Joseph Tecson’s Millenial Classicism

18671326_428938450812117_666755962949987617_nReview of Joseph Tecson’s ‘Abstracts’ at Art Undeground Gallery

Joseph Tecson’s paintings, like those of other young Filipino painters exhibited and recognized internationally, perfectly capture a prediction made by Jürgen Habermas in 1980. In a famous lecture, Habermas talked about postmodernism in relation to the “incomplete project” of modernity: that, notwithstanding its claim of a complete and absolute break, the postmodern condition faces the same set of unresolved problems that can only lead to the return of history, if not the return of “modernism.” Habermas’ note of dissent—delivered at the height of postmodernism’s critical vitality—helps us situate the concerns of contemporary art, particularly Tecson’s gravitation towards abstraction in light of society and politics today.

Tecson’s current work follows the logical progression of his pictorial successes. The particular material references of his current monochromatic creations give his works a degree of accumulated intensity that is as palpable as in his figurative works: grave and confining.

Tecson’s emphasis on the material is reminiscent of the concerns of painters of an earlier era whose entire body of work was anchored in the use of a particular medium or a technique. Tecson merges the artistic oil medium with industrial resins and metals. His manipulation of the specialized medium gives his paintings a timeless air which his chromatic surfaces convey with a sense of millennial classicism.

More than other artists of his generation, Joseph Tecson combines European pictorial traditions with the forms of aesthetic experience rooted deeply in the art scene of the post-war, which undoubtedly influences the understanding of his work; at the same time, it connects with Southeast Asian aesthetic currents with which it shares the evident sensitivity for the use and exploration of the material and the taste for the unexpected and accidental.

From this perspective, his work suggests two opposing reflections. The first would be to perceive his work as linked to an artistic line indebted to the sophisticated artistic conceptions that emerged in 1960s-70s Manila (primarily Lao Lianben and also Fernando Zobel, Lee Aguinaldo, et al.), by ignoring contemporary developments and returning to more traditional pictorial notions. A second perspective, would lead us to a vision of his work as an unstable and hermetic project. Both views are somewhat positively justified since we are able to see vital pulses in contemporary art triggered by what happens in Joseph Tecson’s paintings.

In his paintings, modern art seems to go back on itself and reconsider its fundamental principles, as if the basic foundations of abstraction had been subjected to a new critical analysis, emphasizing the autonomous valuation of matter and color or lack of it.

Musing about abstract paintings, Jurgen Habermas asks what gives a roughly painted surface of canvas, which has been stretched over a frame, such sensual power?

In the vein of Habermas’s reflections, the answer we can find in Tecson is somewhat solemn: The paintings appeal to the viewer’s intuition, rather than his intellect. His focus is directed at the interplay between coarse monochromes that emerge from a repertoire involving contrast, variation, and repetition and its breakdown. There is a dynamism that is full of tension. The two dimensional painting syntax is undermined and rendered irrelevant. There is a sense of intimacy: as if the paintings demand to be felt rather than merely seen. Description becomes a nuisance.

That is the sensation that the work of Joseph Tecson produces. We have the feeling that for the artist, painting is an isolated matter filled with tangible silences.

Joseph Tecson (b.1985) learned to paint on his own during this period of incarceration (2008 – 2012). By the time he had been acquitted of the charges, Tecson had already participated in a number of art exhibitions including his first solo show at Mag:Net Gallery Katipunan in Quezon City titled “Inmates,” which featured 50 portraits of detainees and convicts from Quezon City Jail where he was imprisoned. After holding five solo exhibitions in various art galleries, he mounted the exhibition “Inmates + Outmates” in 2014 at WhiteSpaceBlackBox, Switzerland, where inmate portraits were exhibited alongside portraits of members from members of high society. Joseph Tecson lives and works in Manila, Philippines.

Joseph Tecson: Abstracts opened at Art Underground, Balagtas St. Mandaluyong 1550, Metro Manila, Philippines, last Saturday 27th of May 2017.

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