THE ART of painting involves the application of several shades and layers of paint which in turn creates a symbiotic dynamic between materiality and meaning.
Each brushstroke becomes, in the hands of the skillful artist, a complex signifier with the power to evoke a universe of emotions.
In “Surgeons of the Surface,” co-presented by the art-appreciation program of Deutsche Bank and Gallery Big, young artists Francheska “Cheese” Co and Buen Abrigo tackle materiality and meaning by locating art-making within the metaphorical realm of surgical procedure. Both artists appropriate the canvas as multilayer surfaces for creating and mining meanings.
Co’s half of this artistic dialogue is showcased in a series of small abstract paintings that play with shape, texture and tonality. She refers to these paintings on silver plates as “shells of identity,” casting each in a combination of skin tones that project a distinct, organic vibe.
Each painting in the series is unique in itself, appearing like petals strewn as random garlands. But the resulting assemblage is the visceral feast, a sum greater than its parts. Taken together, Co’s shells appear to dance in a rhythmic celebration of life, evolution, beauty and diversity.
A singular untitled piece collates the skin tonalities of the smaller pieces and unravels them helically into a bigger image of what initially appears as a woman’s face and torso but which, upon closer scrutiny, reveals many other smaller faces.
The popular maxim that beauty is only skin-deep resonates in Co’s work. Surfaces are mere external properties than have no intrinsic correspondence with what lies beneath. In a culture obsessed with appearances and spectacle and where skin tonalities are hierarchical and potentially marginalizing, Co’s work stands as a timely exposition on the deconstructive power of art in exposing the fallacies of popular beliefs.
Abrigo, a recent recipient of the Thirteen Artists award from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, is unabashedly political. In the last couple of years, he has been successful not only in straddling activism and painting, but has also evolved an aesthetic that is both critical and accessible.
Abrigo’s paintings are polemic narratives often proffered as excavations of social inequities and the excesses of capitalist culture. The artist’s broad canvasses are surreal collision points for a multitude of characters and contexts. The cacophonic soundtrack that ensues from the orgy of the mix is at once disorienting and thought-provoking.
In the triptych “She After Some Thoughts on the Effects of Excessive Consumption,” Abrigo parades pop culture icons amid a backdrop of multistory buildings, evoking the celebratory ruckus of post-World War II celebrations. Temporal dimensions are obscured in these compositions, perhaps an allusion to the illusory signification of peace and normalcy and the ensuing violence of capitalist exploitation.
“We Are Our Encomienda— Landgrabbers Piss Off!” is a landscape painting of a different sort. Disembodied subjects in white stand on a field, their upper torsos missing but nevertheless defiant. On the horizon, a rock formation resembling a decapitated head looms ominously. Here, the imagery is topographical but the context is historical. Land and canvass are surfaces of multilayer signification and Abrigo deploys both as weapons of subversion.
In “Recalibration of the Capital,” sakada hover as giants over an urban landscape arranged across neat grids and manicured lawns. Abrigo deploys the dual significations of Capital both as place and source of wealth and empowers disenfranchised laborers in reconfiguring both the site and material source of their oppression.
“Surgeons of the Surface” is co-presented by Deutsche Bank through its art-appreciation program. It is on view until Nov. 7 at Gallery Big, LRI Design Plaza, Bel-air, Makati City. Call 6667755.