25 August 2020
This pandemic, which has been gripping the world for almost half a year already, has exposed the fissures in our day-to-day life. What has been made particularly obvious is that the elderly, already assailed by various ailments, are the most prone to COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus. While most who contract the virus recover from it, it has been observed that it is especially lethal to those who are in their senior years. Already isolated (and with some living alone), they are further ostracized, admonished not to go out or interact with other people. Their vulnerability is made even worse by their isolation.
It is the faces of these men and women—aged by time and experience, their hair having turned silver and their skin wrinkled—that the viewer gets to see in this solo exhibition, Attachment, by Ryan Jara. While the virus may have driven them to stay in their homes, Jara brings their likeness to the space of a gallery—a series of reminders of those who have come before us and who, more than ever, need our attentive care and understanding.
Presented through Jara’s own brand of portraiture, the faces are tenderly evoked with subdued palette, sometimes with a hint of smile, their eyes watery as though filmed with tears. The portraits are meant to be celebratory. What the viewer meets are people not consigned to their sunset years but still wonderfully vibrant and alive, still engrossed with earthly delights, as represented by objects attached to their person. Whether they may be a purse, a mug of coffee, or a well-worn sofa, these objects serve as a trigger to the artist’s memory of the figure, at once sentimental and beloved.
“These things form part of our identity,” Jara explains. “These are the things that you can’t disassociate yourself from—things that you constantly look out for and make you feel that your life is lacking without them. These things can be in the form of your favorite object or pastime that you constantly search for. Despite knowing that we can’t bring these things to the grave, we unceasingly keep them, use them, and give them value.”
Aside from the treasured objects they keep, what makes these figures all the more memorable is how Jara has chosen to represent them. While his inspiration is clearly Cubism, the artist reinterprets the style into a more fluid and subtle form of distortion, as opposed to a geometric and rigid figuration. The result is that the eye becomes a pivot towards an appreciation of the entire face of the figure—an all-seeing gaze that pierces the soul into a recognition of the subject’s humanity.
In his previous exhibitions and also evident in this current one, Jara has profoundly exemplified that his interest lies in capturing the essence of the person than in presenting their actual likeness. Through his style, he paradoxically transforms while at the same time restores the unique individuality of his subjects. No two portraits of Jara are ever the same. One of the foremost portraitists working today, Jara explores our deeply human connections, our fierce and abiding attachments, our vulnerabilities and strengths.
-Carlomar Arcangel Daoana