“Optiks” is a suite of large paintings that depict the signs of the times. Alvin Villaruel has a pulse for the guile of our perceptions.
As the world continues to turn, visual images overwhelm us. No longer are images just servile means for us to communicate with one another; they dictate to us, they define our culture and how we live. In a sense, images have power over us.
Villaruel is a magnificent painter, rendering striking photo-based images. In this stance is a conceptuality. He would rather be a camera and paint like one, perhaps following Duchamp’s credo of obliterating the credibility of painting with the camera and, later, obliterating the photograph with painting.
Villaruel regards the camera as “extensions of human vision” that “create images interfacing with our minds, our thoughts that let us create images, allowing us to see in a different way, or in our own distinct individual ways.”
Villaruel’s remarks reflect our current state of affairs, especially since we have come to live in a world of technological extensions and heightened mass communications. The signs proliferating from all of this confront us and condition our mind and actions. We are mendicants of these advancements.
The camera and the painter have long been an artistic theme for Villaruel. In a prolific body of work, Villaruel has painted and made homage to the varied aspects of the photograph.
In 2002, he made an outstanding mural of the cosmos, romanticizing the prospect of an image that the naked eye cannot see. He also painted on portable supports, blurred images that were almost abstract, reminiscent of the great German painter Gerhard Richter.
His works are exacting, no frills, un-gestural, but submerged in thought and reflection, even narrative.
In another work, he mimicked the binary codes of the blank television screen, which recalls another work in which he painted the bands of colors when no signal transmissions were made. These color bands were painted on the surface of picture tubes of small televisions that were installed on the floor.
Of late, he has painted works based on old and vintage photographs that curiously have found him. In truth, photographs remain truthful because they are constructed. The scene within the photograph is set up, composed, cropped and filled with omissions as well as inclusions.
And perhaps this is the trail Villaruel picks up in “Optiks”—the current nature of the photograph as an agent and as a mediator of currency. What is the image now? What is its performative value?
It is perhaps a valued judgment of the artist to take a few steps and degrees back, as Descartes proves that perception is in the mind and sight is in the eyes. What judges perception, the soul, maybe?
The exhibit runs until Oct. 10 at ArtistSpace, 2/F, Glass Wing, Ayala Museum, Makati City.