Uploaded July 20, 2015
Buen Abrigo's Seeming Art and Gallery Painting's Alienation
a review of the painter's ongoing Blanc Gallery show titled Line of Flight
text by diskurso.com
photos and video interview principal photography by Simkin de Pio
video interview by Marcel Antonio
diskurso.com was at the July 4 launch of the new show by young painter Buen Abrigo, titled Line of Flight, at the Blanc Gallery (along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City). Here's a recap of what we saw and our internal Facebook conversation the following day:
"Perhaps it doesn't matter what Abrigo's art is really all about."
JOJO Soria de Veyra: Mga pare, your thoughts on Buen Abrigo's Blanc Gallery show (July 4-25, 2015). . . .
Ako, may nakita akong discrepancy between the write-up on the wall outside of the exhibit room and the works themselves as well as what Abrigo was saying during our interview with him. Parang pinipilit nung essay sa labas ng exhibition room na the paintings ought to depict the interference/intervention of West-derived formal abstraction upon realist drawing, especially social realist drawing. It seemed the writer wanted the paintings to head in that direction. Sa interview natin with Abrigo, sabi niya na although political siyang tao ay mostly gestalt ang process niya. Di siya heavy on theses.
Marcel Antonio: Ay, di ko nabasa yung note. May copy tayo?
JSV: I-message ko sa iyo ang jpg.
MA: Sige. May mga short notes akong sinulat, pero I have to corroborate my views with my re-readings of sources.
the write-up on the wall at Abrigo's show, located outside the exhibition room
MA: I can't decide how to approach the works. One part of me says to experience the works as themselves, phenomenologically speaking, regardless of any intent on the artist's part. The other part leans in the direction of dissecting Abrigo's claims using formalist/gestalt theory, etc., like you said. Parang ang sarap nga himayin how much he succeeded in synthesizing these ideas in the actual painting.
JSV: Let's give it to the essay writer na discernible nga ang interest ng painter sa "historical photographs documenting our long-enduring and often largely misconceived relationship with the US", and then let's assume na ang abstraction ng mga mukha ng figures at ang barrage of geometrics around these simulations of historical (how specific, I don't know) black-and-white and sepia photographs is indeed a parody of Western abstraction qua intervention upon political painting and photojournalism. But don't the paintings, in point of fact, come out rather as emulations of these interventions and finally as a signal of the artist's gradual withdrawal from political realist depiction?
Simkin de Pio: Agree, Jojo. And I'm leaning more towards the latter approach you mention, Marcel. . . . :) Saka medyo senglots na si Buen nung na-interview natin siya, hehehe. :)
JSV: Hahaha! Really? :D . . . Pero, anyway, while that essay outside looked upon Abrigo's works as political art, or hoped they were, it seemed that Abrigo's art was now actually distancing itself from the politicization of thematic painting.
MA: Abrigo's paintings carve their own internal logic. They'll only work within the confines of such logic; beyond that, the irony is lost.
SP: Either way it would make a good story. :)
MA: Abrigo mentioned something that interested me, and this was his preoccupation, sabi niya, with exploring or finding the "gaps" between representation and abstraction, between the work and perceived reality, or perhaps between artist and viewer na rin.
JSV: Yes, Sim, either way would make a good story, pero---as Marcel would advise---let's look at the internal logic of the respective works na lang and listen to their own stories removed from the pen of wishful thinking. :) Itapon na natin ang intent/claim-and-success story. :)
MA: Oo, I agree. Mabuti na lang hindi ko pa nababasa yung artist's notes niya at that time, gusto ko ma-experience yung works as themselves, as I said. Ganun din siguro perception ni Boogie (Jose Tence Ruiz) when we discussed a few points about figuration that night.
JSV: Maybe what Abrigo said about those "gaps" interested you, pareng Marcel, because it jived perfectly well with his imagery's obsession with swinging between depicting photographs and not, 'tween representing figures and not, 'tween emulating the photo collage as photo-celebrating and emulating it as abstract composition.
I suspect, though, that those weren't the artist's notes, those were written by a friend with wishful thinking, so to speak, upon his painter friend's message. . . . :)
But let's move on. What can you say 'bout his pieces na parang Francis Bacon na parang cubist? :)
This one . . .
MA: My favorite of all.
JSV: . . . and this one.
JSV: Why is that first one your favorite, pre?
SP: I like that first one, too.
MA: Ngayon ko lang sila na-appreciate ng todo, within the comfort zone of my laptop screen. Maganda sila! LoL
JSV: May mga titles ba 'to sa wall? Wala rin yata, ano.
MA: Sa pricelist meron. Hindi natin nakuhanan?
JSV: Wala akong kopya.
