women, a nun in shades of black and grey is center with a teenager in crop top, short shorts and boots on her left and a society queen replete in a green gown holding a light gold clutch bag on her right.

Behind the information desk and a little to its right is a lithograph by national artist Jerry Elizaide Navarro. It is a1999 untitled commedia dell'arte inspired rendering of the comic/tragic theatre masks. Where the comic mask wears a salacious leer and the tragic mask questions the audience, it is a delightfully whimsical reading of the age old cliché.

On the wall of the corridor leading to the toilet, just before the restaurant, is a group of works that includes the African inspired works of Angelo Magno. The three rubber cuts and a monotype are recent works that explore the artist’s relationship with the Dark Continent through line and color. Babaylon: Medicine Woman and Diety are red faced mask like renderings with multi colored halos while Black Mask uses multi-colored lines to delineate its features. The monotype Mater Delorora is a black and gold depiction of a shrouded figure with a barely discernable halo.

Inside Le Coude Rouge restaurant hangs Bencub’s digital drawing Sabel with Moon, depicting a woman’s nocturnal affair with her pillows which are both her comfort and her nemesis. On the opposite wall is a pair of Janos Delacruz intaglio prints and on the mid point of the stairs to the second floor are two more. Pepito and the Urban Jungle shows a wide eyed, open mouth youth amid the extravagance that is a modern city and Traveling Insomniac hints at the terrors of enforced sleeplessness.

Upon reaching the upper level of the Alliance building, amongst the rewards, are four recent serigraphs by Bernard Temperosa. In these two tone, red and black, works two calligraphy inspired characters cavort in varying scenarios, each an environmental dance between danger and opportunity.

This multi-faceted exposition of the printmakers craft has many more gems than space constraints here allow to enumerate. The Medium is the Message at the Alliance Française de Manille, 209 Nicanor Garcia St, (formerly Reposo St) Makati City continues until 11th January 2008. Visit for more information.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I live on a globe, but it’s flat outside my door.

The camera never lies is a generally accepted, if erroneous, truism about photography, that implies a photograph is an accurate historical record of a place or event. It ignores the influence of the photographer upon the captured scene through their subjective influence of selection and timing. A captured moment in time, another photographic generalization, addresses the timing issue but continues to ignore the photographer’s scenic selectivity.

For the most part photography is about recording objects. The picture of an object as an expression of a place or the interaction between objects as an event supports the idea that photography is objective. The emphasis is on the recorded object as an expression of a truth. But it is a static, one off truth and truth is a great deal more complex, as the title of this essay alludes.

In the 21st Century it is an undeniable that the world is a ball, space travel and NASA photographs confirm a globe, but my interaction with it, my day to day truth, is with a plate, a walk down the street confirms a flat earth. Two ideas that would seem to be contradictions happily co-exist.

Dichotomies such as this have fueled artists in the creation of their work from the secular scenes used to illuminate religious teachings via cubist renderings of three dimensions as two to the paradoxes that live at the heart of modern art. The art that comes out of conflicting ideas is facilitated by the artist’s ability to interact with their materials of production as much as the objects used for their portrayal. It is the means more than the ends that have enabled the exploration of the paradoxes.

This duality exists within Digital photography. On one hand is the captured image, a record of what was in front of the lens that can be rendered to paper or canvas, on the other, which informs the rendering, is a binary code that carries the information that is the photograph. Unlike the film negative it is an easily accessible and adjustable mathematical expression that stores the information.

The interaction with this information code enables the photographer to become directly involved in the creation of the photograph rather than just a recorder of the scene. Like the painter or the sculptor who can use their materials as much as the objects they depict to make their work so the digital photographer has been given this freedom.

The digital photographer is able to produce photographs that explore ideas and their relative and often contradictory truths. With these means at their disposal they can capture a flat earth and then inform it with global proportions.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Building Blocks

Like Children's toys how they stack up determines what will be seen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Means to an End

The ends’ justifying the means is a phrase that is most often trotted out when a questionable mode of behavior is called to account. From Machiavelli to Hitler to the War on Terror, the fixation on an end result is the dominant factor. So too it is for us as we go about our daily lives, but with the extremity of our actions, for the most part, being ameliorated by our moral compass.

