Uploaded April 1, 2019
Version with addendum uploaded April 17, 2019
LANGUID POWWOWS (a diskurso.com interview-with-artists series)
Into a Grumbacher, &c., Void
Marcel Antonio interviews Jojo Soria de Veyra
about the latter's ongoing solo show
SO there's this little one-man show titled The New Middle Class and the Remaking of Our SoHo, Our Spray-Painted Little Section of the City and other fictions by one late-blooming painter named Jojo Soria de Veyra. Intriguing title, we thought. But when we found out de Veyra was an erstwhile practitioner of the short fiction art, we figured that was logical.
We were excited to interview Jojo because we think there's something else behind those paintings of his at his ongoing solo show other than their fittingly upscale appearance. We think meaning still makes sense these days, but maybe we can be relieved from the pressure of cerebrating on these paintings' possible intents simply by talking to the artist. The one-man show is currently at that Altro Mondo Gallery outlet within that fine boutique hotel called The Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences and shall run until 28 April.
Jojo agreed to meet us inside his own hotel of a head, and this was the conversation that transpired.
Marcel Antonio: Good morning, pareng Jo, happy to meet you in a good mood, without a frown on your head, sporting that smirk that's been your signature.
Jojo Soria de Veyra: (laughs) Oh, I should be the happier one here, considering it's you who have the power to expose some art to the public, as the publisher of diskurso.com, and you approved this, with some bias, I hope.
MA: Well, it's not exactly bias, because we could have simply linked to an essay of yours on your own website, if you have one, and hype some of your thoughts here and on our Facebook page, instead of boldly have you in our own e-zine itself as a big interviewee to make a point. If we did that instead of this, that would simply put your name on our roster of covered names, resulting in a possible reading of bias. I mean, we have our reasons for putting you in our e-zine as an interviewee. Unless, of course, everything is bias, including one's mission or zeal. But, please, let's not talk about us, let's talk about you.
What's that you're holding, by the way?
JSV: Oh, somebody else's show catalog. And, yeah, yeah, I get what you mean. I mean, not really, I don't really know what you mean yet, although I have a sense of what you mean.
MA: Really? You think you know what this interview is for other than to promote your show?
JSV: I have my ideas. I may be wrong.
MA: Okay, whatever. Now, let's talk about you, as we said, and get this over with.
JSV: If you say so, Mr. Publisher.
MA: But first, . . . you understand, of course, Jojo, being also the editor of our e-zine, that it's not our wont to ask about what kind of music you listen to before you start your day at your studio and crap like that. Or what you think the state of the art in the country today is and all that sweeping kind of angle for interrogation that doesn't seem to want to examine the grains in the sand. We like to go straight to specifics, don't we, to particulars, to details, of the scene. So we'll ask you about your process, or better yet your philosophy, if you will, and—most important to us—about your individual works. Yeah, yeah, maybe we'll just go straight into the works. Let's do that. I hope that's okay with you. Because it's easy to talk intellectually, sort of, about the entire forest, complain about the lack of this and the absence of that, without even examining a particular tree in that forest, you know what I mean? We don't want to do that sort of thing, do we? That's silly, man.
JSV: Oh great! So, you don't want to ask questions like a newspaper? That's good. Isn't it? Thank you!
MA: (laughing) No, man, we don't want to ask questions like a newspaper, we're not a newspaper. But . . . don't you want to be interviewed by a newspaper?
JSV: Well, . . . for one, I don't have the wherewithal to pay newspapers to give me an interview, if that's the arrangement. But if they want to really interview me, they can just grab this interview you have here, or extract parts of it, no need to do another interview. I have confidence that you'll be asking me the questions that matter and that any other questions out there, which I have faith you wouldn't ask, would already be of no consequence. God, man, you don't even care how long this interview will last.
MA: (laughs) Yes, I don't. You're much too kind. Thank you for saying that.
JSV: Can I ask you a question, though, before you start asking me questions? Why approve this? I mean, there are probably 20 or more shows out there now, why would you choose to interview me? Or rather, why did you approve of the idea? I mean, I'm not even paying our magazine, nor is the magazine paying me.
MA: (laughs) We've actually interviewed some people since we started, haven't we, and none of them paid us. Except maybe that interview we did with gallerist Boy David, but he gave us money for the zine way before that interview happened, and in exchange for nothing. We later decided, however, to display a banner that would link to his gallery's website, even though he gave us money with no strings attached, and that interview we did with him would even happen only, I think, a year after he made his donation. We interviewed others before him who didn't give donations. So now we're making it come out like he came in like an advertiser, although our staff knows it was really in recognition of our missionary zeal to inject some serious discourse into the art trade fair called the Philippine art world, which he fell for. He didn't ask us for a quota coverage of his shows, not even for one coverage, none at all. The coverage that we did of shows at Altro Mondo were our own decision, right? So don't bring that thing about payments, you dork.
Now, as to your question regarding why we're interviewing you, . . . that's a fair question, I guess, and you'll get your answer. . . . Number one, you're one of the quickest to reach, I mean geographically, and that counts for a lot because it would have a lot of bearing on your MRT beep card if it were otherwise. Number two, and this is really what should be number one, actually, . . . we'd like to set a template for future interviews with people with solo shows. And how else to best demonstrate how that interview should move forward than with you as our guinea pig for this template, especially since you're our alter-ego who'd probably understand where we're trying to go with this.
JSV: Oh I see. So I'm an experiment rat.
JSV: Okay, then. (slapping both his knees with both hands) Let's do this!!
MA: Great! Okay. Uhm, . . . let's begin with your title piece, The New Middle Class and the Remaking of Our SoHo, Our Spray-Painted Little Section of the City, says the title. What's the idea behind that one?
JSV: Uhm, first of all, when you look at that piece and then see the title, you should be able to get that that's talking about the gentrification of a neighborhood.
JSV: In this case a fictive neighborhood that used to be a "spray-painted little section of the city." A case of urban renewal, therefore.
MA: I see. So, who's the new middle class?
JSV: The painting's title is a play on the title of a book by David Ley, who is known for his theoretical contributions to the field of social, cultural, and urban geography. His book was titled The New Middle Class and the Remaking of The Central City. Well, the painting does not actually aim to represent the book, but it does kowtow to Ley's approaching the problem from the demand angle rather than the Marxist supply angle, in saying that the demand side is as much a participant of gentrification as any side.
JSV: Now, if we're to pin the scene in the painting to a spot in, say, Manila, what would that new middle class be composed of? I think OFW money would have a part in that, money from globalization partnerships would have a part in that, and certainly the new Korean and Chinese migration to the Philippines would have a part in that. But notice that I also incorporated the SoHo phenomenon into the semantics of the painting.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, The New Middle Class and the Remaking of Our SoHo, Our Spray-Painted Little Section of the City, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 72" x 31 ¼"
MA: Yeah, the SoHo mention.
