La Mujer Filipina by Felix Hidalgo

Some doubts have been casts on the authenticity of a Felix Hidalgo painting which was sold by auction recently.

FÉLIX RESURRECCIÓN HIDALGO Y PADILLA (Filipinas, 1855 – España, 1913).
“Nativa Filipina”.
Óleo sobre lienzo.

The most common misgivings are that the painting did not seem to conform to the fashion style of the period when Felix Hidalgo was living, that the painting did not seem to be Filipina, and that the painting is not painted in the style that Hidalgo is known for which is slightly impressionistic.

While the authenticity of the painting is debatable, it would be interesting to speculate on the possibility of Hidalgo painting such a picture. Upon further comparison and closer inspection, one would find out that the style is consistent with his Manila Academy period paintings done before 1879, before he left for further studies in Spain. One can check the paintings posted online and it would be easy to observe that there are two versions of this painting, this one and the other with a lighter tone. Its possible that Felix Hidalgo, painted the same subject twice, once when he was in Manila and the other when he was in Paris shortly after. Artists often revisit former subjects and styles throughout their careers. A portrait without headgear and some décolletage would be daring at any point in Hidalgo’s career and this is probably the point of the painting: an erotic picture, or it could just be about the string of pearls.  Hidalgo started his career as an illustrator and the pearls could be the real subject of this painting. The golden colored pearls give her away, as these have been sourced then and now, in the Philippines. This is definitely a portrait of a Filipina, at least that’s the intention. cf. El Pescador de Sacag painted in 1875 in Manila but is now in the Prado Museum Collection. Hidalgo did not always paint in the impressionist style that he is known for today.

Decolletage was common in Pre-Victorian fashion, also off-shoulder dresses were worn in portraits done by Raden Saleh (cf. Portrait of a lady in Java). Victorian fashion covered the woman’s body, so this picture might be of a woman wearing a dress that has been out of fashion or the painting is a “throwback”. That or this is a pleated undergarment. Filipinas were hardly in-step with fashion trends in Europe, it is after all a portrait of a “Mujer Filipina” and didn’t wear corsets (consistent with this painting) as noted by a Dutch traveller to the Philippines in the 1880s. Fashion styles vary from places and times, but French paintings definitely showed cleavage during this period. I wouldn’t be shocked of bare breasts or a Filipina wearing an outdated European style of clothing. The skintone and her look may appear severe to some but this could be the result of limitations in pigment available at that time. Consistent with other paintings Hidalgo painted before 1879 and the fact that the painting is owned by a Governor General who was assigned in Manila, I am lead to believe that the painting could be a copy painted in his Paris studio of a previous painting , hence the peculiar signature. It is not surprising to have exemptions to a particular style for a particular period in an artistic career. A “remix”, painted for another collector who wanted the same painting.

 

 

Propaganda at Lopez

On Trauma, Postmemory, and Modernity in Propaganda at the Lopez Museum

Imelda Marcos in a regime publication
Imelda Marcos in a regime publication

The beginning half of 2015 for the Manila art scene has marked itself with an endless parade of the second-rate, the trying hard, and the copycat such that when attending one art fair or a gallery exhibition– you’re always confronted by the fact that, despite the quantity of ingenuity out there, our taste makers are always scrambling for quality deprived in favor of mere fad and patronage.

Our city’s top ten listings of anything about the art scene are bullshit. You tend to see, if not the same artists, then the same sort of work time and again. No exception.

***

This realization informs my view of “Propaganda,” a show I visited at the Lopez Museum a few weeks ago. The Lopez, even its present location (they are moving to the Proscenium soon), is a clearing for art beside the jungle of the Philippine Stock Exchange, hideous flyovers and parking lots of Ortigas. It is a place I treasure, more for their books than their exhibitions and I’ve long admired The Lopez’s collection of documents anachronistic in being colonially referred to as Filipiniana. While their Lunas and Hidalgos have become a staple display, the historical materials and documents are seldom integrated into the exhibition.

Propaganda is promising. It stems from the need to integrate shows to the museum and library collection. Hence J. Elizalde Navarro’s A Flying Machine for Icarus has been in every exhibition at the Lopez for more than a decade. No sign of new acquisitions though. A shame, really.

Propaganda, sometimes a derogatory, is a force that surrounds us our whole lives, unless one chooses to live isolated among other incredible hermits. Ford Maddox Ford once conveyed in his writings the sense in which modernism and propaganda are two sides of the same coin of modernity. In other words, all art of the so called modern are one or all of the three: borne, influenced, and informed by propaganda.

An interesting combination puts together conservative painters like Amorsolo with artists coming out from social realism. Which makes sense if you see the SRs as the conservatives in contrast to Chabet-era conceptualism. Two sides of the same coin indeed.

But this delicate choice implies that whatever social commentary you can wrench out of the work of Amorsolo is more important than other virtues found in his paintings. I sometimes felt that the show did not need to apologize for Amorsolo being the way he is. All the more if placed beside Pinoy Socialist Realism. Critic Franz Arcellana wrote in 1948 that Amorsolo’s paintings “have nothing to say” and that they were not hard to understand because “there is nothing to understand.”

Sounds like something one would now say to a painting by (Insert name of your favorite young artist today). But lets not go there.

Throughout the history of modernism in this country, the creation and reception of art in Manila is inseparably linked to disparate political realities. Artists often in autonomous capacities reworked the traditions of abstraction and realism in emerging national and international contexts, creating a range of artworks that seem to have no rythm, responding to popular culture and technologies of reproduction.

