A two-man one-woman show featuring Romeo Lee, Elaine Navas and Jonathan Olazo (Manila Contemporary, 2314 Pasong Tamo Ext), opens the year 2010 with a bang of bold strokes and crazy textures. The diversity of course lies in the kind of works that these three artists are famous for, a diversity that necessarily lies in form, but more importantly in subject matter.
It’s Navas’ three panels that capture the eye upon entering the gallery, with her signature impasto technique and an amalgamation of green. The four panels that make up “Asborbed” “Found” and “In Between” could easily be different angles of the same forest rendered in still life. What makes it unique is Navas’ use of a technique that seems to bring this forest to life, engaging the spectator in the familiarity of the moment captured: the trees and leaves all tangled up, a bit of sunlight cutting through the chaos. It calls out to the spectator in the way the unknown does, where being in between is the same as being found, as one is absorbed into discovery as well.
In “Wishingbone” Navas’ still life isn’t so much about the engagement with what’s familiar, but a rendering of the familiar into strangeness. The wishing bone, which connotes hope, is shown as a headless fish skeleton hanging upside down, a query into the idea of a wishingbone and what it is in truth: a surrender, an end in itself, a moment up in the air. It’s this same suspension of belief that is apparent in Navas’ two other works “Solo” and “Pink Mutations”, as both work with crumpled unidentifiable forms that seem to be moving on the canvas. The latter merges together the forms using shades of pink that interact with and into each other; the former works with contrasting colors, both moving differently and seemingly extraneous from each other, creating a dynamism that’s difficult to miss.
In these works, it’s Navas’ heavy impasto strokes that create the feeling of movement and vibrancy, even when she uses what are actually dark hues. This happens in direct contrast to the bright pastel colors and abstraction of Olazo’s works also on exhibit. Known for an instinctive technique of creating abstract art, these works come to bear on the spectator precisely because it’s obviously not just an amalgamation of strokes or color, not simply about abstraction per se. Instead Olazo works with a combination of concrete familiar images and a fascination with redefining these through lines and strokes that render these unknown.
Particularly interesting are the paintings that greet you at the gallery doors, “Fictions of the Cross” and “Humbre the Gunslinger”, along with “Jackson Olazo” across the room, which capture the eye because of its happy light colors. These paintings reveal broad strokes that appear layer upon layer against, within and beyond the concrete image itself. This forces a second look at Olazo’s works, figuring out what it is that appears concretely and how it is rendered abstract by the strokes and colors that surround and encompass them. It doesn’t take long to see with clarity the concrete images that Olazo works with, though it isa rendering of still life that’s actually abstraction as well, where eyes and mouths might entirely be coincidental (“Fiction of the Cross” “Causality of Forking Paths), the clear thin lines (“Humbre the Gunslinger” and “Jackson Olazo”) a matter not of form but of circumstance.
In the context of the kind of works that both Navas and Olazo do, it is easy to see why it’s Lee’s works that end up stealing the show – or at the very least, this spectator’s attention. Lee’s in-your-face aesthetic that borders on the grossly identifiable or, well, just the gross, isn’t so much what this is about. More than anything it is Lee’s tongue-in-cheek manner of creating art, of rendering the world in all its contradictions, engaging the audience on the level of both familiarity and possible offense: more than presuming that we’ll get his humor, Lee presumes we can handle it.
Because there are works that are in your face, or are jokes that are on you, or are there to provoke your conservatism – a private part here, a strange body position there (“Nobody Knew” “Oops I did It Again” “Do’Me”), a plethora of ugly faces (“Great Balls of Fires” “Auntittle” “Owlee” “Leengua”). That these are the smaller works which take up one full wall of the gallery, right in the midst of the Navases and the Olazos seems to work for Lee, as his bright colors and strange but clear images become the perfect contrast all around.
It is in his bigger works though that there’s less of the grossly in-your-face, and more of the wit and humor and candor that Lee shines in. Of course there was still the strangely contorted bodies (“Mommy Where’s My Food” “Sorry na Jabal”), but more than these were Lee’s works that had me laughing out loud. There’s “Krus Country” with five babies carryingand climbing two crosses, where playground is cross to bear as it is childhood fun. There’s a two-faced fish, one on the real head, one on the tail showing distress and confusion about its existence. The title of the work of course is classic Lee: “Isda’t You?”
A Lee collection wouldn’t be complete without a jab at religion and here he doesn’t disappoint. The self-portrait “Releegious” plays with the image of St. John the Baptist and the lamb, with Lee’s face rendered atop the robed adolescent body. Nearest to this painting is one that works with St. Francis’ classic image that surrounds him with birds. Lee’s version keeps the birds, but has a central image that looks more like a Spanish priest. Of course the laugh-out-loud title is “I Ang Daming Birds!”
At the very least, Lee provided the craziness and laughter that one must begin any new year with. Alongside the energy and dynamism in Navas’ work, and the bright unfamiliar light that Olazo’s work rendered, suffice it to say that this can only bode well for Pinoy art in the year to come.