JSV: That mention would perhaps have more in common with the Ley-like research of Philip Clay, who propounded, like Ley, artists' role in much of the gentrification of several inner cities in the US and Canada.
JSV: The case of SoHo, Manhattan, is an interesting case in point, mind you, and Sharon Zukin did a good study of that.
MA: The SoHo in that painting's title does seem to come out like a sore thumb. Let's cut to the chase. What is that all about, my friend?
JSV: Well, SoHo, to those who don't know what it was back then, it used to be an artists' haven because of the low rental rates in that neighborhood. So the neighborhood became an artists' scene: there were artists' cafes, little galleries, little bookstores, coffeehouses, and so on, and that attracted a lot of sons and daughters of the wealthy class who wanted to be part of the scene. They started getting units for themselves in the neighborhood.
JSV: That started the gradual hiking of rental costs in the neighborhood that finally got to a point where the artists and musicians and authors couldn't afford them any longer. And, suddenly, the artists started to move out. Finally, the neighborhood was left to the rich sons and daughters who went there to be with the artists in the first place. Sorry!
MA: But . . . okay. But what has all that got to do with your painting?
JSV: Right. Do all that have anything to do with my painting? Well, maybe, maybe no. But my painting is talking about a neighborhood that used to be graffiti-rich. And now, what has it got? Well, from a certain point of view, you could say that the graffiti has been replaced by another sort of graffiti: advertising graffiti.
MA: Advertising graffiti!
JSV: Well, of course this is fiction. This does not happen in reality. In reality the gentrifying capitalist will simply paint over all the graffiti and make everything look like an SMDC apartment front.
MA: It won't look like this?
JSV: No. But the painting is pointing to the old SoHo kind of gentrifier who would want to retain some of the elements of the old neighborhood, even if he somehow ends up retaining only a fraction of it and, in the end, ends up changing the whole thing like what the fashion world did to the old context of Dr. Martens. You could say this is a kind of wishful thinking on my part.
JSV: But, on the positive angle, the painting may also in fact point to such concepts as inclusionary zoning, which is probably why I did the wall images the way I did them; it's not entirely clear whether they're still graffiti or advertising graffiti. The only thing clearly advertising there is Irish Spring Sport, which is a product that doesn't even exist anymore. Oh, Polo Sport, of course.
MA: Oh, yes. Why these two Sports brands? Do they signify anything?
JSV: Well, I don't know. Maybe because we all want to be part of the trend always, always wanting to be young and healthy?
MA: What about the question that your colors here don't seem to have a comfortable sort of harmony? That you seem to have used too many colors?
JSV: That's a good question. You see, a spray-painted section of the city doesn't have a unifying color harmony. None that is not accidental, anyway, unless the artists get together and come up with an agreement, which is unheard of, as far as I know.
MA: But this is no longer that section of the city. It's already been gentrified. Or is it still in that process of development?
JSV: This is not a realist portrayal, as I said, and was contrived to dramatize a sort of transition. But, then again, you see, it is possible for a gentrification process to proceed without the involvement of a large corporation but simply through a neighborhood of individuals with new or old wealth, investing or reinvesting in the neighborhood for whatever reason, kind of like Nakpil Street in the late 1990s for a neighborhood of restos and bars. Maybe that's the ideal sort of gentrification, a dilapidated gentry neighborhood rehashed for a gentrified look. No one is displaced. Maybe that's what we have in this painting. With this sort of pluralist gentrification, no one decides for everybody in the neighborhood what color their respective buildings will have. Would that result in something ugly or loud or tacky? I don't really care. That ugliness would be prettier to me than a gray or beige SMDC apartment building front that would lure me to sleep with its elevator music.
MA: You also combine figures here coming from different races. There's a white man's face looking like a young Dexter Holland, an Asian face looking like Takashi Murakami, . . .
JSV: Oh, I just wanted this to represent something that could be a part of almost any cosmopolis in the world. So there's an ad box on the wall there that advertises a show in Galerie Egelund, then there's a Five Below store there that I don't think has a licensee or franchisee in the Philippines yet. What, ₱500 below?
MA: I also noticed an oversized hydrant on the left side. Did you do that on purpose?
JSV: M-hm. What's a hydrant a symbol of?
MA: Uhm, property protection?
JSV: Large properties call for large hydrants.
MA: But wait, did you conceptualize the painting with all this in mind, I mean with this intention to project a gentrification-in-transit scene from the start?
JSV: Actually, no. I wanted to do either a cityscape or a genre painting because I wanted to project my affinity to the urban myth. But I was also approaching painting like a conceptual artist. So I was thinking about what reason I may have for doing either a cityscape or a genre painting. If I can't find a reason, then there's no reason for me to do either. So I asked, what concept can come out of doing this or that, which may then give me a reason for doing either of them? Well, how else to arrive at a "conceptual concept" than from an examination of an artform or a genre within an artform and the reasons why painters do them? Okay. So, to make a long story short, I arrived at a cross between a cityscape and a genre painting, a cityscape that zoomed in on a part of the city, after I thought of the gentrification problem as a loud element or part of our cities (and sidewalks) today. That gave me the reason I was looking for to do a cityscape, or a genre painting, or a combine of both.
MA: Wow! That's a nice approach, Jojo. Thank you for sharing. . . . Ok, let's move on. You have two other paintings here that are of the same size as The New Middle Class. One has the title A Baroque Ode to the Lipstick Feminists' Attack On a Village. That seems to have a more immediate, albeit allegorical, statement than the first painting we discussed. Or so I think.
JSV: I don't know that it has a more immediate or universal contextual appeal, title- and imagery-wise, but I guess all you have to do there is google "lipstick feminist" and you'd have an idea of what it claims to be about allegorically. But the "baroque" in the title, I don't think many know what that is about.
MA: Yes, please. Do give our readers a backgrounder on that part of the title. Let's educate, Billy Gate!
JSV: Well, as you and I may know, the onset of the Baroque era actually popularized, or rather made it almost a rule to have, black backgrounds . . . for Baroque works to dramatize their Church narratives further with. And that's what I'm doing here. I placed the whole thing in a sort of night hour.
It's like this. . . .
JSV: . . . The Catholic Church instigated the Baroque manner to put more drama into Christian painting as a reaction against the Reformation's iconoclastic calls. Thus, Baroque made it a rule to highlight icons or human dramatic figures and their narrative drama with the most visceral of backgrounds: black.
In my painting, however, I used the black background to signify night time and the night life, as well as to dramatize a fictional machine gun attack—
MA: That's a B-25 bomber, right?