The current group exhibition, On Common Ground, Uncommon Grounds, at The OWG Creative Centre Gallery calls this ethic into question. Three abstract artists, Resty Tica, Ric Hernandez and Demosthenes Campos use the process of production of their works to express their ideas. For them, by focusing on the means of creation they produce their aesthetically pleasing ends.

With his large digital mixed media on canvas works, Resty Tica presents us with digital prints atop larger painted surfaces. In Junk #9 and Junk #10 the predominantly white digital prints with their cross hatching and rust like patches sit on black painted larger canvases that recall city nightscapes. While in Vespa, the larger white panel with its subdued intricate color patches has a digital print overlay which captures the thrill of the ride as it draws you into its orange and yellow depths.

Demosthenes Campos’ mixed media works have a 3 dimensional quality which comes from the materials he uses for their construction. His canvas works have a translucent over painting that allows the underlying layers of canvas strips, painting and drawing to inform these Mondrian inspired works. Whilst in the series Over Looking III to VIII, Campos builds 6 delicate assemblages of disparate materials with a bird’s nest complexity which he secures to their paper supports with wax. Drops of which have been applied to the glass of their frames.

Found book end papers, mostly historical in nature, have been employed by Ric Hernandez to create his collages that reflect on the relationship between negative and positive spaces. These 10” x 14” framed works more often than not take their titles from the words and phrases found on the pages employed. In “Copyright 1946”, “Manila 1984”, “Man and Hero” Hernandez, through his use of space, allows the viewer to reflect upon the meaning of the words. Although with the piece “Gram-er”, its words could sum up his works in particular and this exhibition in general. “Dedicated to the people of the Philippines who do not speak Tagalog, that this volume may motivate them to learn the national tongue.”

On Common Ground continues at the OWG Creative Centre Gallery, Ground Floor, La Fuerza Plaza II, 2241 Don Chino Roces Ave. corner Sabio St., Makati City until the 27th December.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Outside for a Smoke

For all us social pariahs out there who must leave the room to indulge.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Yesterdays News, Today’s Art.

Published in What's On & Expat, 9 December 2007

The dramatic photograph on page one that halts the forks journey from plate to mouth will not necessarily have the same impact when hung on a gallery wall 30 years later. Photojournalism is about timeliness, objectivity and narrative whereas when viewed as a work of art timelessness and individual creative vision become paramount. Especially when the stories being told are long forgotten and the faces being shown are divas from another era.

That the current exhibition “5 Photographers”, at the Silverlens Gallery works as well as it does is a tribute to the curatorial skills of Jose Enrique Soriano. For these works are 35 to 45 years old and consequently can only be appreciated for their inherent aesthetic values. Which range from strong personal visions to the perennial subjects that still engage today’s photographers.

Foremost are the sepia toned, silver gelatin prints of the late Joe Gabor. The palms and mountain landscapes with an impending tropical storm, the lyrical horizontal lines of the fisherman casting his net and the 3 wide eyed children, all demand a second or third look. Although fire damaged these and the other few remaining works by Gabor, speak directly to the viewer and are as articulate today as when first made.

Ed Santiago’s “St Peter’s Harvest Study 1 and 2” along with the “Barong-barong” studies have such strong abstract qualities that they maintain their relevance for a contemporary audience. Likewise Mario Co’s colour portraits have a contemporary feel which would make them at home in today’s fan magazines. That being said his portrait of Daria Ramirez has a timeless quality about it that would do Cleopatra proud.

The other colour photographs in this predominately black and white exhibition are by Silverio Enriquez. Although not as vibrant as Co’s photographs, in “The Chinese in the Philippines” and “Stella Suarez”, Enriquez’s use of colour enhances the abstract qualities of his subjects. Whilst in his “Malacanang, the Palace” the interplay of the black and white shapes glimpsed through the front gate intrigues the eye.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Romy Vitug must feel truly justified. For much of his subject matter is the raw material from which modern photographers draw their inspiration. Variations on “Cool Water Games”, “Strange Summer School” or “Beasts of Burden” abound. Whether they will look as fresh 30 to 40 years hence is another question.