Thus Amorsolo’s rare oil on canvas, said to be done while the Intendencia (the customs house) burned during the first aerial bomb raids of the last World War deserves a reexamination more for the benefit of the present generation than his.

Don Salubayba, a nimble artist who crossed the other side too soon, has in the middle of the exhibition, a representative work of two shadow puppets. The guide said that the inclusion was intended as a tribute. But I hardly see that fitting, as it literally, does not fit neatly in the tight rounded exhibition space. Salubayba worked best in the box medium ala Joseph Cornell.

Joey Cobcobo, a good artist unfortunately destined to become one of our forgettable Thirteen Artists Awardees at least got his installation half-right by collecting ladders of houses by informal settlers and lodging them up to the exposed ceiling of the museum. On the platform is a big stamp pad where one inevitably steps on before walking on the canvas laid out on the platform. While the idea is strong, the work is visually weak. A more daring artist would have taken more ladders and barricaded the entire room with it and done away with anything else. I asked the guide how he got them and she told me, to my relief, that he replaced the ladders in the informal settler communities with better-constructed ones.

Be that as it may, Cobcobo’s charity work does not lessen his being a stalwart of printmaking. In fact, his practice is a testament. The exhibition in some way reveals the possibilities and contribution of print media to the development of contemporary art in Manila. It just seemed too contrived that he had to incorporate aspects of printmaking even in this piece.

I cannot find justification on how the numerous drawings of Nunelucio Alvarado can be considered museum-worthy. When hung together with the drawing of Manansala and a striking medium-sized painting by Legaspi, Alvarado’s work trembles. He should be challenged.

Legaspi, what can I say? He is still the most meaningful painter to become National Artist. In going with the show’s theme, a footnote to his works should’ve stated that he was a propagandist before he became an artist, as a commercial illustrator and copywriter working for the advertising department of Elizalde & Co. (The same man who made up the Tasaday hoax?) While Manansala’s rendering of Rizal’s character, Simoun, perhaps the greatest propagandist in Philippine fiction, for a textbook, can give any of today’s hotshot artists a run for his money.

Alvin Yapan’s video work on the rice cartel, however, is right on the money. I have heard of these rice cartels funding candidates in the elections and I admire his timely artistic response to this.

As we exit the first room, Propaganda returns to where the Amorsolo painting begins by devoting its attention to the leitmotif of our nation’s traumatic history: An installation work on the Philippine Revolution of 1896 through the installation of Santiago Bose reconstructed by his fellow Baguio boy Kawayan de Guia. The Japanese Occupation’s propaganda was mainly coursed through the radio and by the now vintage posters and flyers. One of which describes the virtues of Jose Laurel as a puppet President. Special attention should be given to Imelda Marcos’s menacing game face as depicted in one of the Marcos regime’s publication.

Hidalgo study for his magnum opus "The Assasination of Governor General Bustamante and his son"
Hidalgo study for his magnum opus “The Assasination of Governor General Bustamante and his son”

Editorial cartoons during the Martial Law era serve as figures of memory in the course of a repressive time. Philippine artistic sensibilities may have been conceived in conflict and hardship. In both literature and the visual arts, one can frame the history of Philippines as one inextricably tied to the dark side of modernity. Stemmed out of tradition and grafted from developments in Western art, our contemporariness is marred by instabilities and ruptures, destruction and unacknowledged trauma.

The Lopez exhibition gives us a slight view of memory and modernism in postwar Philippines- even if, over and over again, these memories are subtly suppressed. Modernity and memory cannot do without each other. The exhibition shows that Philippine painting after the war rarely acknowledged the violence of the Japanese in general, much less the Battle of Manila probably out of ignorance. To the instinctive mind, the artifacts make up for it as they provide a window to the horrors.

An installation piece by Santiago Bose reconstructed by Kawayan De Guia

One can perceive the art patronized by the Marcos regime in conjunction with result of its overwhelming aestheticization of politics that left the Philippines visual imagination destitute. The end of the Marcos regime’s effect was an orphaned post-EDSA art scene, one that is without institutional support or connection to the “fathers” of art movements gone before. This is partially reacted to by the works of Santiago Bose upon his return to Baguio in 1986.

The horrors of World War II did not emerge as themes in subsequent decades despite Manila being one of the most devastated city. Contrasts the work of Anselm Kiefer and the fluxus movement of Berlin, which ran concurrent with the generational revolt, and the rediscovery of an earlier early avant-garde. Contrast this to the leanings of our American modernist titans: Lee Aguinaldo, Fernando Zobel, Jose Joya, and Napoleon Abueva who all but forgot about the shame and tortures of war. Last but not the least, the celebration of the modernist avant-garde in the imagination of Roberto Chabet who conceived of reviving it through an institutional award. This sensibility stretched on until the 90s, thereafter, it became a blur. Ours is a violent modernism. In the Baudelarian sense, we simply forgot who we were.

Simoun by Vicente Manansala, an ink on paper piece used in textbooks of Philippine Literature
Simoun by Vicente Manansala, an ink on paper piece used in textbooks of Philippine Literature

Aside from Demetrio Diego who painted the Capas Prison camp and the Bataan Death March, it is rare to see a Filipino artist who confronted the Philippine’s difficult history of occupation. Yet as one points out, the trauma itself remained untouched. Amorsolo’s other famous painting of man saving a woman from rape of a Jap soldier does not lack the idealism of his landscapes. Yet, not even with the rise of pork barell funded memorials in the 1990s did the horrors of World War II enter the Philippine public sphere. As with the trauma of Martial Law, none of those who attempted to make art out of it were significant enough. Even the Lopez patronized National Artist BenCab seems to have skipped this one out.