JSV: Yes, a B-25 bomber over a village, the center of which looks like a Catholic church.
MA: Is it? A Catholic church?
JSV: Two spires.
JSV: The source of this is actually a photo by William Garnett, and the church in Garnett's photo only had one spire.
MA: Machine-gunning the Church. This is Baroque turned against its inventors.
JSV: Yes. (laughs)
But with the bottles of lipstick juxtaposed in another plane of the painting, little lipstick bottles in a row appearing like a collection of bullets, and then with that prompt from the painting's title, the viewer is led to make this connection: the bullets in the machine gun are most likely not real bullets, but most probably only lipstick bottles.
And by the title's pronouncement, the lipstick is here made to literally represent lipstick feminists.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, A Baroque Ode to the Lipstick Feminists' Attack On a Village, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 72" x 31 ¼"
MA: But lipstick feminists are not attacked by the Roman Catholic Church, as far as I know.
JSV: Correct. However, they're attacked, culturally at least, by some in the devout Catholic community, though less than by the conservative evangelical Right (the Christian Right), and then by the ultra-conservative sects of other religions.
MA: Is that Amy Winehouse on the right?
JSV: That's actually a female clown from a story in Spin magazine. I am here proceeding to dramatize what could be representative of a happy, free female under a red light.
MA: One of those lipstick feminists.
JSV: Uh-huh. That's the idea.
MA: But the lipstick feminists' supposed counter-attack on a "village" here seems to point to a literal attack on a literal village. Are you endorsing violence, my man?
JSV: (laughs) The village I am alluding to here is nothing more than that unworldly, provincial one located between people's ears. That village would actually paint lipstick feminists as demonic elements in our societies, perhaps associating their red lipsticks with Satan's red. Especially their mini skirts. :)
MA: That's sad.
JSV: Very sad.
MA: Now, the third piece you have here of the same size as the first two we discussed is a vertical one, titled . . . Felix's Leap Into That Grumbacher and Lefranc & Bourgeois Ultramarine-Blue Acrylic Void, which you actually displayed tilting to the left on the wall at the gallery. Who's Felix in the title?
JSV: That's Felix Baumgartner, who did an actual leap and skydive from a helium balloon at an estimated 39 kilometers above the ground.
JSV: Yup. His dive reached an estimated top speed of 1,357+ km/h, which made him the first person to break the sound barrier without a vehicle. And that leap, sponsored by Red Bull, would supposedly help NASA come up with a design wherein astronauts could eject from space vehicles in jeopardy at a certain height of ascent and then survive.
JSV: But all that is only the part of the painting that pays tribute, you see. The other part of the painting almost parodies, or puts into question, something or someone.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, Felix's Leap Into That Grumbacher and Lefranc & Bourgeois Ultramarine-Blue Acrylic Void, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 31 ¼" x 72"
MA: Tell us about it.
JSV: Well, it's primarily a take on Yves Klein's . . .
MA: Yves Klein, that's it! The blue paintings! And The Leap Into the Void in Dimanche!
JSV: Yes. But particularly with Klein's supposedly spiritual explorations with the ultramarine-blue pigment's emotional impact, supposedly to him the color nearest to the beyond, kind of like Giotto with the lapis lazuli blue of his time. But then Klein was not satisfied with the ultramarine blue of his time and asked a paint supplier to look for a mix that would be more to his liking. Thus was born what is now known as International Klein Blue.
MA: Which is based on ultramarine blue.
JSV: Yes, which Klein registered as an invention but never really applied a patent for. I kinda like to see that, that, uhm, interplay between spirituality and commercial requirements or intellectual property requirements. I'm not really parodying that duality, understanding that even Jesus had to employ the richest fisherman in his region along with a tax collector, (MA and JSV laugh) but I'm just amused by the necessity. I mean spirituality needs that. A businessman behind the whole thing. It's like seeing the amazing, heroic feat of Felix Baumgartner speeding down to earth like iron Man or Superman, but with a Red Bull logo attached to his leg. (The two laugh) That's so interesting to me! I think I'm Andy Warhol at times! (The two laugh some more)
MA: But I think it's the leap itself, Felix's leap, that makes the painting directly allude to Klein. Klein and his photo montage in Dimanche.
JSV: Le Saut dans le vide (Leap Into the Void), right. I'm glad you mentioned that, because Klein leapt into his void there with some of his friends catching him.
MA: That was a performance act, but not one that would hurt his nose.
JSV: No, you're right. But there's a relationship between Yves' leap and Felix's leap. They're both doing this in the presence of technology, in Yves' case the technology of the double exposure or photo montage . . .
JSV: . . . while in Felix's case it's with the technologies involved in his skydive feats.
MA: So, are you mocking Klein here? His leap, I mean, compared to Felix's leap and dive?
JSV: Not really. I'm just juxtaposing his obsession with the beyond, with death―which is somewhat like Anish Kapoor's obsession―with Felix's attraction to the act of surviving death at the edges of life. I think Klein's is more a product of a curiosity towards the beyond and a dissatisfaction with life, anybody can correct me if I'm wrong. Felix's is more like Janis Joplin's explorations of the edges of life as well as utter confidence in safety measures. As well as from an urge to triumph, I suspect.
MA: You mention Anish Kapoor. Didn't you do a parody on him, too, in a piece last year?
JSV: That wasn't really about him.
MA: Still, tell us about that one.
JSV: Well, it was a group show on the allegory, which you were in, too, and I had this triptych tribute to feminism composed of three separate shaped canvases shaped like gingerbread men (you know, palatable idea that are at the same time fragile, breakable) or jigsaw puzzle pieces (you know, can this statement fit somewhere in our society?).
So, one of the panels, which I called The Fetishist (or, Allegory of Our Collective Sadness/Badness), was a Picasso-esque piece meant to portray a fetishist. But instead of referring to a specific sort of fetishist, I had the figure look more like a composite depicting several representations of sexual fetish, including clothing fetish (cosplay fetish included), hair fetish, possibly also latex or PVC fetish (if the bra there would be interpreted as latex/PVC), uniform fetish, lipstick or makeup fetish, and mechanophilia, among other sexual fetishes and sexual kinks "collaged" for the figure composition. You would also notice a pair of eyeglasses on the floor at the bottom right of that painting to represent eyeglasses fetish.
Now, the parenthetical title of the panel—as well as the text on the painting’s central heart-shape image (which read “Sad/Bad But Not Kapoor”)—wanted to refer to this compound of various sexual fetishes in the fiigure as standing for both a “sadness” and “badness” in “our collective” society.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, The Fetishist (or, Allegory of Our Collective Sadness/Badness), 2012-2018, acrylic on shaped canvas, laterally 48" x 31 ½" (Photo by Patrick Ang)
MA: Uh, wait. Fetishes as representing sadness and badness in society? Okay.
