In Maxine Syjuco’s latest exhibit, the artist invites the viewer to be part of the experience.
“Art, to me, is more than just the final outcome,” she says. “It’s an entire creative process that’s extremely personal. From the moment the work is conceptualized, to the point when it’s completed, the whole experience—including the environment in which it takes place—is as much a part of the work as the finished result.”
She adds: “The goal is to encapsulate the true intimacy of art as an experiential journey where the artist’s studio plays an integral role. In this exhibit, I open the doors of my studio and invite viewers into my inner sanctum—figuratively, because the pieces are confessional tapestries of my soul; and literally because the venue is my own private studio where my restless imagination runs wild and free.”
Her studio, located at the family’s art lab in Ayala Alabang where her parents and siblings also work, plays host to this exhibit, which explores themes of romance, dreams and desire.
Syjuco, a recipient of the Editor’s Choice Prize for a self-portrait titled “Cages” at the Magnum Photography Awards in London, sits down for a conversation about the role of astrology, how dreams manifest a darker, layered reality, and why white continues to play such a large role in her wardrobe and her work.
Do you believe in astrology?
Why do you think many people look to astrology and horoscopes to determine their fate?
Because astrology and horoscopes tread the thin line between the enchanting and the earthly. Astrology and horoscopes are based purely on the cosmos. It’s a force beyond our control—and just like fate. Astrology and horoscopes give light to the inevitabilities brought about by the vast universe.
Astrology, at least according to my therapist, is a romantic take on our dreams and desires, an assumption that the alignment of stars and planets plays a role in our futures, our impulses and inclinations. Does astrology influence your work or your process?
Yes, most definitely. As a Sagittarian, I’m driven and restless. I’m often fiery and impulsive and I’m almost always in search of environments where I can be free and uninhibited. I love adventure, travel, movement. And if I can’t physically travel at the moment, I’ll find ways of journeying through books, music, film and art.
Are “romance, dreams and desire” recurring themes in your work?
Yes. I’m obsessed with the idea of discovering what truly lies within us, what makes us tick, what the human soul is all about. By focusing on themes like romance, dreams and desire—my favorite topics—I’m able to take an introspective approach that is not limited to mere human emotion, but also encompasses the intricate complexities of the subconscious mind.
How do these dreams manifest?
They manifest literally (yes, I dream of faceless, fallen angels, abandoned rooms and beating bleeding hearts), as well as figuratively (through the things that make me vulnerable: my fears, my anxieties, my memories and my emotional frailties).
Are the macabre elements a reference to the political and environmental climate we’re in?
These elements are definitely related to the political and environmental climate we’re in. More specifically, however, the macabre elements are tools for seeking beauty in places where the conventional world is not used to looking. I want to bring light to the darkness, to show the inner hidden beauty in things we normally consider frightening or unappealing.
Your work mixes elements of whimsy with touches of darkly humorous elements. What’s the story there?
I like referring to my latest paintings as “twisted fairy tales” because real life is never black and white. In truth, I’ve come to find that it’s a combination of the two, and within this gray, chaotic mishmash of dark and light, we must seek those fleeting yet game-changing moments of perfection where humor, intellect and heart reign supreme.
Is your work a response to convention that women should always be perfect and beautiful?
Absolutely. My art is an invitation for men and women to look inside themselves in order to seek their true beauty and uniqueness. My definition of beauty is not limited to what we see on the surface. The things that society has previously deemed ugly, unattractive, or even shameful are, in my opinion, where the truest beauty is found, because they’re honest, and pure, raw and real. I refuse to be a victim of conformity.
You clearly enjoy fashion. Do you look at your personal style as an expression of the self/identity or as an extension of your work as an artist?
As an expression of the self, most definitely. I’m in love with white and the purity that it embodies. Similarly, my work as an artist is about doing away with embellishments (“surfaces”), and stripping things down to the core. That’s where the purest beauty is found, I believe, in the innate essence of who we are as different and unique individuals.
As the world places more emphasis on the ephemeral—posts that last for only 24 hours, etc.—where do you see work heading in the future?
My work is a protest against this. My art is meant to force people to stop, to take a breather, and to look within themselves, to converse with their own inner demons, and to embrace them for what they are, rather than try to make them conform with the quick and temporal standards of the digital age.
Studio Maxine Syjuco: Art Lab: Atelier Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco, 327 Country Club Drive, Ayala Alabang Village, Muntinlupa. Tel. 0917-5340779; email [email protected]