As I figured, Propaganda the exhibition was never intended to commemorate historical events but rather to call attention to the underlying principles in contemporary art and media, the persistence of conspiratorial images in the present.

One cannot discount the resistance and co-optation of artists and filmmakers in the Marcos propaganda machine and it would have been a good addition to an exhibition like this one.

The trauma of occupation in Philippines Postwar Art argues that the psychological disorder caused by violent experiences and the consequential inability to work through these memories are evinced in postwar Manila by repetition and endless fragmentation that are fundamentally tied to our colonial past.
An installation piece by Santiago Bose reconstructed by Kawayan De Guia
In Manila, I rarely see an artist explore the critical issue of how to render violence without beautifying it. Propaganda in some way succeeds in illustrating the misrepresentation of the experience, the horror. For this reason, the artistic engagement with the Marcos regime, a delusional and fascist regime, served as a surrogate for engaging directly with the human rights abuse, the ill-gotten wealth, and the folly of the Imeldific. Hence, the treatment today of art that flourished both under and against the Martial Law regime as a skeleton in the closet. Again, another rupture in art history.

The documents and printed materials of the Lopez would have connected the void of images capable of visualizing the unimaginable to the crisis of representation today within the SR tradition. But they chose the wrong documents and images and did not pick the right Santiago Bose works to do this.

Real things and real happenings, which occupied the aesthetic practice of the so called avant-garde in the 1970s-1990s, are much better suited to memorize violence, an insight that brings to mind the question; where in this exhibition are the good conceptual social realists?

The Propaganda of the Japanese Occupation and the Martial Law are similar in the sense that both are now regarded as distant ghosts, observing that even artists who lived during this time tended to rework media images rather than representing the violent events themselves. And I’m not talking about the Joven Mansit kind of nostalgia.

Cesar Legaspi
Cesar Legaspi

Certainly Martial law was one of the occasions that shaped postwar Manila as a culture of mass media spectacles. Memories of the Martial Law, one can argue are for the most part metonymical with mediated images and are thus from the very outset coupled to its visualization. In conclusion, one can assert a new form of trauma, one linked to media images rather than the actual events. The development of Philippine art languishes in this trauma and phantom as it is only available through already mediated images that evoke notions of postmemory (the subsequent generation’s memory of something that happened before their time) from the very beginning.

Through close readings of these artworks, weak or forceful, the exhibition reveals various aesthetic responses that inscribe violence and oppression into the history of art through the exposure of mass media technologies and images. Importantly these artists didn’t criticize the violence of the dictatorship or failed land reform per se but rather its portrayal as filtered through media images.

Though a staple of the Lopez experience and not a special inclusion to the curated exhibition, Hidalgo’s portrait of friars as a study to his magnum opus, The Assasination of Governor General Bustamante and his son jibes well in this exhibit by highlighting painting’s role during Hidalgo’s time in documenting historical figures and sentiments (the painting was done many years after the Governor was killed and was said to be influenced by black propaganda by the Freemasons). Not discounting that his Per Pacem et Libertatem is his greatest work of art or of propaganda. I can’t really tell.

Through these examinations, the exhibition shows how representations connect to myth-making rather than direct experience. The aesthetic repetition of mass media images can also form traumatic memory. This leads us to forget other competing experiences that interfere with recalling the event behind the propaganda. The very act of remembering the lies may be one of the major reasons why we have forgotten in the first place. #

The calm on this side of the border belies the scene on the other side

_MG_4535
Joseph Tecson’s diptych painting ‘Snow Business’ and Jason Tecson’s polyurethane sculpture, Burn-out site exhibited in The calm on this side of the border…” at West Gallery in Quezon City.