JSV: It's like this. “Sadness,” which is often expressed as a black or grey mood, is a result of what one cannot be or have. You can't be this or can't have that, you'll be sad. That would I think be quite obvious to everyone, and we can all agree on that.
JSV: “Badness,” on the other hand, also often expressed as a black mood, is something more complex and latent. It can refer to human resourcefulness in finding ways of momentarily becoming what one cannot be, or it can refer to having that thing that one cannot have, let's say by the harmful stealing of another’s ham for a Christmas dinner, so that one can pretend to be someone able to afford ham for Christmas. That is badness.
In parallel, a sexual kink is a means to enhance partner intimacy through fantasy just as a fetish is a means to replace that intimacy, thus both a “badness” akin to human resourcefulness’ “badness” at achieving enhancements and replacements in human existence. Unlike stealing, however, these latter badnesses are often harmless.
MA: Okay. I think I got you so far, you bad boy. So, what's the black heart all about?
JSV: Good. Notice that the text inside the black heart central image of the painting uses the conjunction “but” for the phrase “but not Kapoor,” to intimate that the blackness in this sadness and badness situation is at a merely sociological or socio-psychological level and not at an Anish Kapoorian spiritual (Buddhist or Hindu) level (you can check Kapoor’s Symbolist or Neosymbolist spiritual claims for the black holes in some of his sculptures).
But there’s a common point between those two levels: Kapoor’s spiritual black holes and my painting’s psychological black heart both treat of the color or non-color black as a positive color or non-color instead of negative (spirituality or obsession with the beyond in Kapoor’s sculptures’ case and resourcefulness in my painting’s case). . . .
However, as a second meaning, this very heart’s mention of Kapoor would also inevitably allude to the controversy around the Kapoor-patented Vantablack pigment, . . .
JSV: . . . which controversy was signified in that feminist series or triptych of mine as a product of a male possessiveness in Kapoor. That possessiveness can be contrasted with a female motherly instinct to nurture everyone instead of one individual self, with this nurturing desire achievable through, say, the spirit of the commons. That communal maternal instinct is represented in this painting’s heart image through its use of a commonly-owned black pigment, not a patented-for-exclusive-use one.
The whole metaphorical narrative’s alluding to commonality and community in this painting, therefore, again as per my direct allusion to them in my title, should lead people to assert the possibility of fetishism’s and the sexual kink’s being both common and even communal and not merely special or rare among a few individuals. In that sense, the painting becomes a celebration of communal fetish or kink, or rather of communal or collective resourcefulness, leading to Christmas dinners of what the community can be or have.
Which should explain why one of the costumes worn by the female figure is a Voltron costume.
MA: I was going to go into that.
JSV: Well, Voltron was not one robot machine but a composite or collective of several robot machines.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, A Gingerbread Man's/Woman's World triptych, 2012-2018, acrylic on shaped canvas, each separate panel laterally 48" x 31 ½" (Photo by Patrick Ang)
MA: Oh, yeah! Well, wow, that was quite a complex allegory.
JSV: It is a complex allegory. And that's probably why no one bought it. It's still at the gallery.
MA: Ok. But I hope someone buys it soon after reading this. (laughs) Now let's talk about this smaller piece at your current solo show. This one's called I Saw Fighting Temeraires (refusing to be tugged to their last berth to be broken up), which happens to be my favorite.
JSV: Right. I think you know that that's a take, or variation, on J.M.W. Turner's The Fighting Temeraire.
MA: Sure. Tell us about it.
JSV: Well, to those who don't know what a Temeraire is, it was actually a warship, HMS Temeraire, which was, during Turner's time, one of the last second-rate "ships of the line," so called. It played a distinguished role in the Battle of Trafalgar; in short, it was a distinguished sailing warship.
Now, in Turner's painting, it was being towed by a paddle-wheel steam tugboat toward its final berth to be broken up for scrap.
Now, we know, of course, what that painting was trying to say. Sailing warship in the age of the steam?
JSV: Now, that's also what I'm trying to do here with the fossil fuel power stations that are using coal, natural gas, or petroleum to produce electricity.
MA: These look like nuclear power plants, though.
JSV: No, no, no. I was, in fact, particularly inspired by the striking image of the Bełchatów Power Station of Poland, which is a brown coal-powered plant, and then the chimneys of the now-closed Carbon Power Plant of Utah.
MA: Brown coal. You mean lignite.
JSV: Yes. But I'm also trying to quote Turner here and his obsession with the lightness and fluency of oil paint and how that was able to create ephemeral atmospheric effects resembling thick clouds or fog or smog as well as turbulent water. I'm trying to quote that Turner obsession here for the reason that, and this should be noted, Turner actually celebrated the smokes of the Industrial Revolution also.
MA: Really? Great atmospheric effects, those Turners. Very light and fluid, but also unrealistic, said one critic!
JSV: (laughs) Yes, a bit Romantic, or proto-expressionist.
MA: And he used oil to achieve those atmospheres.
JSV: Yes, I just used acrylic paint for mine.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, I Saw Fighting Temeraires (refusing to be tugged to their last berth to be broken up), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 45" x 30"
MA: So, . . . here you were flipping over Turner! I mean this is hardly pro-"Industrial Revolution".
JSV: Yes. I'm making an anti-Industrial Revolution Turner. My Turner is saying these fossil fuel plants are fighting Temeraires that now need to be tugged to their last berth.
And, by the way, you might remember that Turner was also a master of composition as a tool for dramaturgy. You're quite a master of that yourself, by the way.
MA: Oh, thank you.
JSV: So, in his Fighting Temeraire, Turner placed his big ship in the fog and put the black tugboat in the fogless front.
JSV: I reversed that for my Temeraires, because I'm trying to present the current Temeraires as "refusing to be tugged to their last berth." So they remain black at the front and at the back, in silhouette. And then I placed them on the right side of the canvas, with the smoke from their chimneys going leftward, to make the front power station look like a steam train going rightward, meaning going on and not stopping.
Now, my Turner tugboat is what's at the bottom front, a house with solar panels. And although the coal-powered power stations are refusing "to be tugged to their last berth," the house with solar power still want to fight, thus the road from the house going upward at the right. But, although the house with the solar panels is in a cloudless hill, it is so minuscule and drowned in darkness that you can hardly see the blueness of its solar panels. My wife even thought they were just skylight.
MA: I thought they were just skylight, too.
(The two laugh)
MA: But what about the plywood-size painting, titled Bacchus and Ariadne (After Titian)? Here you are definitely telling people who you're alluding to: Titian! But then, . . . you placed a Francis Bacon study of Pope Innocent X on the right panel of the painting, so this can't be a simple variation on a Titian. Tell us what you're doing here.
