Uploaded August 18, 2017
from the Underbelly of the Metropolis
A diskurso.com exclusive publication of the unexpurgated version of critic Cid Reyes' exhibition essay on Jeho Bitancor's new paintings at AltroMondo Arte Contemporanea, here followed by Bitancor's artist statement.
Introduction by Jojo Soria de Veyra
THE following is the unexpurgated version, as it were, of critic Cid Reyes' essay on New York City-based Filipino painter Jeho Bitancor's new paintings, showing at AltroMondo Arte Contemporanea at Greenbelt 5 since August 8 until two days from now. (The ten works will stay with the gallery six months from the end day of the show, so they'll remain accessible to curious patrons within that duration.)
Now, what attracts us to Reyes' essay is the veracity by which it evokes in simple terms Bitancor's success at having absorbed and distributed in his every canvas his compound of influences: 1) the attitude of expressionism, 2) the imagery of surrealism, 3) the anger and cynicism of dada, 4) the organized evocations of absurdist theater under the tenebrism of Baroque, and, finally in the mix, almost as embedded contradictions, 5) the grounded soul of artivism as well as 6) the reverence of good ol' spiritual or mythical Symbolism.
Reyes aptly mentions Caravaggio, an early depicter of violent struggles under dramatic lighting, and El Greco, a precursor of Expressionism, in remembering an early Bitancor, but soon notes a transformation of this direction that led to the artist's present collection, a supposed transformation now simultaneously inhabiting planes we'd usually associate with the early Symbolists (Gustave Moreau, et al.) even as Bitancor has not exactly thrown out the artivist's "realist" or grounded awareness of political and ecological environments. In more contemporary terms, one might see this combine repeatedly lauded in, say, Japanese animes and even Hollywood-deriving fantasy animation that find it not so hard to embrace both the mythological and the political, all in one swoop, with such sincerity that they almost seem to have nary a care for the daily risks of falling into the levee of corniness. For this risk, Bitancor has his anime-like postmodernist self-deprecating device on hand, tongue-in-cheek splotches or dabs of metallic paint that every now and then explode and bring us back into the painter painting on a flat surface to momentarily take us away from the serious, almost religious, discourse occurring in the painting, at least before we swoop back into this latter after it definitely sucks us in again into its Beckettian mise-en-scène. . . .
In parallel, we are also here publishing the artist's statement, to lead readers to such pronouncements as Bitancor's Baconian or anti-Baconian one hymning a desire "to leap and go beyond the confines" of boxes onto implied corruption-free heavens.
Without further ado, here now is the Reyes essay, followed by Bitancor's artist statement:
Jeho Bitancor, I see no one but me, 2017, oil on canvas, 4 x 8'
"The dramatically-limned figures he drew from the underbelly of the metropolis were shrouded with dramatic shadows and highlighted with radiant light."
Jeho Bitancor: Questions
on the "Paradox of Living"
by Cid Reyes
IT IS with the skill and passion of a confident weaver of confessional tales that Jeho Bitancor presents his new solo show of paintings, titled “Paradox of Living,” this August at the AltroMondo Arte Contemporanea Gallery at Greenbelt 5. But more than just being narratives of the human condition, Bitancor creates visual dramas laced with metaphors and symbols. This is one artist who puts painting in the service of asking Life’s Big Questions.
True, Bitancor's name has always been associated with Social Realism, whence he emerged way back in the Eighties. What differentiated his works from those of his colleagues then, however, was the strong vein of Expressionism inherent in them along with his handling of light, which was borderline tenebrismo. The dramatically-limned figures he drew from the underbelly of the metropolis were shrouded with dramatic shadows and highlighted with radiant light. (Remembering some of his earlier shows, honestly, they brought to my mind both Caravaggio and a mellowed El Greco.)