In “The calm on this Side of the Border Belies the Scene on the Other Side,” brothers Jason and Joseph Tecson exhibit sculptures and oil paintings which mark a highlight in their individual careers. The paintings were started during Joseph’s stint as a resident artist at Whitespace Blackbox in Neuchatel, Switzerland while the sculptures are part of a series started by Jason Tecson prior to his two-person exhibit with Syrian artist Thaer Maarouf for an exhibition at Sana Gallery in Singapore. The title is taken from a CNN investigative report by Scott Bronstein on the Islamic extremist group known as ISIS. The influence of aberrant psychologies, urban gangs and graffiti, hip-hop culture, terroristic violence, prisons, globalization, waste and consumption on the two artists has never been more keenly felt. Jason Tecson’s approach to form is crude and intuitive, suggesting violence and lending the work powerful emotional and political overtones. The artist draws freely upon the history of art, evoking primitive sculpture, ideological icons, and pre-Hispanic artifacts; indeed, the synthesis of myriad forms is evidenced in his uncanny choice of materials. These media appears aggressive and is a product of an abstract process, one concerned with the integration of structure and social aesthetics. Styrofoam, wood, polyurethane, fiberglass, metal, terra cotta and found objects are among the numerous ingredients Jason Tecson employs in his totems and fragmented figures. Archaeology is an important touchstone for the artist, referencing the raw landscapes of war zones and Manila ghettos. In harmony and contrast to his brother’s sculptures, Joseph Tecson, paints with a roughness obtained from a youth spent in jail, and softness, like the meditations of a troubled Siddhartha under the Bo tree. Joseph Tecson is lenient, even decadent, in his use of paint, and this attitude—in which manner, and ardor for the essential tactility of painting—defeats all other concerns. Channeling the incomparable personal evolution that struggling artists brought to painting, Joseph Tecson’s newest canvases are an extension of his previous series, triggering his series on Philippine and Swiss Landscapes, in which spray-painted pigment shines through gestural layers in the form of the alps and palms done in thick white oil paint. This time, delicate markings recalling handwriting or meandering scribbles à la Albert Oehlen appear on murky diptychs. There’s more direction in his gestures, and no brushstrokes, but every bit of the attitude of an artist who, after saying he experienced both “heaven and hell on earth” in the aftermath of his first solo show with Light and Space Contemporary in 2012, has a gnawing longing for long hours in his studio—with all the intention to break the medium of painting to its limits. Jason Tecson was born in 1982 in Quezon City, Philippines. He studied Fine Arts at the Ateneo De Manila University and Far Eastern University. Recent exhibitions include “Cool Memories” Gallery Planet, Seoul, South Korea (2014); “Radiation,” Chulalongkorn University Art Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand (2014); “Applied Savagery,” Now Gallery, Makati (2012); “Terror Decor,” West Gallery (2013); and “Jason Tecson: Eroded Myths,” Sana Gallery Singapore. Concurrent with this exhibition at West Gallery are sculptural installations at the De La Salle- College of St. Benilde and at the Ayala Museum for Fringe MNL. He will hold another solo exhibition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in October 2015. Tecson lives and works in Manila, Philippines. Joseph Tecson was born in 1985 in Quezon City, Philippines. In 2008 he was involved in a high profile drug case, which made it to the headlines of local and international media including CNN and Al Jazeera. Drawing from the horrific experiences of languishing in a Manila Jail, he worked on large canvasses in his tiny cell that would then be exhibited in Manila Galleries. His first solo exhibition was held at Magnet Gallery in Quezon City in 2010. In 2012 He was eventually acquitted of all charges and started to work with Light and Space Contemporary as a resident artist. With an exhibition of large canvasses entitled “Over and Out,” he was the last featured artist of the now defunct Manila Contemporary. In 2014, A Swiss gallery, Whitespace Blackbox, selected him as its first represented artist. This year he will embark on a residency, which would take him to different cities from Munich to Mexico to paint various portraits, colloquially called “Outmates series”. Jason Tecson and Joseph Tecson “The Calm on this Side of the Border Belies the Scene on the Other Side” opens with a reception for the artist on Wednesday, 18 February, and remains on view through 21 March 2015. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11AM to 6PM. West Gallery, 48 West Avenue, Quezon City For more information contact: +63 2 411 0336 or info@westgallery.org

Jigger Cruz Superstar

Erratum:

An earlier version of the article included a paragraph on the sale of a painting by Jigger allegedly stolen and sold via auction by Salcedo Auctions.

The paragraph reads:

“Two years ago, Salcedo Auctions, sold another stolen painting of JC against his advice. It was a painting he initially submitted for a book that never materialized. When JC met up with the collector who consigned the work, she said that it was part of the things she inherited when her father died and it was sold to them unaware that it was a stolen piece.”

The said paragraph has been deleted for the following reasons.

1. That the information provided is unsubstantiated, immaterial, and potentially libelous.

2. This writer failed to earlier consult with Salcedo Auctions regarding the events and agreements that transpired between the parties involved thus the information stated as fact in the previous article cannot be corroborated and proven. The Art Explainer holds no accusations against the auction house and the parties involved.

3. The phrasing of the paragraph may be taken wrongly to connote and opine about the business practices of the auction house. The writer does not aim to write a critique of the auction house and the art market, except only to illustrate the rise of Jigger Cruz’s career.

The writer, Geronimo Cristobal, Jr. wishes to formally apologize to Salcedo Auctions and Ms. Karen Lerma for the lapses itemized above.

I have pleaded with the auction house to repost the article on the condition that I will write a new entry clarifying the above statement.

May the readers and the subscribers of this blog be guided accordingly.

 

***

Jigger Cruz - “Obnoxiously Beautiful,” Oil on canvas, 12 x 9 inches, 2010 grabbed from West Gallery website
Jigger Cruz – “Obnoxiously Beautiful,” Oil on canvas, 12 x 9 inches, 2010 grabbed from West Gallery website

Jigger Cruz was among the country’s under 30 superstars but can he live up to the hype?

There are a number of reasons attributed to the success of Jigger Cruz, the most recent darling du jour of Philippine painting. The easy one is that he did something differently but not dumbfounding. He created a middle ground in contemporary painting between the conservative and the avant garde ambitions and was accessible to the power players who lifted him up to prominence. His works seemed, at first, untamed and fresh but were also flattering in a living room.

It’s been a full two years now since I first saw his paintings and JC’s wings have yet to spread fully. A little bird told me, more shows in Europe, one in the famous Louvre museum (by direct selection of its curator), a solo feature in the Armory Show, and representation in a major gallery in the US is forthcoming before the year ends.

A long way definitely for the wunderkind from Malabon. If all of these falls through, he will be the most prominent name in Philippine Art.

For all the experimentations, expectations, and the gimmicks over what should define contemporary art, Jigger only took what was there, much as what other successful painters before him did. Emanating from the context of a broken art community with a strange artistic tradition, he set out turning the whole practice of painting on its head by focusing on chaos, with paintings that have a sort of an unformed and unstable nature, its violence, and making a saga out of that, a formula that has earmarked him for importance: the promise of a star.