JSV: Right. So, this is another complicated painting to talk about.
MA: Try me.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, Bacchus and Ariadne (After Titian), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 96" x 48"
JSV: (laughing) All right. Well, you know Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne piece, of course, yes?
JSV: But not many people know that when Titian painted that painting of his, that was also the time when the Church wanted the ultramarine blue color used exclusively for the Virgin Mary. Called the lapis lazuli blue pigment then, it was a pretty expensive imported pigment, shipped from Afghanistan, that took months to reach Venice. Now, Titian, who was actually one of the Church's favorite painters, was commissioned to do a mural for a duke with classical mythological themes. And when he painted his Bacchus and Ariadne scene for the commission, he rebelled from the Church dictum―perhaps with tongue in cheek―and placed ultramarine blue not only on the sky with the Northern Crown, which was probably still okay, but also on Ariadne's skirt and on a female reveler's. And that is why a Pope is there at the right of my painting, looking displeased.
But, of course, now almost all ultramarine blue acrylic pigment there is is synthetic.
MA: I read somewhere that it wasn't always like that. That before lapis lazuli came into the picture, the females were given the red color and the males were given the blue. It was when lapis lazuli came along that things got reversed, with the Virgin Mary getting the most expensive blue: lapis lazuli.
JSV: I didn't know that.
MA: Well, now you know.
JSV: (laughs) Thank you, pare. . . . Oh. Speaking of pare, or Pari (Priest), there's another significance to the Pope's presence here. Bacchus is the god of wine, right? The Vatican, meanwhile . . . has tracts of vineyards. The Pope, therefore, is a god of wine himself.
MA: I seeee!
JSV: Furthermore, I have this personal reading of Ariadne's story. That, maybe Ariadne wasn't actually taken by Bacchus. Perhaps she only became a slave to the god of wine, read: became an alcoholic right after Theseus left her. Francis Bacon, the painter of that image I copied to the right panel of my painting . . . became a borderline alcoholic, too, and―Boy David said―also a bit of a reveler in bacchanalia.
MA: Oh yes.
JSV: Note, too, pare, that Bacon's Pope here is Pope Innocent X, Bacon's obsession actually. Now, there is a version of the mythology that says Bacchus asked Theseus to leave Ariadne so that he, Bacchus, could have Ariadne for himself. Bacchus being a Trump of sorts and Theseus being the rest of the US Republican Party, Theseus obeyed. And thus Ariadne became Bacchus' girl, whom he gifted with the entire sky, crowning her there with the Northern Crown. Now, . . . Pope Innocent X sort of has a similar story, as per rumors. Wherein, after his brother died, his late brother's wife moved, supposedly, into the Pope's chambers and from then had tremendous influence on his policies.
MA: Oh! Layers of stories here! . . . (laughs) I like the Republican Party bit.
(The two laugh together)
JSV: Layers of stories, layers of stories . . . that I didn't actually foresee!
MA: No?! Oh, a happy outcome, then.
JSV: Yes. What I intended to be a variation on a Titian became both a history (or narrative) and historical painting.
MA: Yeah, yeah. Oh, good that you mention that difference between a history or historia painting and a historical one. Because I believe this is also what happened with that other painting of yours, that one that you displayed without a bastidor, with the title O My God! (or, Somebody Squealed on Przybyszewski and Madonna)? I mean that one also has a bunch of history as well as speculative narration in it.
JSV: True, but first let me say this. Vincent van Gogh had an animated film on him, or a part of his life, titled Loving Vincent, right? I'm trying to do the same here for Edvard Munch. This is my Loving Munch.
MA: Oh-ho-ho. A tribute history-cum-historical painting! Go on, go on! How does it go?
Jojo Soria de Veyra, O My God! (or, Somebody Squealed On Przybyszewski and Madonna), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 102" x 59"
JSV: Okay. It's like this. The most famous Munch painting is The Scream, right? And it's been described as the 20th century Mona Lisa, as a portrait of modern man's anxiety. I don't know about that, really, but I believe it was a personal painting for Munch, nothing more, nothing less. A lot of expressionists painted personal paintings, especially the Northern ones.
JSV: Now, the next most famous Munch painting there is is Madonna, right? And I believe that that is more of a Decadent Movement kind of painting there than expressionist.
MA: Mm, perhaps.
JSV: Now, a lot of people don't know that these two paintings are among those that Munch would keep on painting versions of, as if they were photographs of most memorable moments in the painter's life that he had to visit again and again. And between these two paintings' different versions, the difference was negligible. Now, contrast that with his versions for, say, Jealousy, which were all different, set in different locations, with different sets of characters, different angles, and so on. Not so with the versions of The Scream and Madonna. And my theory is that these two paintings are connected.
MA: No shit.
JSV: That's why I told you . . . this is my Loving Munch. (laughs) Loving Munch, because like Loving Vincent it tells of a lover. You see, the model . . . the model for Madonna is—
MA: Yes. Uhm, Dagny . . . something.
JSV: Right. Dagny Juel. And she was Edvard's lover. Or rather, Edvard was her lover.
MA: Among a few other lovers.
JSV: Among a few other lovers, yes, August Strindberg being one of them. But it seems that that situation of so many liaisons didn't prompt Munch to paint his first Jealousy painting. Never. After all, this was the period of the Decadent Movement. It was kind of like the hippie days, or the days of the 1970s-'80s London punk scene. BDSM sex would undoubtedly be operative, I suspect, along with group sex, lover swapping, open marriages, and so on. Even Satanism or pseudo-Satanism (Baudelaire), and virtue in suicide (Hans Jæger). Munch seemed to have been part of that for a while. No wonder his Madonna was read as a demonic-looking Madonna (or Virgin Mary) with a red beret for a halo, and in a pose that looked like something from bondage sex. Moreover, the movement of colors around the figure also looked somewhat like the lips and mouth of a vagina. No wonder people, especially critics in Germany, would disapprove of his oeuvres, even while collectors started to buy Munchs a little later and viewers came pouring into his exhibitions intrigued.
MA: Then what happened?
JSV: It was when Dagny married the Satanist novelist Stanislaw Przybyszewski that Munch painted The Scream and started on his journey of pessimism towards love.
MA: Ahh! So that's why you had these two paintings side by side in your re-painting of them in your own version, and you connected them by having them in what seems like one setting. There are two posts, made from some of the elements in the originals (some of their versions, at least).
JSV: Yes. And I re-painted these two works as a form of homage, as a process of trying to have a taste or feel of how it was for Munch to go through the painting of them, kind of like the way devotees would lift a heavy wooden cross during Holy Week to have a bit of taste or feel of Christ's struggle.
