The Shift of Desires

Review of ‘It’s about the end that keeps on coming’ by Jay Ticar at West Gallery

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One of the works in Mr. Ticar’s latest exhibition at West

It’s a distressing and shattered world, if you read into the paintings of Jay Ticar, but one that is not without hope or room for contemplation. In his paintings and drawings the Manila-born, Toronto-based artist unravels a surreal world of a falling dream sequence in which liquid forms are melded with the domestic mess of medicinal pills, plates, shoes, and magazines. The objects appear in detail, and figures both deciphered and fantastic complement with each other. The paintings resemble a haunt; the menacing side of an otherwise mundane life that we try to file away at the back of our minds.

Hung bare inside the confined middle room, this exhibition at West Gallery takes in a selection of Ticar’s drawings in blue acrylic which harmoniously coalesce with graphite and ink to create a tangled tableau. The crudeness, in both the execution of the works and his persistent themes: depiction of his material possessions and reconfiguration of his environment runs through all of the works.

The pencil drawings come across as earlier works by a Malaysian artist I once adored, Jalaini Abu Hassan, whose real as well as imagined memories are mixed in the immediate present of his canvas. While Ticar’s works largely explore themes in Filipino diaspora, Hassan’s works reference elements of traditional Malay and modern global culture.

Mr. Ticar has sustained an artistic career as a painter, lecturer, and researcher being awarded prestigious fellowships, most notably as an Asian Public Intellectual, which allowed him to travel and live in different territories. I’ve always seen him as a cut above the rest in his batch at the UP College of Fine Arts but the opinion of those who followed his work is that, he has been out of sight and out mind in his mid-career. It’s a surprise since, Mr. Ticar has always been a formidable painter, albeit one who has kept a tangential participation in the Manila Art Scene. The Japanese Gallery, OTA Fine Arts and the Singapore-based Richard Koh currently represent him.

Like Jailani Abu Hassan, His semiabstract pictures are often based on home interiors, and domestic spaces, but in Ticar, the human figure rarely appears. Mr. Ticar has written that he’s “had problems with his painting,” finding it “ponderously operatic in its imagery though oddly indeterminate and unresolved in tone.” He says he is not interested in figures but don’t mind if they come out naturally in the process of painting. His recent work at West Gallery seem to have this problem all figured out and makes a stronger impact, partly because it takes vacillation as its premise (the end of something that keeps on coming could very well be the process of painting) and builds on it, as if castles forged and washed away on sand.

We can see this in the way he repurposed his painting’s idea. Earlier this year, Mr. Ticar began to work on images of houses that he had come across while visiting parts of the Philippines. He began to add to it, bit by bit, ruminating on the nature of migrant dreams and the shifting of desires that determine the final outcome of the design of Filipino houses. Its work of this sort— convalescent, tentative, derivative— that we see in this exhibition at West Gallery. When his paintings were exhibited last February at Art Fair Philippines at the booth of Richard Koh Fine Arts, everyone took notice of his painting’s resemblance to the ruin left by Typhoon Haiyan. While Mr. Ticar has accepted this as premonitory since he had began painting the series after the Ondoy Flood, the paintings are actually depictions of unfinished houses, which reflect the Filipino aspiration of having the ideal house for the family. These were also done at a time when Mr. Ticar was migrating, giving his work a slightly sentimental tone. According to the exhibition curator, the works are not about destruction, but rather about “reconstructing things as life happens.”

I have observed thus, that drawing falls into the very heart of Mr. Ticar’s practice, although, the pencil drawings in this set have become inscrutable, acting chiefly as compositional elements. When he takes up a black marker, it’s more with a sense of urgency (to fill up the space more rapidly) than intention, and within the swipes and sprinkle of acrylic there’s a pulse of movement and force. They appear as sketches in their lack of detail and the opacity of the ink seem bold and quickly executed like graffiti. Each of the show’s seven pieces, has been treated as a kind of giant sketch pad, which the artist covered with scribbled names and notes to self, and marginalia, preserving the everyday refuse that has passed through his mind and through his house throughout time. The drawing has become like an inventory of objects one keeps in the periphery of memory. The amassing isn’t wholly unfettered. Traces of the original sketch are still visible and to some degree determine what it was he wanted to make in the beginning, and what added objects went where. But over all the new mixed-media pieces come across as open-ended exercises in improvisation, with the process concluding almost arbitrarily. I have commented how his pieces don’t have a single look, to which he retorts, “Iba-iba naman talaga works ko e, walang isang look” (My works are always different, there’s no single look). Mr. Ticar does not aim to pursue a uniform approach to painting or drawing.”

Unlike the bleak and sleek opaqueness of his paintings in Art Fair Philippines, Ticar’s drawings are mistily transparent with forms prowling within a glum palette. But still working on a similar subject, these paintings offer a narrative of confusion, introspection, and ambiguity set in a world suffused by pallid blue with sinuous unreadable forms.

In his artist statement for his exhibition with Richard Koh, Mr. Ticar has said that the objects he has drawn are a “reflection of the socio economic situation” of his subjects. The underlying travails of characters behind the objects are the real subjects of Mr. Ticar.  The drawings act as a personal archaeology; a list of the remnants of his identity that have washed up along with the floods and typhoons and shifts of desires and ambitions. The objects seem like they had been with him in the gulf of lost time, and survived less altered than he is. In my observation of his works, I deduce that they ought to mean something, laden and grave as they were with the mystery of the artists’ own transient existence.

Jay Ticar’s exhibition at West Gallery will run until  24 May. 48 West Avenue, Quezon City . Contact +63 2 411 0336 or info@westgallery.org

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