A portrait of downhearted objects

Caroline Ongpin at Paseo Gallery

September 1-15, 2009

Paintings in oil abound the gallery walls in Caroline Ongpin’s exhibition, ‘Spaces for Contemplation’, at Paseo Gallery, 4th Floor Building A, SM Megamall. The paintings invite us to settle with the gallery, each one a depiction of rooms and several household objects. They are reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s indoor paintings in effects, but whereas Hopper paintings depict scenes of people with gloomy intonations, Ongpin’s paintings focus on the personal objects of these people as a point of departure to uncover the identity of the person. She takes out the distance from these houses, her eye is everywhere.  She peeps through doors, and catches these things left as they are, lost inside this room or forgotten in neglect. She situates herself within but fills the painting with so much longing and anxiety. While Ongpin’s subjects were chosen arbitrarily from revisiting objects and rooms inside her house, her experience and story that backs up the meaning of the exhibition is deeply personal. In a more general outlook, the paintings may be considered as a reconciled response to the practices in modern living—the excesses and abounding wistfulness over lives which makes the exhibition its characteristic:  It is about the melancholy of objects.

This particular set of paintings confers to us the significance of objects to the lives of people. That these objects were given the focus rather than presenting portraits of their owners tell of making mute objects speak of their history. It is a sort of, if these-walls-could-talk insight into the lives of people.

“Bathroom Mirrors” for example is based from a picture of a bathroom counter. The mirror reflects the objects strewn across it- hand sanitizers, toothbrushes and breath fresheners, and consequently the life that own these things.

Also in this line is, “Melancholy of Objects”—a painting of a house library which is filled up with stuff— plastic bags, books, paper– rendered  in earth tone colors. A remarkable feature of these paintings are their reservation in using color, brown for this one and mostly shades of blue on the others. These make the paintings all the more riveting and emotionally charged because of the meaning commonly appended to color.

Her use of color, for example tell you about a man who has his room filled with medicine bags and pill containers and items of the same thing all on one table.

“They’re supposed to give the viewer a clue, sort of, about whoever owns those things.”

To paint a collection of baggage is the metaphor for Ongpin. “It’s like things that people can’t let go of and they end up just piling up and making everything messy.”  “Like emotional baggage,” she adds.

Aside from being the possession of someone, the objects in the paintings of Caroline Ongpin can be taken simply as objects whose meanings depend upon their function or their location. These objects are mostly shut in, unused and miserable, standing amidst their owner’s callousness or their insipid desolation. The paintings make both their stories exposed and their owners—the ultimate subject—vulnerable.

Comparable to the paintings of Caroline Ongpin are the poems of A.E. Houseman (1859-1936), a poet who also served as an inspiration to Edward Hopper.  In his Last Poems, A. E. Housman speaks of being “a stranger and afraid/In a world I never made.” That is probably what the artist feels in coming up with ideas for her paintings—and  what she conveys with so bitterly unadorned in this exhibit. –Geronimo  Cristobal, Jr.

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