We are told many things about being an artist, one of which is that you must start young. The other is that there’s no money in it, unless you’re one of the lucky ones who ends up having a fixed market for your art, or the one to whom money doesn’t matter. Jane Arietta-Ebarle doesn’t fall under any of these categories. In fact, she falls nowhere near them.
This isn’t just because she has come into painting again only after seeing three kids through to their own careers; nor is it just because she’san established professional and president of the Philippine Art Educators Association. More than any of these, it is because Ebarle has found herself – literally and figuratively – in a kind of art that’s rare in these shores.
In her first one-woman show, Ebarle rendered ethnic patterns onto canvas, using acrylic as her chosen medium. It was in “Pagluwas”, her second exhibit though, where the inspiration of ethnic patterns became secondary to what would become Ebarle’s abstract art. In her Maranao series for that exhibit, the repetition of ethnic weaves are not only less structured, but are stunted altogether by the random strokes that permeate each work.
Now with her upcoming exhibit “Hibla”, Ebarle takes her ethnic abstractionism to another level, where the inspiration of weave is taken to an extreme – almost no patterns to look at, practically no structure at all. Instead, what is in this set of works is a beautiful randomness to the concept of hibla – the strands of thread that are the core of what would otherwise be a real and visible pattern.
Working still with acrylic on canvas, Ebarle’s use of color and texture is extraordinary here. In previous works, it was easy to imagine a certain kind of happiness in the colors on canvas. With “Hibla” though, the color combinations aren’t as easy to pin down. They do remain bright, even almost neon, but these are balanced out by a darkness in each work. The contrast bears upon the spectator to deal with a seeming quiet in the noise of color, a moroseness within the splashes of joy.
The effect of colors is also rendered differently because of what has become very textured work from Ebarle. The “Hibla” series have more depth – a variety of lines and strokes are put one on top of another which, alongside the changes in color create a sense of a work that goes deeper and deeper into the canvas.
Owing to all of these, the spectator’s gaze cannot help but be brought to what seems to be an endpoint – the deepest point – in each of Ebarle’s canvases. The changes in texture and color seem to warrant that kind of engagement with the work, even as it also requires the spectator to step back and look at the nearest colors and topmost layers to see the entirety of each project.
This engagement is extraordinary as well because even as Ebarle has let go of fixed ethnic patterns, the familiarity of her seemingly random lines and colors allow still for the imagination of her inspiration. This allows the spectator to look at the works in “Hibla” and see, not just abstraction for difficulty’s sake, but an abstraction that remains deeply rooted in what is a national unconscious. Our collective sense of what remains ours, what remains ethnic, informs an appreciation of how Ebarle takes what we all know to be true and flies with it.
In this sense, as with Ebarle’s path to becoming a full-fledged artist after living the roles expected of her, the evolution of her kind of ethnic abstract art is in a category all its own. And with the exhibit “Hibla”, Ebarle proves just that.