Like many other painters JC started out in the underground. Born and raised, as he once joked, near the factory of Rufina Patis, and educated at the Far Eastern University, Cruz was in and out of many cheap studios until he took up an apprenticeship with Manuel Ocampo at the defunct Department of Avant Garde Cliches and a studio residency at Light and Space Contemporary.  Before that, while sharing an apartment with another painter, Jason Montinola, Jigger was not only living the classic drama of a struggling artist, he epitomized it. There were days when they would share a single viand of steamed kangkong or okra, which JC found dreadful but had grown to like eventually. As Montinola had put it in words, “Walang choice! You eat that or you go hungry!” The experience had so marked JC that even when he had already started selling paintings he would prefer the steamed veggie viand, perhaps as a reminder of humble beginnings.

To friends and new acquaintances, JC remains the same, but his works have not. Since those days he took each painting more ambitiously so that without the monetary value pinned on them, it would’ve taken us so many years to come to terms with his vast but essentially very simple artistic practice.

But the shock value of Jigger Cruz’s practice, is actually late by at least a hundred years. The issues he confronts in his paintings are the very reasons that gave rise to modern painting. But only in his stark opposition of figure and abstraction, or better the classical/conservative against the modern/revolutionary in a single work did it become apparent. Coming out of a generation (my generation) strongly beholden to figurative painting, it was only a matter of time when his kind of works appeared.  His works are an occasion to observe the boring but deeply seated issues between vehemently opposed, albeit farcically, aesthetics of our time.

Jigger’s first forays into painting had already been met with favor. He triumphed in small painting contests in school, an occasion which he recalls with a certain nostalgia. Those days, JC knew what sort of paintings won contests but he was still uncertain if the career of an exhibiting artist was for him. After graduating from FEU, he took up a course in Multimedia Arts at the College of St. Benilde in La Salle. It was a career decision trumped by his love for painting. He couldn’t last doing things on a computer, I recall him saying. Even then he would still go back to painting, watching out for art contests and joining group exhibitions.

A curious thing happened last year when one of his entries to an art contest turned up on the black market. Apparently, one his professors sold a painting donated to the university. Jigger gave a go signal to a collector to purchase the painting rather than wonder where it would go. In his words, “Baka kung saan pa mapunta.”

From this event, we see the evidence of Jigger’s rise as a painter and also the unscrupulous behaviors of certain people in the art market.

I first met Jigger Cruz at the UP College of Fine Arts where he was visiting an ex-girlfriend. A beauteous freshman.  I have heard of him before, and thought the guy must be smug. What with a name like ‘Jigger’ can you expect a humble and congenial guy with a good taste in music and art.  I eventually made the acquaintance of JC while working as a curator at the defunct City School, where we held the very last exhibition entitled “Impending Doom.”  Out of 20 works on view, only JC’s work was sold. It was a collage with oil paint, a torn canvas, and potato chips, which my girlfriend back then absolutely hated but I staunchly defended. It was the first among his abstractions but no one knew its significance and was sold for a fraction of its estimated worth now.

The reason being, that the contradictions implicated in the work of JC stems from an audience with unrefined tastes or an audience still smitten by the esoteric, cultivating mystery ever more than technique. Bound by notions of what contemporary painting should be like, and what attitudes it should foreground, rather than merely being in dialogue with a tradition. It is in this same extent that JC confines the meaning of his works to the precise appeal of the colorful surface.

Lets backtrack a bit to JC’s exhibition in West Gallery in September 2011. The very first time his works were featured in a cohesive exhibition. What intrigued me was, when I saw the paintings, it looked like something that crossed my mind. This is and will always be the quality of a good painting for me, when it pushes the viewer to empathize with the painting enough to assume that he could have done it himself.

Only a few months before that, a collector had turned down a Jigger Cruz painting when it was offered at the booth of West Gallery in Manila Art 2012 because he had already ‘bought something else.’ Contrast this to his Blanc exhibition in 2014 where collectors put a reserve on his paintings they have not even seen.

My conclusion is that nobody really bothered what was there to like in Jigger Cruz except that the economy behind it had swept the art world like a storm surge. No one knew what it was like until it happened.

Jigger did not break a tradition of painting, in fact he signaled the successful return of painting in the mainstream. It turned out, painting was only dead…in the Philippines. Those who came before him, Rodel Tapaya, Ronald Ventura, and John Santos were just heralding the return as spin offs of the 80s social realist painters, when the medium thrived in the hands of first and second quarter storm painters.

In the waning years of Chabet-era conceptualism and the subsequent, albeit misguided return to figurative painting ushered in by poor mentorship in our art academies, along came Jigger Cruz, who braved the murky history of painting, the loaded instruments of oil painting and the weight of all the wrong done in the name of art. His entrance is the prophecy and the mocking to the generations of painters before him.

Jigger once told me his least favorite works are those that are framed because he only made them to destroy the very identity of the painting as painting and in effect to demolish the very definition of what a painting ought to look like and how it should be treated (not your grandmother’s heirloom)

The unmixed chemical color sometimes squeezed straight out of a tube or through an icing pipe entails the process of freely, joyously, and bravely painting works that give flavor of life, as one would have on a piece of cake. The play is on the opposition of such colors (greens vs. reds, reds vs. oranges greens vs. yelllows, etc.) He draws from modernist techniques, including but not limited to those used by artists of L’ art brut, Arte Povera, German Neo-expressionism, the Spatialism, and combines them.