MA: And I guess those two works, if they are indeed connected, would not be as haunting to Munch had Dagny not been murdered, right?
JSV: Right you are. And that's the reason why I went through the process, as my sympathetic gesture towards Munch's melancholic attitude towards his former girlfriend who married a Satanist and went on to go through an open marriage wherein Przybyszewski would even introduce her to Henryk Sienkiewicz, allegedly so the latter could give him a grant from the Polish Academy of Talent, and then went on to die of murder or homicide under a lover introduced by Przybyszewski. It may be true that Przybeszewski, who later left Dagny for his friend-poet Jan Kasprowicz's wife, arranged for her murder by the son of a miner named Władysław Emeryk, who was also one of her lovers in the open marriage. But it is also possible that the murder in a hotel room was an accident from a hoplophilic act. Anyway, Przybyszewski was previously a suspect in the murder of his former common-law wife whom he left for Dagny. And, supposedly, Emeryk tried to shoot himself the next day of the murder or homicide.
MA: O My God! What a soap opera!
MA: Is that why you colored her hair red?
JSV: Uhm, yes, I wanted to transfer the redness of the beret-cum-Madonna-halo to a larger area, to evoke blood, and also to get rid of the black hair with a red halo which, in combination, I think was responsible for the demonic association. Then I also had the waters of the fjord in the Scream part of the painting also red, to further the blood context. But, here's one added thing; there's actually a story that says one of the factors that made Munch stop at this scene was the animal shrieks from a nearby slaughterhouse at this fjord near Oslo. So I imagined that some of the blood from the slaughterhouse would be thrown or would leak into the waters. That's why I painted the other figures on the bridge, or bay walk, green.
MA: Uh-huh. Why green? Uhm, environmentalism?
JSV: Yes, but primarily to refer to little green men. You know, aliens, to say how we are aliens to our own planet's environment.
MA: Nice. And why is the screamer in yellow?
JSV: He/she is a squealer, the bringer of bad news, like the news about Dagny's marriage as well as Dagny's death. Remember, there were four versions of The Scream from the one in 1893, Dagny's year of marriage, to beyond Dagny's death in 1901. One version was a lithograph that had several editions.
MA: You didn't answer my question. Why is the squealer in yellow?
JSV: Sorry. Yellow might be the color of the Pope, but it's also the color of Judas Iscariot.
MA: Oh. Interesting. Is that why there also seems to be a shadow? Left of the screamer's left face?
JSV: Oh. That one was due to a grey underpainting that I failed to paint over with white after I ran out of white. I just went on, and then I saw the effect. At first I wanted to redo the spot, but then decided I should just leave it that way, because it seemed to make some kind of horror effect. I was thankful for it.
MA: Another happy outcome. . . . You have another painting without a bastidor at the show, titled "I Look Better Than Him In White," which seems to be your abstract work in the show, in contrast to the other works. A political semi-abstract work, I should say. It's got figures in it, what looks like a rough, abstract rendition of four main shapes—a rendition of Obama from a famous Obama portrait at the left, a quick painting of Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, a quick painting of half of that Mussolini building called Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, and then of what could be Mussolini himself. In the background there are color fields. I can see colors from the Italian flag, including the yellow from previous Italian flags, but it's really unclear.
JSV: You're right. I wanted to have those Italian flag colors come out from beneath, but not exclusively. In fact, the colors might even come out as more African than Italian, and there may be some context that can be extracted from that fact, including perhaps the fact that Mussolini wanted to conquer more of Africa. Remember Italy's Ministry of the Colonies?
But, aesthetically, the colors are there to provide a living background for white, the splotches of white that actually made shapes: the shape of a sitting black man at the left, the Le Corbusier and Mussolini buildings, and Mussolini. And in its totality it's a commentary on the elitist utopia behind white advanced by James Abbott McNeill Whistler and later on by the Fascist utopia around it as advanced by Le Corbusier and Mussolini.
MA: Why is it not in a bastidor?
JSV: I meant this painting for a foreigner to be interested in. I'm showing my paintings in a boutique hotel's gallery, after all. It's a ready-to-roll thing. Same with the Munch painting that might have more of a foreign than local market.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, "I Look Better Than Him in White", 2019, acrylic on canvas, 96" x 48"
MA: Why is it rough and abstract, compared to the other works?
JSV: I felt that it would demean its expression if you put more details into the shapes? I don't know. That's my sense about it now. I want the politics on it to be stronger than the skill factor which might interfere with the emotion behind the symbols.
MA: That's so Gerhard Richter.
MA: Okay. Now let's talk about that small piece in the show that you seem to have exhumed from the year 1990. Titled I Placed a Jan Fabre Piece on Death at Our Show About Life, there's a flag of the Soviet Union at the back of the front images that you don't even mention in the title. You seem to have a leaning towards long titles that might give us a hint about the painting's intent, so it's curious to see a piece of yours where . . . well, you didn't say anything about that Soviet flag in your title. I have an idea why, but do tell us about that.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, I Placed A Jan Fabre Piece on Death at Our Show About Life, 1990, oil on canvas, 21" x 21"
JSV: Right. You're right. In the title I'm talking about a Jan Fabre sculpture, specifically the sort of Jan Fabre sculpture that would evoke feelings concerning death and animals. In such a sculpture, Fabre would glue insect wing cases into those surfaces, many of these featuring the jewel scarab, which would turn out shiny sculptures. To me these shiny sculptures about death resemble mummy cases embellished in gold or with jewels.
MA: And in the painting's narrative, as per your title, you supposedly placed such a sculpture on death . . . in a show about life.
JSV: Right. So there's a Brancusi sculpture there about flight and a Mondrian painting about the basic structures of life and the spirit, his proto-DNA concept.
MA: Uh-huh. And, voila, there's the Soviet flag! Where does that belong to, then? The life section of the fictive show or the death section? It definitely looks like it's behind the Jan Fabre piece, so it might be an accompaniment to it.
I Placed A Jan Fabre Piece on Death at Our Show About Life (angular view from the right side)
JSV: It's where you want to put it in your own reading. Communism is supposedly about life, the liberation of the working class from their misery, to a bright and happy future of farming together in a farm commune. And yet history has demonstrated that the process of attaining that bright picture betrayed weaknesses in the utopia. So there was Stalinism, which grew from it, and the ethnic oppression that sent people to the Gulag, and so on and so forth. Its life-affirming vision became a vision of death. Anna Akhmatova, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and many other writers sympathetic to the Socialist spirit have sent us vivid pictures of how that frustrating process developed fatally.
MA: Whatever prompted you to do this work?
