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Prerogative of Exuberance : New Abstractions

Dale Bagtas | Rene Bituin | Miguel Paulo Borja | Lee Caces | Demosthenes Campos
Jonas Eslao | Jose Gabriel Naguiat | JC Intal 7 | JoJo Lofranco
Joy Rojas | Emmanuel Sutton | VICTORIA | Wipo

October 08 - 29, 2022

Press Release

The Abstract Gesture as Vitality

It’s not easy to map out the coordinates of today’s abstraction since signaling the modernist turn in visual arts in the Philippines and elsewhere. While most of the postwar artists still accomplished figurative paintings, they emphasized the expressive and emotional content of their works through bold colors and sweeping strokes, no longer interested in faithfully depicting reality. Soon, a few were emboldened to venture into pure abstraction. Much of the gains we are reaping now were brought about by the lyrical—and then experimental—works of National Artists H.R. Ocampo and Jose Joya as well as Fernando Zobel and Charito Bitanga, and their eventual heirs Gus Albor, Lao Lianben, and Justin Nuyda, among others.

While it’s hard to state with certainty what are the developing strands in the field, there seems to be a persistent compulsion present even in today’s practitioners: the gestural, uninhibited action of making a mark on a surface. Before, abstract artists of yore were contending against the long tradition of figurative art. Now, the painters are reckoning with the omnipresence of the screen. With all the talks about non-fungible tokens (NFT) and AI-generated images which drain the works of human intervention, there is something about gestural abstraction that is analog, defiant, and affirmative of the body and its embeddedness in the world.

Prerogative of Exuberance proposes, demonstrates, and queries this type of abstraction rooted in bodily motions, improvised choreographies, and expenditure of energies. Invited artists Dale Bagtas, Rene Bituin, Miguel Paulo Borja, Lee Caces, Demosthenes Campos, Jonas Eslao, Jose Gabriel, Naguiat JC Intal 7, JoJo Lofranco, Pauline Reynolds, Joy Rojas, Emmanuel Sutton, Victoria, and Wipo bump against the question of abstraction today, which is to how meaningfully add to what’s already out there when even the briefest skirmish on a canvas would look like a gestural work.

As their works attest, the abstraction as a mode of experimentation is not finished, since materials are still evolving and giving artists new toys and tools to play with. For instance, Naguiat uses spray and black light fluorescent paints to add dimensions to the flat application of paint, as if creating a portal into his works through which an altered state of consciousness may be achieved. Lofranco, in previous works, incorporated neon lights, which rendered an otherworldly luminescence to his furious, masculine strokes. Intal, on the other hand, employs pure oil paint without other ground support in sculpting the shifting, multicolored terrains of his works.

Biography is also brought to bear upon the gestural strokes as the artists make oblique or direct references to lived experience. Rojas has consistently incorporated his love of race horses by approximating their stamina and speed through charged, galloping pigment. Also exploratory with his materials such as carpet, fur, and found objects, Campos refers to the urban scape with his medley of zigzagging lines and geometric shapes. Eslao, hinting through the titles of his works, gives visual translation to psychological—and even spiritual—phenomena.

For other artists, abstraction is a way of testing out ideas. Wipo, for instance, looks into how abstraction can be a reality of its own, configuring layers, depth, and even perspective, flirting with the illusory properties of figuration. In the same vein, Borja assembles abstract shapes and forms as a way of teetering onto the edge of representation, but never broaching the resolution of an image. The youngest in the group, Bagtas presents fields of mutating, spherical forms, taking over the canvas with furious virality, which presaged our knowledge of the novel coronavirus and its dreaded spikes.

No other form of painting exemplifies the life force furiously activating each cell of the body than abstraction. It prioritizes growth, continuity, and transformation—a stay against inertia. As the works of this exhibition present, the artists record, transmit, and crystallize their “prerogative of exuberance,” the notion that to paint is to activate and fully engage the vitality that makes visible the world’s hidden velocities.

- Carlomar Arcangel Daoana, Curator

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