The motivation

Jigger Cruz works without an underlying discipline, though, he is always hard at work. What I mean is that, he does not work with a system but essentially against it. He does not have the hidden geometrics of minimalists, no special techniques you can’t learn on your own, and though he has worked on pieces of old masters, he expresses disregard for them by sometimes hiring assistants (and more often repeating their work when he is not satisfied). While he has trained formally in the fine arts and apprenticed with his seniors, he has not sought the traces of older painters and placed them on their canvas. Whatever he has painted, he has discovered on his own.

But JC of recent, who has had to deal with rising auction prices and international representations has doubts, gropes, and hesitations, instead of deepening his discovery. His later works in ARNDT Berlin booth at the Singapore Art Stage have been a bit of disappointment to many of his followers. For me, it appeared a bit fragmented, and without direction. What manifested was no longer the enthusiasm of the West Gallery exhibition but the exhaustion of the i-can-never-go-wrong-because-i’m-young. The shows in ARNDT reek of the causes for early retirement from the wretched occupation of being an artist.

For a while i thought, his paintings no longer bear the delight of genius that was the aura of his earlier paintings until I visited his studio and was absolutely stunned by an original painting done in 1943 by a student of Amorsolo which he had painted on. This he did only to be shown in his house and I concluded, that the commerce will kill him and will derail his work from its objective to be difficult and disgusting to the very audiences that view them. I remember the time when Jigger would laugh every time someone said sorry for touching the oil paint and find out that it was still wet or when his frames get accidentally damaged.  It’s all part of his work’s character that wishes to downplay all the ‘non-sense of painting display’ and preservation in order to highlight the collapsible and often ephemeral investment of soul and spirit onto the canvas.

How Jigger got his international break

I recall a story how JC got his break. Interior decorator and art manager Miguel Rosales had scheduled a show in Italy for the painter, Pow Martinez. Due to conflicts in schedule or contracts Martinez, informed Rosales that he couldn’t make it. While visiting Martinez in his studio, he chanced on JC’s works which were kept downstairs and so he offered the show to him instead.

But his show in Italy did not confirm him as an artist nor did it reinforce him. At best it indicated that the strength of his works was too big for the pond of the Manila art scene. In a few months he would exhibit internationally again, this time in a solo feature with Primo Noctis in Lugano, Switzerland a subsidiary of Primo Marella in Milan. But even the strength of the Milan-based gallery cannot contain him. In less than a year, the Berlin-based Matthias Arndt would eventually pick him up, after signing on Rodel Tapaya and Geraldine Javier a few months earlier. The difference? Unlike Tapaya or Javier, JC at 28 then, has no museum shows, is not a 13 Artists Awardee or was ever nominated for an Ateneo Art Award. His rise in the art scene says screw you to all the institutions that portend or pretend to legitimize the kind of art that deserves to be seen.

Some sources have denied this, but my favorite story of Jigger was how he was repeatedly rejected when submitting portfolios to certain galleries along Pasong Tamo. After his international debut, these same galleries would offer him solo exhibitions. Instead he showed in Light and Space, then based in Fairview where I was starting out as an assisting curator to the generous Jason Tecson. It was a show of 22 works on paper and three oil on canvasses, all were snatched on the first day of installation. It was the first sold out exhibition of the gallery.

Around this time, the work of Ventura went unsold in the Christies Auction and activities of suspicious entities like the “art mafia” had circulated. Suddenly, contracts became de rigueur among art galleries who wanted to keep their most prized artists.  Case in point was when Rodel Tapaya bolted out of the formidable Drawing Room Gallery after a major exhibition at the Vargas Museum. New aggressive spaces had been put up. It was an exciting time, which became more apparent in the explosive debut of Art Fair Philippines in February 2013.

It was almost natural and even imminent that a supernova was occurring. The fertile skies had it written and a superstar was born.

How did the art market suddenly single out one young painter? My explanation is rather sentimental because in the years I have worked with Jigger Cruz as a writer and curator, I have always responded to his creations in the same way. Anyone who has ever been young and in love and besotted with idealism can’t help but respond to Jigger’s expression of so much freedom and recklessness. He has the natural painter’s gift–but more important, he has the power to lend an extraordinary vitality and glamour to the activities that make the art.

Many of the most successfully daring postwar painters committed to the establishment of an art tradition and the translation of styles. Zobel abruptly shifted to abstraction after seeing a Mark Rothko as a student in Rhode Island. Lee Aguinaldo patterned his abstractions after the painters of East 10th Street, New York where he had briefly resided. Abueva and Joya in the 50s came back from schooling in the US where they refined their modernist tendencies, shedding their more traditional works to set-up a more up-to-date curriculum at the UP Fine Arts. Rod Paras-Perez was a Harvard-educated critic who espoused a certain look and feel, kept the tempo of the art scene to the tune of those heard in the West. In all these events, Filipino artists have not actually pioneered anything. Merely growing art by grafting from developments elsewhere. This trend continues until today.

Jigger is in the company of those artists, along with a few more senior painters. Well-trained in the sensibilities of western contemporary art, his visual control has become impeccable. One is struck by his ability to nudge on his long, deliberate, graceful stroke – like one would sketch a line- squeeze by squeeze: the abstract painting supplants the laboriously painted figure beneath.

The importance of criticism

Jigger has suffered a fate worse than being unjustly neglected by criticism: he’s been unjustly praised in all the wrong forums.

Without serious analysis, his paintings will become at best, moot and academic experiments, and most audiences, looking in his life for the revolutionary painter that his devotees claim to have discovered, will be disappointed. Nothing much has been written of him even in the papers and while his works grace the pages of glamorous magazines, I doubt if opinions by fashionistas actually amount to anything in the long-term.

