“Finding the Calm in the Chaos” by Sio Montera
Sio Montera’s 2020 Qube Homecoming Show titled “Finding the Calm in the Chaos”. Opening reception on 5 February 2020 at 6 PM.
Curatorial notes by Ricky Francisco
Undoubtedly, Dennis “Sio” Montera is among the most recognized and most active non-figurative abstract painters in the country today. Set apart from the rest by his generally sparse non-figurative abstraction which uses negative space to create a dynamic support to the palimpsests of color created through his unique “addition by subtraction” technique of peeling off, scraping, and scratching layers of paint to reveal what is underneath, he has definitely carved a niche for himself in contemporary Philippine abstraction; one that is easily identified for its unique contributions to the field by those who admire abstract contemporary art. The works, which are inspired by the weathered and peeling paint surfaces of centuries-old buildings building he admired in Taiwan, combined with working with the constraints of his smaller studio while he was finishing his doctorate there, are the result of careful consideration to the urge to create a balanced, yet dynamic composition, which Adjani Arumpac describes as having a “preoccupation with disparity” that definitely go against the predominant cultural compulsion for ornate elaboration, and provide a foil, twice over, to the belabored, narrative-driven mimetic works for which his home city of Cebu is known for.
Much has been said of his accomplishments as an academic and a cultural worker: being a tenured faculty of the Fine Arts Program of the University of the Philippines in Cebu City who recently finished his doctoral degree in Creative Industries Design after five years of living in Taiwan, an active member of the Executive Council of the Committee on Visual Arts of the National Commission for Culture and Arts, as well as an officer of Pusod, The Open Organization of Cebu Visual Artists Inc., an organization championing marginalized artists and art communities from the region while being the former director of Qube Gallery, one of foremost contemporary art galleries in Cebu City.
Arumpac has created parallels to the many roles he takes on, on top of being an artist and father, to the layering and subsequent artistic defacement of the layers to create the palimpsest paintings which he makes. Montera himself imparts that many of the paintings he made while being away point to his vast experience of being a foreigner trying to fit in, chipping away at the experience of being immersed in an alien environment, decoding cues that are integral to his integration into Taiwanese culture, while in many aspects, reveal aspects of himself that have been unexamined prior to this contact. Relinquishing the brush, and its purpose of adding layers to create a painting as the primary method, he instead focused on a process of unpacking the conditions of visual production, imitating the revelation of histories that weathering and time provide. The worn-down look of the works hint at nostalgia, providing ambiguous imagery which opens the mind to pareidolia which he tempers with definite borders that his titles provide: most of which are authoritative, even admonishing, hinting at life lessons hard-earned; and the diaristic nature of some of the works; reminding us that the unpacking is not just aesthetic and visual, but more so, ontological and ethical.
Qube Gallery presents Montera’s homecoming exhibition. In it, he expresses the dynamic, and even complicated experience of relocation, rediscovery, re-adaptation, and reintegration, which the artist has been conscious of, and has cast a critical eye. The complex gamut of experience is reflected in the palimpsests that are both random and purposeful. In the collection, Montera works with all the painterly techniques he has acquired from here and from the conditions he worked with while he was abroad. Letting his creativity loose, he combines his reductive technique with his earlier additive techniques of building texture and using straight swathes, lines, and grids that have largely been absent in his work while he was in Taiwan, which give many of the works in this exhibition a solidity and definiteness which were eschewed in his “second phase” works. His somber colors are giving way to more tropical colors, hinting not only at the accelerated pace of weathering, but of abundance, and the frenetic history-making that his present condition, and indeed our own country’s, is experiencing, which makes it harder to examine and be critical of. Perhaps, Arumpac is right. His palimpsest point at a preoccupation of disparity in the context of the ungovernable and ever emergent. Perhaps, more than the certainty of the realistic painting, Montera’s works are more attuned to the zeitgeist of our times where certainty is a luxury, but the will to carry on, despite manifold disparities, is always apparent.