The Philosophy Qua Mother Art
a diskurso.com interview with abstract painter Bob Nuestro
"Abstraction As Utopia Over a Mess," diskurso.com's interview with Bob Nuestro Part 1:
text by Jojo Soria de Veyra
interview by de Veyra
camera by Miguel Antonio Roxas de Veyra
ABSTRACT art (whether representational, e,g. Futurism, or not) has always been a utopia, either upon an external or internal world or on both worlds. That is precisely why it's abstract; it's less concerned with representing images from the "real world" than with the manufacture of significance for both images and image-making.
We interviewed Filipino abstract painter Bob Nuestro during the run of his 22nd solo show in the Philippines titled Urban Planning, at Quattrocento Gallery, at The Shops at Serendra, last October 11, and we found the same utopian bent. According to Nuestro, abstract art creates a sensibility that connects to the artist's ideas and ideals upon the world outside, although we know it could also be the other way around.
". . . meaning or significance does not come after the manufacture of the image. Rather, it must come as the ready rationale inherent in the image-making itself."
In this show last month (which ran till the 14th), he connected his abstractionist urge to a utopian urge for "urban planning," or vice versa. Perhaps, one second earlier than this realization, urban planning also struck him as just what this country of ours sorely lacked, which deficiency, he believes, could be the root cause of all our country's ills. Be reminded that urban planning is not just about the mathematical use of land but also concerns public welfare and the use and protection of the environment, a fact that Nuestro is perfectly aware of.
But Nuestro is a painter, not an urban planner. His point is that abstract art is the beginning of a sensibility for urban planning, which was what probably led him to state that "perhaps" this show is dedicated to the maverick Filipino architect and urban planner Felino Palafox.
Urban Planning is Nuestro's first show in the country after five years of living in the Chicago area in the United States. As much as it is a celebration of a sensibility that in its turn laments that very sensibility's absence in Philippine governance, it is likewise an elegy upon the death of the signified in Philippine abstract art. I don't know how true Nuestro's latter supposition is, but it also cannot be denied that some abstract art are truly nothing more than unconscious adherents of the Suprematist spirit that—for being unconscious—produced merely inferior derivatives designed for the probably equally politically-unconscious albeit visually awesome production of interior decoration.
Nuestro laments this political unconsciousness, manifest in so-called "urban living" or "lifestyle" (or Otium) aesthetic concepts in art and architecture that occur to him as blind to the other necessary components that comprise a complete and ideal urban plan.
Indeed, the overwhelming public view is that urban planning as well as architecture are practices close to engineering, with all of them supposedly run solely by mathematical thinking and specific client needs. Through his abstract art, Nuestro seeks to amplify the real spirit behind urban planning, so as to separate it from "specific client needs" and move it into the holistic view of the ideal urban plan that puts a premium on public welfare. To him this ideal view starts from the abstractionist's sensibility for form culled from a development process that is sensitive and flexible toward its materials and surround. In short, while the artist develops his abstract composition with a sensitivity and flexibility towards the jaggedness of the form or texture that preceded the now-developing form or texture to the right or left of the former, so, too, the urban planner proceeds with his plan with that very same sensitivity and flexibility towards the elements of the environment and populace that surround his purpose. Nuestro's present show is also about that sensitivity and flexibility as an exercise in instinctive deduction, like in jazz improvisation, as against it becoming a mere reduction, as with Piet Mondrian's proto-nanoscience.
But Nuestro is not naive. He understands that the deficiency of an urban planning spirit and the consequent failure to be sensitive and flexible to our surround are but products of a messy political system consisting of a scattering of personal interests. And that is why he has no qualms about calling his own visual poetry and meaning "utopian"; in fact, Nuestro's utopia could be doubly appreciated through the fact that the artist used to be involved in the difficult world of politics and social work. Later, Nuestro found himself struggling to be a real student of painting after that traumatic ambush on his person that killed his companions (as a Mindoro town's vice-mayor, Nuestro became mayor for four months after the winning mayor from an opposing party was asked by an electoral tribunal to vacate his seat pending a judgment). The important thing for art to do is for it to at least offer the utopia.
However, Nuestro's social and political signification upon his abstract art must not be confused with the significations upon social realism (whose own value Nuestro does not decry) qua photography or journalism involving the real. His abstract art, being abstract art, is that—a utopia upon an external and internal world, not a photograph of what is in the present.
Furthermore, to Nuestro, meaning or significance does not come after the manufacture of the image. Rather, it must come as the ready rationale inherent in the image-making itself. Additionally, the significance of the image and the image-making could ideally be a mere part of the philosophy that signified them, as well as a mere part of that very philosophy's implementation, with the art object functioning as mere mnemonic for the philosophy qua mother art. Perhaps it must be noted that this is not the first time that Nuestro involved the word "plan" in a show; the word shall be featured once more in a future one around the issue of legislative planning. In short, these plans create some of the conceptualist underpinnings for Nuestro's act of painting.
NUESTRO works with text and representational symbols, including the technical map, but still—like we said—as part of that abstract whole that acts as a mnemonic for the mother philosophy. Almost miraculously in this series, the concept of urban planning that he used as theme already is an architectural ideology that combines both aesthetic and pragmatic (useful) forms as necessary components for its holism. It was just the combination that Nuestro wanted.
Why has Nuestro been attracted to the abstract image? For one, he sees it as universal instead of specially ethnic, despite the West's propagation of this imagery in its art history writing (in his early works, Nuestro used his native Mindoro's Mangyan peoples' abstract art for his own). Later, Nuestro would appropriate the paper's abstract white space (like the urban planner's white paper) both as space to birth forms in and consequently as forms in themselves. Presently, Nuestro uses the whole of abstract art, his abstract forms at one moment trying to represent a visible reality and in another an aesthetic utopia concerning the formally interesting. But always, always, with a postmodernist extraction of some signification upon the abstract forms as signifiers, especially as they may pertain to places or place cultures.
In the age of auction houses focused on peddling artworks displaying skill, Nuestro celebrates a hard-headedness to stick it out with his own personal art history, starting from his modernist works to his present postmodernist significations (mostly social and political) upon abstraction. Nuestro agrees social realism is a significant art entity qua photograph of a social struggle, but—like a Constructivist—believes anything to be corruptible if sans the soul of a utopia. [d]
"Abstraction and Its Symbols," diskurso.com's interview with Bob Nuestro Part 2:
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