It is also not clear to many even in write-ups even by international galleries which currently represent him, what his actual motivations are for painting and how it is significant in the current milieu.

JC is among the few painters who painted for a future time, and we, especially we, in the art world, have only begun to appreciate him. Considering his early rise, one suspects a glum shadow over his work. The question of, will it fail, or will it endure?

I remember the socialite painter Oscar Zalameda was once the most expensive Filipino artist but last I checked, his paintings have no takers yet on Ebay.

My assessment can only be tendentious and biased because as his friend, I have a stake in his success and I sincerely wish JC all the best.  But let me explain it this way: the information revolution and greater access for independent research by artists has created what I call a ‘permanent now,’ something originally conceptualized in music history. This notion pertains to the elimination of our sense of artistic eras. If you took the long view, Jigger Cruz is only among the first wave of artists who have worked with no particular clique, movement, coterie, or school. He has established the style almost independently. In other words, he either stands out as a genius or a fluke.  His success will be determined not by how hard his agents are working or how many paintings can be sold in his lifetime, it will ultimately be defined by those who follow in his footsteps.

In comparison to the nuclear explosion of superstars elsewhere, Jigger Cruz arrived for the Philippine Art world like a time-bomb, seeming completely opportune and revelatory at once – his importance being the culmination of many struggles in painting and also the beginning of an exploration towards an infinite possibility in art making unrestrained by many baggages.  How could we not view Amorsolo or Luna or Zobel or Aguinaldo without Jigger Cruz in mind, the offspring of decades of wandering in the desert without fulfilling the promise land of a true national art form. In this Exodus, Cruz works instantly insisted themselves as an anchor of possibilities. It certainly proved what was possible for a Filipino painter who only worked locally to sail away towards the horizon of the international art scene.

To be continued…

The Shift of Desires

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

Image
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

Don Dalmacio and the manual of painting

Review of Don Dalmacio’s Condensed and Evaporated at BLANC

Image
Too late for today, Too early for tomorrow. 60 x 48 in, acrylic on canvas, 2014. Photo not mine. Grabbed from the website of BLANC. http://blanc.ph/exhibits/

I vividly remember going to the Cultural Center of the Philippines in July 2009 to see the works of the latest 13 Artists Awardees at that time. By now I have forgotten most of the works in that show but the paintings of Don Dalmacio are stuckin my head. It’s been five years since then when I visited Blanc Gallery last week and was surprised to see his works have evolved and greatly refined. Five years ago was all about distortion and understatement. I thought of a word for it: ‘satiation’ or repletion: the state of being satisfactorily full and unable to take on more. The irony of being hollow but unable to contain. His style has taken on a life that is intuitive and honest. Dalmacio, whom I have not met in person but have personally written a fan mail appears the most composed of young artists who exhibited at the CCP during that time, in contrast to the frenetic works by Kawayan De Guia or the hideous atmospheric and round drawing by Christina Dy, Dalmacio’s paintings on the wall genuinely appealed to be simple but profound.

In Jose Saramago’s, The Manual of calligraphy and painting, the lead character is a struggling young artist named H, commissioned to paint a portrait of a influential industrialist named S. In the novel, H. begins to work, but he has conflicted feelings about doing yet another flattering, bland depiction. He resents his client’s success and confidence; he envies him and is fascinated by him. In frustration, H. starts a second, secret version of the portrait, painted to adhere to his own developing ideas of art and truth (from the book’s cover notes). Upon seeing the paintings “Hollow Men” at the CCP Hallway, I imagine Dalmacio as that struggling young artist who was probably in the same predicament. They appear to me as alternate portraits commissioned by egocentric oligarchs. Moving because they seem like characters so prominent during the Macapagal-Arroyo regime.

Because the CCP hallway is without ample floorspace, the works worked better when seen from across the hall or from the corner of the eye. In “Hollow Man,” Dalmacio is like Saramago’s H who emphasized on the hunt for truth and therefore meaning. He has turned to producing secret portraits for their potential to tell the story, relying on silence to tell even the most politically agitated motive, hence the subdued images.

The boundaries of his figuration were so undefined, that it was at risk of being misconstrued as repression. The effect is a temptation to disrobe the socio-political dimension of the artwork. What the artist presents is actually a gesture of reluctance, impressionable, and rather contrastingly not a brave decision on his part but timid or calculated but it came out to me as the most deserving of scrutiny in all the awardee’s works on display because it revives something that was already long lost in the tradition of Philippine painting.

I am not so keen on the title of the show or the way simultaneous shows in Blanc are presented almost without celebration normally accorded to solo exhibitions. In Condensed and Evaporated, Dalmacio seems to have thrown out the socio-political dimension of his work and have built upon his form. The paintings have become lighter and skittish. His subjects have become contemplative and easy; natural.

He has created images that resonate, although, quite ineffectively of his own artistic voice that is now just an inflection from the CCP paintings. Don Dalmacio’s monotone, often mixed with drab colors tells of an even more potent detachment. Not a hint of concern or excitement. This cool attitude has also become the source of weakness because they no longer attempt to push or hold something together even if just an empty space. He has become, contrary to his written statement on the catalogue of the CCP, not a man to riot but of temperament. He has eschewed the tendency to paint in large format, which I regret, because he plays so much on focus; what is visible or what remains? In one of the paintings I recalled, rather than leaving out the face, he erases it, thereby ripping off identity in his assumption that the viewer would psychosomatically associate his portrait with the body. But he hides and refuses access to it. It is emptiness and estrangement that abounds in his work like a tamer Antonio Saura who has dissected and deconstructed the human body only to show its gnawing torture and exhaustion.