The “5 Photographers” exhibition, a tribute to 5 pioneering masters of Philippine photojournalism, although a trip down memory lane it does speak eloquently to a contemporary audience. For as Mark Twain is accused of saying "History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes a lot."

The exhibition continues at the Silverlens Gallery, 2320 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati, until 20th December. For more info see

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Looking through the Trees for the Art

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat and stores across the nation have stocked their shelves to bursting point. In this season of good will, retailers both large and small facilitate the punters desire to part with their doh ray me to populate the space beneath the Christmas tree.

The blanc gallery has entered this fray with a wallpapered exhibition that is The December Show 2007. 120 works of art, all 16” x 24” in size and hung vertically, by 120 artists blanket the walls and spill out into the corridor leading to the gallery. Hung cheek by jowl it is a cacophony of anonymous voices that confront the viewer. For in this exhibition the works authors are unidentified, the pieces stand or fall on their intrinsic artistic merit.

Whilst this is the essence of what art is all about, it comes unstuck in this exhibition due to the sheer number of works in such a confined space. As you view one work there are at least 3 and up to 8 neighbors elbowing their way into the conversation. Highly recognizable derivative works can survive the onslaught whilst those who would speak with an individual voice struggle to be heard.

The hallmarkesque soulful hound of The Junior Boxer, the heavily Roy Lichtenstein influenced Pop Art Fiasco and the 60’s two tone piece, 7am all get a statement out within the 10 second sound bite before the neighbors demand your attention. The quietly spoken Cocoon #1, Idiot Wind and El Corazon are contemplative, individually stylistic works which struggle in vein to be heard above the clamor of their neighbors.

As the commodification of Christmas panders to instant gratification at the cost of its origins so the squeezing of this much art into such a small venue hinders the choice of a long term friend for the space above the mantle piece.

The December Show, 2007 at blanc gallery continues until the 16th of December at 2E Crown Tower, 107 H V dela Costa St, Makati City. Also see for participating artists.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

It Takes Skill to be Green

Environmental concerns are grabbing headlines the world over. Global warming, oil prices heading for the stratosphere, land degradation, they are all grist for the media mill. What we have done to our planet and to a large part our apparent lack of concern are the raw materials that inspire Ruel Caasi’s latest exhibition, Oil Paintings, at the Drawing Room Gallery.

The title of the exhibition would seem to point an accusing finger at only one of the players. For the works in this exhibition are mixed media on canvas and paper with the aroma of linseed oil and turpentine being conspicuous by its absence. With that being said Caasi does use a broader brush within these works to ensnare a wider field of culprits, ourselves included.

The large canvases in the exhibition, which range from 4 to 6 feet in size, are Caasi’s bold statements. Using a palette predominantly of browns, black and muddied whites with the occasional dash primary colour, he creates his abstracted visions of plundered landscapes and swirling vortexes. Abstract expressionist workings of the paint inform “Proposed Artificial Landscape” and “Open Landscape from Satellite” with the latter having an eye catching cadmium yellow lighting bolt. The vortexes depicted in “Photo Sensitive 1 and 2” and “Cast a Circle on the Earth” have varying numbers of small squares applied which are arranged like Victorian lattice windows that have long lost their clarity.

Superimposed on all of Caasi’s canvases are large broken squares that mirror the pictures’ edges with their inner sections eaten away to reveal the underlying painting. This recurring motive is both a part of the painting and a frame that constrains. It also provides a bridge to the smaller works on paper in which the square motive dominates.

Framed under glass, Caasi’s works on paper create a more intimate conversation with his audience. In each a central square sits on a field of one colour that creates a subtle influence over it. The activity in these works happens within the central square or on its periphery. Like in “Catalyst” where the surrounding olive green informs the grey central square which on its lower left edge sits a dark green distorted rectangle with a slim rectangle of almost emerald green at its side.

Whether orating to the multitude or speaking quietly one on one, Ruel Caasi’s concerns for and about our planet come through loud and clear. That he can and does do both in this exhibition not only provides food for thought but also displays his skill as an artist. For as much as these works are about the environment they are also about the man and his materials.

Ruel Caasi’s “Oil Paintings” exhibition continues until the 15th of December at the Drawing Room Gallery, 1007 Metropolitan Ave, Makati.