JSV: I just wanted to do a painting of a show. So that when I have this painting in a show, I'd have a show within a show. Or artworks in a show within an artwork in a show. At first I wanted to hang a tapestry, then I thought, why not a flag? Oh, why not a Communist flag? Which led me to the context that a utopia, any utopia, is actually an art work, good or bad.
MA: Wow. Bravo! Hey, you have another political piece here, a triptych titled The Day I Wished Alexander McQueen Tackled Philippine Reality, Too. Why is that not as abstract as "I Look Better Than Him in White "?
JSV: Because it's supposed to be a realist picture of three display windows displaying a barong Tagalog each.
MA: But they're supposed to be blueprints for an Alexander McQueen show, right?
JSV: No, they're from a dream; dreams are not blueprints. I mean they're blueprints as dreams about what I was wishing, but dreams are often as vivid as reality, at least during the dreaming of them. Especially when the dream is a daydream. Or day nightmare involving militarized sugarcane plantations, politicians with offshore accounts, and a pork barrel-corrupt Congress.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, The Day I Wished Alexander McQueen Tackled Philippine Reality, Too, 2018, acrylic on canvas, each panel 20" x 30"
The Day I Wished Alexander McQueen Tackled Philippine Reality, Too (panel 2 detail)
The Day I Wished Alexander McQueen Tackled Philippine Reality, Too (panel 2 detail)
The Day I Wished Alexander McQueen Tackled Philippine Reality, Too (panel 2 detail)
MA: So these are vertical dreamscapes?
JSV: Actually, no. They're a take on costume paintings, or portrait paintings where the clothing became as much stars of the composition as their sitters. That's why they're vertical. Then, when I thought of the barong Tagalog, I thought of taking out the sitters and just leave the clothing, the barongs, alone by themselves, without their wearers. But I didn't like them floating like surreal elements, like in the panels' earlier versions, so I had them clarified as elements in a display window, supposedly with a picture displayed below each of them.
MA: Brilliant addenda. Oh, speaking of addenda, I noticed you added a painting to the walls of the gallery a week after your show launch.
JSV: It's another 1990 painting, which I showed at a group show on religious art. The gallery ran out of storage space and allowed the artists to retrieve the pieces after the show, waiving the usual three-month selling rights. So I transported the piece here for inclusion in my solo show. Is that bad?
MA: It's a religious painting? Why is it titled with a satiric title, Story of Iesus Nazarenus Resorts, Inc.?
JSV: It's actually a religious painting tackling Christian philosophy. Let me explain.
JSV: We have here see a seascape beyond a resort fence at the top of the canvas and an asphalt road crossing the canvas in the top middle. The road looks like a black crucifix, doesn't it, and by the title we may understand that this is an attempt by the artist, me, to illustrate the Crucifixion of Jesus aniconically.
JSV: Yes. But, as a Symbolist painting, it actually goes beyond that. I meant to present here both an allegory of a basic tenet in Christian philosophy and a critique of many Christians' views that seem to go against that very philosophy they tout to be followers of.
MA: Go ahead.
JSV: Here's how I would enumerate the details of my Symbolist composition. We'll talk about the visual argument embedded in those details as we go along, if there are already arguments there.
First, the crossing asphalt roads depicting a black cross, wherein at the top of the road appearing vertically is a gate-cum-guardhouse with a door, on top of which door is a sign that has the letters “INRI,” commonly understood as an acronym for "Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum" but here corrupted to stand for "Iesus Nazarenus Resorts, Inc.," presumably to parody businesses that use Jesus' or saints' or angels' names. The guardhouse-cum-gate, though sporting a peaceful white wall, sports a blood-red roof for a crown. We’ll go into the peace-war or life-death duality symbolism later; let's just remember that image first.
Second, the rocks on the right foreground. Now, if this vertical landscape composition means to depict the Crucifixion of Jesus, then those rocks on the right foreground must signify Jesus’s disciples. St. Peter was himself called The Rock, right, and every Christian church has been referred to as a rock, while Jesus was wont to preach atop a humble rock or mound. Note, also, that the rocks seem to appear as having eyes, which may expand to either negative contexts involving anthropocentrism or positive ones involving Taoist philosophy and man's relationship with nature.
MA: Hm. Continue.
JSV: Third, there's a large white X interference in the landscape’s presentation, like a white X on a building’s newly-installed glass wall or window.
This X could signify the spears of the centurions at the Crucifixion of Jesus, one of which spears supposedly inflicted a wound on Jesus’ right side. Notice that the X also “wounds,” or interferes with, our comfortable landscape view of the resort front. Then, one of this X’s upper points, the one piercing the vertical road’s right side, does seem to touch a red gash on that part of the road. Now, this red gash may be understood as some blood on the road, you could surmise that it's from a car accident perhaps, or from an animal roadkill, or some blood-looking spilled paint, but here we know it's also signifying something else: the spear-piercing at Christ's Crucifixion.
MA: That spear-piercing references or seems to quote a long-held tradition in Christian art of putting that wound on Jesus’ right side, which presumably symbolizes Jesus's saving of the soul of the penitent thief Dismas who was crucified to his right.
Now, talking of Dismas, and this is the fourth detail I want to talk about, notice also that the vertical road’s curve to its left (to Gestas’ side) appears to be the quicker or most-often-taken turn, while the curve to the road's right (to Dismas’ side) appears to be the harder and less-often-taken turn. Along with that symbolism, a bush grows on the cross's right side, while grass to its left seems to be drying/dying. The parking lot to its left also has a parking meter (you pay), while the parking facility at its right has none. Furthermore, that gray asphalt-or concrete-topped parking lot to its left there seems to sport an island-cum-plant box that looks like a coffin, representative of death.
MA: What a bundle of symbols, Jo.
JSV: (laughs) Indulge me.
Fifth, there are these two empty parking lots themselves that could refer to an oncoming populace who could then be on Jesus’ shoulder once they come to park here, ready to be saved or not.
And sixth, going back to thelarge X looking like a newly-installed glass window’s traditional/functional X, that could also be hinting at that “wall” between here (the viewer’s position) and there (beyond the glass), referring to a behind-the-glass landscape that is presumably the land of Christianity. This land of Christianity, then, is not a land that you can just point to and declare as being in/on; it is a land you have to go to and take steps in/on, by first opening or breaking that glass wall separating the "here" from the "there." It could even refer to a bunch of Christian religious "here" who observe all the rituals of Christianity but have yet to actually live the Christian philosophy "there."
MA: Are you referring to someone in particular?