What Condensed and Evaporated feels like is none of the satiation I found earlier in his work but a less arduous attempt at tabula rasa. Painting the subject to make it disappear. I would wish to obtain full details of the sketched-out objects in paintings such as ‘Close, Open, Close, Open,’ but it has become apparent that in the practice of Dalmacio, this is not the point. Notice ‘Too much sleep makes you go blind,’ where he is articulating the burden of wanting to say so much in a painting; expressing that there is also a threshold in subduing. Any artist who has worked with the most meager of means knows this. Before concluding that the canvas is never empty, Rauschenberg recognized this same struggle, that you have to always give something to see in order to hint at what is being hidden. The most important thing to notice in the show then, is the opposing forces behind the practice of painting, to be both brimming and quiet, and to ride the trembling. #

 

The exhibition Condensed and Evaporated runs from April 5-26 at BLANC Gallery along Whiteplains Avenue in Quezon City.

Chocolate Ruins by Rodel Tapaya in ARNDT BERLIN

Rodel Tapaya’s main piece at ARNDT’s primary location in Berlin resists blatant interpretation. In his expansive painting, The Chocolate Ruins, the blend of thematically related images impresses a conflated disquiet and a sense of simultaneous ironies. Speaking in the reconstructed and often esoteric language of folklore¬ – myths and legends and their transfer in barbershop talk and current events – his works resurface age-old wisdom to comment on our contemporary life. All the images are visually connected by parts of the cacao plant, scattered across the canvas, each one dedicated to the three major disasters that has devastated the Philippines during the past year; a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, Supertyphoon Haiyan, and the scandal over widespread misuse of congressional funds.
Chocolates are easily a substitute for anything that corrupts, be it money, beauty, or tradition; an insinuation to its prominent role in the bittersweet aspirations and decline of Imperial Spain’s colonial rule over the Philippines. Other elements in the tragic tableau show vestiges of church ruins, makeshift shelters, storm clouds with faces, and helpless men.
As our living and thinking increasingly adapt to the unremitting charge of information, artists like Rodel Tapaya have developed an ability to isolate particular parts of this dissonance and arrange them in fresh dramatic combinations. Tapaya has an awareness of the world as one would an ancient storyteller with insight developed in the context of the events that have altered into other things, and explores the implication of these dynamic and inexhaustible symbols and narratives in relation to one another. In a time and place when these myths and legends have become ruins as well, of national identity, the painter looks not to new discoveries to catalogue the human condition, but rather pathways among the thicket of things already known to our ancestors and his nation’s literary heritage.

 

Image
Rodel Tapaya, The Chocolate Ruins, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 304,8 x 731,52 cm | 120 x 288 in, # TAPA0031 | Big work for the ARNDT Berlin exhibition “The Chocolate Ruins”, 2014

http://www.arndtberlin.com/website/artist_24872?idx=t

Marina Cruz: Inside Out

Image

Marina Cruz, Laced-top, 2012, mixed-media assemblage, 37 in x 55 in

Immersed in the various conceptual layers offered by her mother’s collection of dresses, Marina Cruz conveys a series of related pictures as part of her process of representing the narratives weaved upon them, focusing on the discrepancies between visual and verbal references. Through her three-fold representations, Marina Cruz’s latest body of work alludes to the gaps between memory and representation; the envisioning moment towards the development of a painting in the manner in which Joseph Kosuth tackled the seminal conceptual work, One and Three Chairs.

The exhibition is a follow-up to Marina Cruz’s “foot-noted” paintings for the Ernst and Young ASEAN Art Outreach entitled The Connective Thread. She says the method was born out of her curiosity “to present what the wearer of the dress felt on their skin against what is seen on the outside.” “The difference between two appearances of the same thing,” she adds “defies a single formal understanding.” One dress can be represented in multiple ways, rendering the photograph and the dress painted on the canvas elusive to a strict definition. First used in her Unfold Series of 2008, the incorporated notes of her accounts and interviews about the dresses, suggests their value as story-tellers of the lives of people they once clothed. Composed uniformly like a photo-album, the works signal the combination the artists’ techniques of visual deconstruction. These works relate to the fragmented experiences in the lives of her twin mother and aunt, seldom associated with her art as a conscious process of recollection.

Marina Cruz was born in Hagonoy, Bulacan. She graduated cum laude from the University of the
Philippines College of Fine Arts and has since shown prominently in several exhibitions in Manila, New York, Beijing, Jakarta, Singapore, and Hongkong with the Drawing Room Gallery. Her first solo exhibition outside the country, The Connective Thread, for the Ernst and Young ASEAN Art Outreach Program was held in Singapore. In 2007, she won both the grand prize of the Philippine Art Awards and the Ateneo Art Awards which gave her the opportunity to attend a fellowship at La Trobe University’s Visual Arts Center in Bendigo, Australia. She was also awarded the Freeman Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center in 2008. Her solo exhibition, Inside Out at Ben Cab Museum, will concurrently run with another exhibition, In the House of Memory, at MSAC- Taipei which will open on the 5th of May.

Marina Cruz: Inside Out
Gallery Indigo, BENCAB Museum,
Km. 6, Asin Road, Tuba,
Metro Baguio City, Philippines
April 21 – June 17, 2012
Opening: Friday, April 21, 2012, 4 – 6:30 PM