His current works, however, have transcended those works – and rightly so – for Bitancor’s sensibility has very obviously matured, borne no doubt by the passage of the decades and his own personal transformation. As instantly evident from the title of the show, Bitancor has evolved his works to arrive at the plane of existential investigation, so far removed from the images of psychic torments, of poverty and injustice, over which the Social Realists interminably rued to a common chorus.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a marked theatricality to these works, dealing as they do with the imponderables of human existence, full of declarations crystallized in such works as: “I Am What I Am Not” and “I See No One But Me.” Moreover, Bitancor’s human figures are presented in choreographic stances, even acrobatic postures, as in “Inhabiting False Heavens,” in the descent of the celestial child in “Ties That Bind” (see topmost photo), and in the Adam and Eve resonances of “Rebirth.”
Jeho Bitancor, Inhabiting False Heavens, 2017, oil on canvas, 4 x 8'
One imagines Bitancor as a pictorial master of the mise-en-scene. The prevalent presence of the box as a compositional device, by turns representing a cage from which one seeks release, and a stage, with its revelations of truth in various guises of contradictions (the seduction of illusions, the futility of self-centeredness, the lure of ceaseless temptations) and a Beckett-like conundrum of absurdist perceptions of reality. The figures seem to undergo either a spiritual metamorphosis, a cathartic liberation from the chaos and madness of living, or the familiar and universal identity crisis.
By his own admission, Bitancor can articulate all these musings and ruminations only through image-making, whereupon meanings are engendered, if not towards enlightenment (for certain questions are better left unanswered, as with zen koans), then towards further probing, possibly onto more puzzlements.
Suffice it to say that Bitancor’s images have become visual provocations, now triggering the unanswerable questions on the paradox of living. [d]
Jeho Bitancor, Ama ng Lagim, 2017, oil on canvas, 3 x 4'
Artist's Statement on the "Paradox of Living"
by Jeho Bitancor
To exist is already inherently mired with contradiction. But now more than ever, the prospect for a decent life or simply meaningful negotiation with societal forces in the hope of advancing a cause has become increasingly remote. The present social dispensation is characterized by absurd perceptions of reality, offering distorted definitions and resolutions that could only resort to chaos. As an artist, I could only confront this malady through images. Image and meaning-making allow me to insist on my desires as I identify myself with the rest who endure and battle the consequences of history. The paradox lies in humanity’s eternal struggle to realize its full potential while it hinders this realization at the same time. To cling to one’s philosophy is to wrestle with those of others. In instances of life and death, we celebrate and mourn, but we also deny or inflict it. Yet we share the same biology and fate. As “walking contradictions,” there is a duality of marked opposing tendencies that characterize us.
Jeho Bitancor, Plight, 2017, oil on canvas, 4 x 5'.
Jeho Bitancor, Leap of Faith, 2017, oil on canvas, 3 x 4'
For this exhibition, I would like to assert our capacity to transform and transcend, thus, the predominance of human figures with reconfigured appearances. Situated in constricted environments, they appear constrained, even captive, yet are indicative of a certain tendency, which is to leap and go beyond the confines. The box, as a compositional device, is served as a metaphor for inherited parameters. As a notion of boundary, it echoes how we are defined by others, and how we redefine ourselves. Situated in environments that enhance the meaning of the works, one can sense the prevalent use of natural objects as indicative of the show’s theme being “environmental.” In fact, I treat the issue of the environment as an affect of larger, more complex relations and human attributes. Since I regard man and nature as essentially linked and interdependent, I have long since associated natural elements/objects to represent something that is ideal and hoped for. In most cases, they stand for anything that I regard as good, whether it be a philosophical idea, a political agenda, or simply just a means to sustain life. I am more concerned about how objects, human figures and their environments interact and manifest themselves as parallels to resistance and empowerment.
In "Paradox of Living," to simply exist and celebrate life is a difficult task. One has to find essence and meaning in the struggle to live life itself. [d]
Jeho Bitancor, Boundless, 2017, oil on canvas, 3 x 4'
Jeho Bitancor, The Noble Savage, 2016, oil on canvas, 4 x 5'
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Photos by Jeho Bitancor
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