From behind the lens, Mark Nicdao deepens his artistic practice in his latest exhibition “Chapter 8: Misfired Synapses” in “The Floating City”
In recent months, Mark Nicdao has been working without pause across artist studios and open courtyards in Italy. Starting with underpaintings and first studies in Como, Nicdao continued to the artistic hub of Milan to put the finishing touches on his work. The culmination of his efforts is the highly anticipated opening of his exhibition “Chapter 8: Misfired Synapses” by Rivoli Fine Art and Elizabeth Royer in the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice from September 22 to 24, 2023. The three-day event will open with a vernissage on September 22, followed by a Masquerade gala dinner attended by collectors and prominent figures in the art world, entertainment, and other industries, both from the Philippines and Europe.
Nicdao will exhibit in the Palazzo Barbaro along the central canal, known to be one of the grandest, and also most exclusive spaces in the sense of discretion. Despite being a choice venue for high-profile fashion launches and celebrity-attended events during the Venice Film Festival – there are no photos allowed in the palace, without exception. As Nicdao tells me this, he laughs at the irony, being a photographer himself.
As a photographer, Mark Nicdao is pretty much a household name. He has been on the scene for several years, renowned both locally and internationally as the photographer who has worked on several campaigns for the likes of Paris Hilton and Kylie Jenner.
While a renowned photographer in the advertising and editorial industry, Nicdao has also made his presence known to the art world. Nothing can beat the national credibility of the fine arts program of the University of the Philippines, of which Nicdao is an alumnus. Yet as a UP Fine Arts grad, it is only in recent years that he has delved deeper into the realm of traditional visual arts. His talents garnered attention in a manner that was natural—and fast. In 2019, Nicdao made headlines with a sold-out, first-ever exhibit at León Gallery International. Then in 2022, he exhibited at the Asia Now Paris art fair, where he was picked out of 300+ entries.
It was at the Asia Now fair last year in Paris that he was spotted by Elizabeth Royer, a prestigious gallery owner and French art dealer, known for her discerning eye for artists. The meeting would be serendipitous, as Nicdao has developed his most recent exhibition in Venice alongside Royer, who will be hosting the three days of events in the palace.
For this current show, the colorful lines continue to define emotions, and what the artist describes as “internal organs and inanimate objects in a state of transformation.” While Nicdao’s most recent works are still as swirling and psychedelic, if his past works were more otherworldy, his latest pieces to be exhibited in Venice are more raw, grounded, and down-to-earth.
“Raw” works that translate the cultural Italian terrain
Nicdao’s sixteen works resonate with a “recurrent terra cotta tonality” (Rivoli Fine Arts) that pays tribute to Italy. The artist translates the history, the frescoes, the food, and both the Italo disco and Classical music of the country. He says,
“Italy, for me is the pinnacle of great art… the classical Italian painters, the sculptors… [I’m] talking about Caravaggio, da Vinci, all these Italian masters.”
In excitement, Nicdao exclaims,
“I’m going to be exhibiting in the land of my idols, so I immediately thought—I want to go raw this time.”
This rawness appears on the main surface that Nicdao paints on: Burlap. Working with 23 meters of raw linen, he carved thin canvases to paint on myriad shapes and hues. He describes the material as having a certain kind of “patina” while the combination of the paint and linen creates a sheen that is both fresh, yet subdued. Even though the pieces have a certain roughness, his photographer’s eye reveals an attention to detail in meticulous strokes and intentional lines.
While his time living and working in Italy was idyllic, it was not without challenges. As he painted on the burlap, Nicdao got carried away and crossed over the indentations, posing technical challenges to the stretching process. Yet, it was in another serendipitous meeting that Nicdao met the local legend Pippo Basile — a framer and Italian gallery owner in Milano.
Despite the language barriers, Pippo helped Nicdao out of the framing quandary, while also guiding the artist in his practice. As Nicdao sings high praises for Pippo, he mentions with a sense of giddiness how the legendary framer drew comparisons with his work to pioneering artists Friedensreich Hundertwasser and Paul Klee.
“Chapter 8: Misfired Synapses”
There is something vulnerable about the work of Nicdao for his Venice exhibition. Titled “Chapter 8: Misfired Synapses,” the photographer creates an artistic interpretation of a glitch in the brain that extends to daily existence. In science, a misfired synapse is when the neurons in the brain fail to work well, and excitatory neurons lose the ability to stimulate. The artist explains:
“Sometimes you don’t know why you’re depressed or angry… I think we have an imaginary bank or bag on our back, and we absorb all that. Once it’s filled up, that’s when we break down. After breaking down, we think I need a vacation and this and that—then suddenly, you’re okay. Then it fills up again. It’s this cycle until the end. What happens is that makes you numb.”
Listening to Mark, it feels like he’s illustrating the ouroboros, of a snake eating its own tale in a neverending cycle. I also start to imagine the Myth of Sisyphus, of an endless routine of rolling a boulder up a hill, then falling back down again.
While the reasoning stems from inward-looking thoughts and emotions, there is an almost mystical undertone that connects the art with the science of synapses to greater contemplation of life. Artist Mark Nicdao reflects,
“That’s why I call it a misfired synapse. This communication with your neurotransmitters is why you’re committing mistakes. But you know, as the cycle goes on, mistakes can be wonderful. Mistakes can be altered. We can actually transform into something good, in whatever aspect.”
Photos courtesy of Mark Nicdao and Rivoli Fine Art.
Rivoli Fine Art and Elizabeth Royer present Mark Nicdao in Venice with his exhibition “Chapter 8: Misfired Synapses” from September 22 to 24, 2023. Email email@example.com or mobile no: +33628600385 for more information.