JSV: We can exchange notes on that.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, Story of Iesus Nazarenus Resorts, Inc., 1990, oil on canvas, 31 ½" x 46 ¼"
JSV: Now, seventh. If the sea is a symbol for life, the hazards of life, and then also of death, then it should also be an apt symbol for Christian philosophy, this philosophy being one which merges death with a happy afterlife, a life with Jesus and God. Notice the welcoming (albeit a bit fearsome) royal purple sky above this sea? Notice also the cloud/s that seem/s to form a halo above the vertical road?
Now, the beach is a symbol of fun and living, which could here be the symbol for happy Christian living, Christian life being a kind of living supposedly not fearful of being near seascapes of hardship and death, being faithful towards that Christian sea of life and death and resurrection. This, then, is the very crux of Christian philosophy, its philosophy that covers issues concerning war/peace, life/death, and punishment. Those who campaign for the death penalty, therefore, in the name of Christianity, misunderstand the concept of punishment as well as death in the Christian philosophical context.
JSV: But, and this is my eighth point, . . . while true Christian living is not fearful of death, neither must it be fearful of life. Thus the presence of a lifeguard there, as symbol of a beautiful human being who could be preaching the beauty of life as well, and who, while not fearful of death and decay in his/her athleticism and courage, stays appreciative of life, protective too of everyone's body’s and mind's health and constant safety.
And ninth, if there are disciple rocks to be seen in Jesus’ Crucifixion, representing the rocks of old, those rocks beyond the resort fence (inside the Christian resort of Christian living looking out to the life-death-afterlife sea and to the royal purple sky above) must be the new “rocks,” the new Peters, the priests and preachers of true Christian philosophy espoused by the painting.
MA: But, again, why the satiric title, Iesus Nazarenus Resorts, Inc.?
JSV: Good question. Good because I can now wrap up on that point.
Was it Che Guevara, or was it Pablo Neruda, who referred to the Church mockingly as “Christ, Inc.”? Suggesting that it has been mired in institutional corruption within the capitalist system. That sardonic view, while seemingly quoted in this painting via its, as you say, satiric title, is actually reversed in its contextuality here. Reversed, because the embrace of a happy Christian life is described as similar to going to a fun beach resort, and since the word “incorporated” here consequently possesses new Christian community meanings beyond those connoting deceptive free-market associations and corporate corruption. . . .
MA: I see. . . . Whoa, man. Amen to all those words, brother. Let's go grab ourselves something to drink.
(The two stand)
MA: Do you think you'd get to sell any of these, by the way? And what do you think of the prices the gallery put on them?
JSV: No idea if anyone would want to invest in any of these paintings. This market? It's a leap into a mysterious void for me.
MA: (as the two pass the doorway to get to the nearest 7-Eleven) Haha!
JSV: Speaking of ideas, that's precisely what I'm selling.
JSV: Ideas. They just happen to be in paintings, because the ideas are about paintings and painting, and there seems to be no other way to get these ideas out than through painting. I sell ideas in and through painting, while most others just sell paintings, did you notice? And their prices are outrageous.
MA: My paintings are just paintings.
JSV: (laughs loudly as he slaps MA's shoulders hard with somebody else's show catalog) You're such a liar!
(The two reach the nearest 7-Eleven) [d]
ADDENDA, APRIL 17, 2019:
MA on Facebook Messenger: Hey, Jojo, sorry to bother you again. Only a few days to go before your show wraps up, but heard you added another piece to a wall at the gallery.
JSV: Oh, yes, pre. Just moved a small piece from the recently-concluded Apropiacion group show to join my paintings here at The Picasso.
MA: Nice. Looks like a take on a Whistler.
JSV: Yep. Whistler's Symphony in White, No. 3.
Jojo Soria de Veyra, A Paedophile's Mini-Symphony in White, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 18" x 14"
MA: Tell us about this one. I mean, let's have you talk about it so we can have what you have to say about it added to our online interview with you.
In this small acrylic piece, titled A Paedophile's Mini-Symphony in White, I reconfigured J. M. Whistler's 30" x 20" oil piece to carry what would look like girls much younger than Whistler's women in that painting of his, and also girls that would seem to belong to a race that could be qualified as Filipino.
As my title suggests, I'm here challenging the Whistler painting's ostensibly apolitical position, which was a position supposedly dedicated to sheer whiteness and the harmonizing of whiteness' several shades in various shapes/forms accompanied by other colors; I replaced all that formalist stance with a political direction for my "symphony in white" variant.
So, in this mini-symphony (little girls, little symphony), I introduced the concept of pedophilia and thus here positioned Whistler's color white for the instigation of various meanings. For one, it could reference foreigner pedophiles commonly identified in local news reports as belonging to the white race. Now, of course that could be taken as racist (aren't there cases of Japanese pedophiles caught here, too?), so I would then offer that the white could simply refer to pureness (purity) or prepubescent or pre-menstrual virginity.
So, you see, clearly this is a painting influenced by Marxist criticism that not only would hit Whistlerian formalism but would transform or transgress Whistler from within, even if Whistler, albeit a bit of a mistress collector, is not the pedophile alluded to in this new social or political narrative I contrived to deny whiteness its neutrality. In fact, to say that my act here denigrates Whistlerian formalism and denies apolitical stances their right to exist in favor of political ends would seem to forget that Whistler himself, advertently or inadvertently, helped to develop white as the color of the elite, satirically at first and then not so, even introducing white as the ideal color for elitist gallery exhibitions.
MA: But, just thought about it, if this is a picture of young girls supposedly patronized by a pedophile's camera, who would buy such a painting? A pedophile himself? Because even if one likes the picture for certain other significations, he/she might avoid buying it because of your title.
JSV: Yes. But, remember, there are collectors of social realism. A collector of paintings portraying the torture of, say, unionists isn't necessarily a fan of torture or any kind of oppressive act. He is not collecting social realist scenes as fetishes, I presume, he is collecting the idea, the social realist idea, behind these scenes or depictions of oppression. My Pedophile's Mini-Symphony in White is my subtle kind of social realism.
JSV: Yeah. I'm applying the social realist motive for painting, not the social realist habit of image-making.
MA: Perfect. Oh, while we're on this, who do you think would buy your piece with the Soviet flag?
JSV: Either anti-communists, Russian perhaps, who would agree that the Soviet regime was a regime of death more than of life. Or communists, who would perhaps agree that there is much to be desired from the old versions of their utopia. Much room for improvement, that is, so that it can finally produce the regime of life that it envisioned.
MA: It's nice to know that you have a view of your potential market, as against not caring.
JSV: My ad industry experience perhaps. But, you see, any concept for a painting would have a market. If only art marketing can see which market would desire which painting, instead of just catering to existing markets in a certain city and providing them what they want!
MA: We must talk about this some more. Not on a 7-Eleven table.
JSV: Sure. Hopefully with a market element joining us.
MA: Hopefully! [d]
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