Itong dalawa, kung mapapansin niyo, ay parehong may belfry. Baka sasabihin ng essay writer niya na vestige of colonialism ito, pero ang dating sa akin ng paintings ay spiritual, not even political. Spiritual or psychological in the Francis Bacon sense. Siguro political in the biblical Job sense, if biblical Job's situation is to be approached as a political situation.
Kung may politics man sa akin ang second painting, ang nakikita kong politics ay ang sociology ng suffering and consequent praying, but here it's prettified by the collage manner of prettifying things into a "musical" or "architectural" composition.
In that collage sense, social realist images become reducible into patterns for pattern painting.
MA: In the collage sense, I'm tempted to compare Abrigo's works with the original anarchists of 20th-century Western art: the Dadaists. But all these works rely on a gallery/museum context to generate meaning. Their shock-value and cultural currency have a lot to do with this frame of reference, does it not?
SP: Agree! Dada is not dead! :D But, by the way, on a personal note, I hope I could afford his works; his father died earlier this year of a massive heart attack kasi, and his siblings are depending on him for support.
JSV: Oh, sorry to hear that. . . . So, siya ngayon ang tumatayong Dada ng kanyang mga kapatid? Kidding.
SP: Hehehe, tomo! :) Yeah, I was neighbors with his brother, Frances, who stayed in a house on Examiner Street where his father worked.
MA: The Dadaists aimed their sights at rationality, and that's where the shock value of the anarchic movement of anti-everything really capitalized on. But their works only "work" if seen under the right context, to be meaningful.
JSV: Yes, these have to inhabit an "intent-at-finding-meaning" locus; in this case, the gallery. Or encounter a sick-for-meaning audience outside.
MA: Itong kay Abrigo seem to touch on the crisis of representation---yan din yung sinabi ni Boogie Ruiz that night sa akin, verbatim. I'm not clear about the topic exactly, pero Abrigo will probably agree that this nihilism on representation has been done to death in various forms, in various new-world orders, hehe. :)
JSV: Yes, pare, we know that. So, we're discussing him as a retro or variations artist for the present market? :)
MA: At the very least, Abrigo's works remain true to the randomness of nature, to the spontaneity of life and irrationality of the present art market/world.
And hasn't the word "retro" acquired some derogatory meaning of late?
JSV: Retro in the positive sense, then. Neo, perhaps. :)
Randomness of nature, the spontaneity of life, and irrationality of the present art market/world. In that order, pareng Marcel?
MA: You're the real writer, pareng Jo, you tell us. :D
JSV: Consider, though, that he doesn't do collage, he mimics collage with paint. But, still, yes, others have done that too, though maybe not for a similar primary context.
MA: Mimetic pa rin ang art niya. Fragmentation is a staple modernist device, along with repetition (Warhol) and the flatness of the surface.
JSV: But there were two paintings in the show that did evoke political tendencies for me. This one, of faceless teachers or students . . .
detail of painting above
MA: What is it a critique of, first impressions? :)
JSV: . . . and this one, depicting a mural painting of a possible naked corpse displayed in a lobby full of headless yuppies. In front of the latter there seems to be a crevice or fault that would, as a matter of course, go unnoticed (by the headless yuppies).
MA: The original Dadaism thrived on real conflict to be authentically radical. Otherwise, it only veers toward surrealism.
JSV: In the first painting I see a dehumanization that you'd tend to feel towards an old war photo where the faces of the human figures have been rubbed thin by time or been washed a bit by the blood of rain.
MA: Dehumanization = alienation.
JSV: There's this other political one din pala, showing tribal Filipino elements standing in the middle of what might be awkward geometrics in the painting's horizontal composition. On an upper right hand box, a braided blonde hair, the juxtaposition of which may represent . . . what? A more "civilized" colonial society? The West?
As for this that you wrote, pareng Marcel: "The original Dadaism thrived on real conflict to be authentically radical. Otherwise, it would veer toward surrealism" . . . well, yes, there's no real conflict in the gallery life of our time. The visual arts have become so esoteric and pedantic, even the most political art within it, that no immediate conflict can be provoked, unless the media made a brouhaha about anything in it. In the meantime, immediate provocation could be the sole region of public art, do you think? . . .
READER, perhaps it doesn't matter what Abrigo's art is really all about. Perhaps what matters is that, even if this line of flight has been done a thousand or more times by various artists, what Marcel Antonio calls the recurrent abstracted nihilism towards representation continues to excite the visual arts' new breed of practitioners, creating there---within the quiet, isolated rooms of gallery painting's social alienation---its own politics. [ d ]
AND HERE'S OUR VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH ABRIGO DURING THE SHOW LAUNCH:
Text © copyright 2015 by diskurso art magazine. Photos are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. All rights reserved.
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