This exhibition is Geronimo Cristobal’s fourth solo exhibition and a continuation of Paintings after Compositions held at the University of Santo Tomas Museum in 2017. This exhibition shows 10 of his most recent, previously unissued works from the last two to three years. It is astonishing how exactly the work of the young Filipino artist, born in 1986, fits in with what German critic Ulrich Beck calls the “Second Modernity”. The term signifies the abstraction of modernity from the beginning of the century, an ethos that Cristobal’s work captures albeit without any aim to dwell on reality or to reach the completeness of a picture. Instead, the works focus on what Beck describes as the “unprogrammed free abstraction” of Second Modernity, and the “aesthetics of composition with a weightless gesture and with a liberating brushstroke on a large-format canvas”.
Cristobal’s works originated from issues apparent at the turn of the millenium, at a renewed interface or confrontation between conceptual art and a wave of new painting. The recapturing of sensuality, the adherence to the canvas as an aesthetic rehearsal stage, the joy of the painterly work—all these issues clearly inform his large-format works of mostly superimposed textured surfaces.
Occasionally, colors appear in Cristobal’s works, reminiscent of neo-expressionist painting: pink, gray black, yellow, turquoise, orange, bright red. In his abstract works, however, he does not rely on an immediate object- or body-related sensuous identification, but on direct color effect and the gestural sensuality of the painterly work process that leaves thick, impasto color clumps on the lateral surfaces of the canvas.
Cristobal’s pictures are neither the abstraction that renders an inner view, nor a concrete, outer world. The origin of the impression, which arises involuntarily, that of landscape pictures, namely, does not lie in the abstraction of a recognizable or reconstructible model or image, but only imitations of such. Colors such as green and brown, horizontal and vertical traces of scraping and streaking occasionally hint at landscapes. Only occasionally appearing color shades or patterns that appear under individual layers of color could be interpreted as architectonic structures.
The attempt to make the dense under-layers evident are not only for “pure aesthetics”, or in the “freedom of the beauty or beauty of freedom,” which critics want to have identified as an attitude of “Second Modernity”. True to this, he confronts colorfully contrarian or syncretic positions in violently moving black and dark brown all-over compositions with informal signatures that almost drip. In contrast, there are still-meditative, white compositions. This is also clear in the presentation the principle of “contemplation and action”, which can be identified as an inner moving image in the works in this exhibition.
His latest paintings have become subdued. This principle has also become clearer: contemplation through depth. The works accrue layers of paint—like veils of superimposed color surfaces—that capture the gestures and actions of Cristobal’s brush. But these layers are revealed through the scraping and Aufkratzmethoden (sanding method), with which he exposes the movements, the visible succession of moments in his painting process. Each picture, then, is a progressive accumulation of time and its interruptions.
In Geronimo Cristobal’s latest works, the basic motif is that of the paleographer’s work. The paintings and drawings allude to the central place of the scriptorium in medieval European monasteries, where the writing, copying and illuminating of manuscripts by monastic scribes took place. As a trained writer, Cristobal is like a paleographer who studies ancient manuscripts and ascertains their authenticity, guided by a knowledge of philology—a deep understanding of the language, vocabulary, and grammar generally used at a given time or place. Cristobal sees a parallel of this in his own knowledge of art history: an understanding of the reproduction of works by other artists and their insertions as layers onto the physical work. In this way, the canvas can be seen as no different from the ancient scribe’s tablet.
Cristobal sees art as an impetus that cannot be articulated; a kind of “shaky in-between.” A desire for the historical past of the ingenious moment, a guileful pre-concept, nonetheless informs his position on the ambiguity of art. The work is a piece of counter-enlightenment. But at the same time, the work constantly reveals symptoms of a discomfort, resulting in an existential tension. His intuition becomes a cognitive attitude, which articulates first and foremost a spontaneous but inexhaustible non-intentionality that does not ignore the truth, but does not wear it down analytically. Rather, it seeks to capture it in a gestural and colorful manner.
The inner stringency of Geronimo Cristobal’s position on art is something that he has been developing for several years now. His artistic stance—which is increasingly exploited or similarly expressed in principle by many other artists of the second generation of abstract painters—nonetheless remains his own. Perhaps because the question of sensuality, of immediacy, of spontaneity, of color without much distraction—that is, the reclaimed scope of painterly fiction—finds itself so exemplary in his paintings and drawings, one can almost say, in such abstract terms. By questioning and exposing the conditions and effects of painting without filling the new scope with concrete content, he ironically and fully identifies and becomes a symptom of his own time.