POSTLOCAL: Painting was born out of an answer to a question asked nine months ago in Japan. Curator Isa Lorenzo was in Tokyo completing a Japan Foundation art residency, and in her time alone (and away), looked back at the Filipino local art community and wondered: “What do we look like?” Perhaps bouncing from her surrounding environment, where the group takes primacy over the individual, and identity takes root from the collective, Lorenzo thought about the Filipino contemporary art community’s self-image and realized: “We don’t know [it] yet. Time will tell and I do know that it is being built.”
Drawing from this, Lorenzo thought of POSTLOCAL, a show, minimal in quantity, yet with effects, wide and deep. Selected artists come together for a group show, yet this time, the artists don't know each other; group shows in Manila are usually a roster of friends. This time it’s not about the affinities or friendships, but about the work as extensions of the artists that come together. Generally unfamiliar with each other’s histories and processes, isolated practice metamorphosing into shared experience is the premise of this show.
Marking the start of POSTLOCAL is a painting show with Anna Varona, Nona Garcia and Bruihn. Interacting only through their works, the three turn ‘group show’ in on its head, thus allowing their work to be complete extensions of themselves. With familiarization and connection through the paintings, the pieces become the basis of a community built.
Anna Varona, a classically trained painter from the Art Student’s League in New York, makes a return to painting after several years of sculpture practice in Manila. She does so with classically painted, transparent colors building on each other, reaching a tonality reminiscent of mid-20th century Technicolor, spread on a brimming basket of contemporary allegorical subtexts. In her latest suite, the female is both trophy and heroine.
In one half of the diptych Death of the Brown Phenomenon, the female bust of a popular Filipino actor hangs as a taxidermist’s creation—a mounted trophy. Is this a conquest from a hunt or spoils from a botched surgical operation? In another piece, a female hand extends out from a suitcase, gestalt from the woman standing by. Is this a flirting gesture or a half-hearted grasp? Romance Wizard on the other hand, recalls Michelangelo’s glorious Creation at the Sistine Chapel; yet the reach, is not of God for Man, but of the Male Customer for his Mail-Order Bride. If the Renaissance masters had seen Varona’s work 500 years ago, they would have deduced insanity, but at the same time, have recognized the style. Indeed, they would have agreed with Varona: “The classical style yields such beautiful results”.
Nona Garcia, a painter’s painter, with palettes and details that are both monochromatic and fine, comes to the show with measures on ‘white on white’. “White is difficult, a little color added, can make or break the tonal range”, Garcia volunteers.
Garcia bases her work on depiction, of actual photographs, with white as the ‘coloring’ agent to the theme, highlighting or diminishing absence or presence. In White, Blank, she paints a portrait of an albino dressed in white; and in White, Empty, “an empty shelf found inside a hospital room that withstood the damages caused by the flood, its white walls and wooden planes tarnished from its submersion”, Garcia describes. It is with the natural qualities of each subject – the hue of each shadow, each stain from the block of wood, and each blemish from a patch of skin- Garcia explains, are what give vibrancy to a canvass and theme seemingly empty and monotonous. In transforming photograph into painting, Garcia found the hidden aspects of white.
Bruihn rounds up the exhibition with his Little Red Riding Hood. As a story, the symbolism is obvious: the little girl alone in the forest, the predatory male figure stalking her, the old lady eaten, and red signifying innocence lost. Only in Bruihn’s version, the cape reveals the forest, a forest that is internal. What to do when the fear of wandering too far from home is actually a fear of discovering the true self?
Bruihn is a slow artist, in the sense that he takes his time, and is deliberate and gentle with his pieces. He is a bit of a recluse, a bit of a rogue, and an artist who goes by a single name, Bruihn- a double entendre referring to a big brown bear as well as to the contraction of words by which he is familiarly known. The name extends the allegory to the artist’s own identity not belonging to any hegemonic art structure other than simply his own.
POSTLOCAL is about the interaction between the pieces- the classic and Technicolor, ‘the white on white’, and Little Red Riding Hood- with the underlying independence of each artist from each other. Like pieces to a puzzle, Varona, Garcia, and Bruihn speak the same language. Taken separately, the works are but pages of an artist’s book; taken together, the works speak volumes, rich in detail and exchange. What is revealed is what is common to the work, albeit very different in style, palette, and stroke.
Notes by Isa Lorenzo, with Nona Garcia excerpts by Cocoy Lumbao, Edited by Bea Davila
POSTLOCAL: Painting with Bruihn, Nona Garcia, Anna Varona, curated by Isa Lorenzo opens simultaneously with Dear Sweet Filthy World by Patricia Eustaquio at the Silverlens Gallery; and A Country Road. A Tree. by Jet Pascua at 20Square.
SLab and Isa Lorenzo would like to thank Paulino and Hetty Que, Cocoy Lumbao, Jeremy Guiab, and Rachel Rillo.