Text and photos courtesy of Abe Orobia.
Thus the dramatic artist delights by imitating human action in its relation to happiness and misery; the painter delights by imitating visible form, or the way in which human character is manifested in the human face, and so on. In every case, such imitation seems to clarify what it imitates. That is, part of the pleasure of imitative art is that they help us understand what is imitated.
– Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist
Ricky Ambagan, Gerry Joquico, Toti Cerda and CJ Tañedo in this four-men-exhibition titled FOUR CAME BACK exemplifies the art of homage by infusing their personal stories in their selected masterpieces. Aptly staged to create discourse, these four distinguished artists presented dialogues that might be mislabeled as any other device of pastiche and iterations, instead they invite the audience to analyze their recomposed masterpieces, look at its symbols and feel its mood to understand why they have transformed its narrative.
Either museums housed masterpieces of sorts to honor their creators or present it chronologically to highlight historical significance, it is but considered as ‘dead art’, unless otherwise revisited and analyzed and repurposed to resonate the present period. Thus, arguably making it sincere, universal, and timeless. Disputable as it may sound, a museum is comparable to a mausoleum for the collections housed in it have lost their original purpose. Art and its production are to answer the need of its time. When Juan Luna created the Spoliarium, it was not just his metaphors nor supreme skills that merited him to win the gold medal in the 1884 Exposition in Madrid but more importantly his adherence to the trend.
Artworks must be mural in dimensions and must depict neoclassicist ideals unless otherwise it cannot enter the salon as a rule. The same could be said of Vermeer who lived during the Baroque period where historically speaking was breathing in an era where artists have the privilege of creating their own devotional and personal undertakings which are now secular art. The existing religion practiced by the ruling monarchs played its role as well in influencing artists and their works. Jacque Louis David created his ‘French Revolution’ painting to commemorate the victory of the people against tyranny. Consequently, art is an offshoot of not just the artists’ genius and creativity but was born of necessity influenced by ideals, train of thought, cultural upbringing, political environment, and societal concerns.
Every art is therefore intended and was presented purposely as ‘practical art’, for it was created to serve its purpose and the creators of it endeavored to integrate beauty and function to the limits of what their art would allow. Truly enough, artists are vessels and chronicles at the same time. Goya painted pictures not only of pure fantasy which was apparent in his ‘black series’ but was able to produce it out of his fear, horror and dismay as a witness on the cruelties of war.
Practical art could be seen in the works of Ambagan, Joquico, Cerda and Tañedo for they not just associate their works with the masters whom they have been inspired with. The four intended their rebirthed masterpieces as harbingers of their personal stories in this ongoing pandemic period. To say that their devices are purely artificial is an understatement. The realizations and reflections on life’s meaning and purpose transcends in their works and to channel it with practicality as their theses.
These four artists came back from the past and unfold what history has taught them. As holders of historical, spiritual and philosophical concepts, they have presented in this exhibition narratives that not just imitate old master works for the sake of fancy reproduction rather they channel out their roles as enablers and conversationalists.
Art’s essential character is to instruct its creator consciously and unconsciously to make something out of nothing in order to secure goodness and perfection not of the maker who is only its medium but of the art they produced. Art therefore significantly belongs to the practical order of producing things particularly if its maker has given his or her heart, mind and soul in it.
This is the power of art.
Concept and Technique
Ricky Ambagan’s entries speak about mementos, keepsakes and belongings collected thoroughly by himself which are wrapped on torn printed paper prints. The paper wrappers are printed with collections from the Louvre Museum. All of these are placed inside boxes in top view orientation which can be seen from his works titled Vessel. Ambagan’s intent of the top view wrapped-up composition is an involuntary invitation to peek what is like inside an individual’s mind, unfiltered and unpolished maybe, it is full of proving and discernments. The art of the ‘ready-made object’ symbolized by paper wrappers resonates historiography’s role for mankind in understanding and scrutinizing critically. After all, these fragments of the past teach humans to become better versions of themselves.
His two more works titled ‘Custodian I and II’ one way or another represents himself as the composer and caretaker of the ‘vessels’ his mind and inspiration. To be wrapped by the paper prints meant that he is letting himself be immersed and influenced by the other arts. He is undeniably curating himself.
Connectedly, his application techniques are also incorporated in his concept. Painterly rendered than hyper realistically, the roughness of Ambagan’s brushstrokes addresses the pretentiousness of artificiality in the process of rendering paintings naturalistically. His deliberate impressionistic brush strokes suggest that his aim is geared towards direct and unapologetic portrayals of his subjects. Just like the human mind in a paradox; again, it is unfiltered and unpolished yet full of proving and discernments.
The Old and the New
Toti Cerda puts himself as an active participant in his works by literary including himself in his compositions. In his painting “The fixing of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s, The Last Supper”, he was unveiling to his audience the timelessness of his subject matter. The biblical scene evokes the helplessness of men to wonder, will it be their last meal together? Or will the supplies last? All of these resonate to Cerda’s stance of being dumbfounded upon seeing the Messiah at the center bewilderment and clamor among his disciples. Echoing the plight of the downtrodden, the poor have left no choice but to risk themselves of being infected by the virus. Metaphorically, Christ is humanized as the head of the family declaring and professing his love to those dining with him on the banquet, yet knowing come tomorrow he will sacrifice himself for others to live. The same could be said with family members who would do things not according to their will but through fate.
People honor the deceased with flowers so as their heroes with garlands and adulations. The dead does not speak but their spirit lives on. In Cerda’s painting titled “The fixing of Domenico Fetti’s, La Meditazione”, he is again inside the composition. He is wearing a PPE suit and holding a bouquet of flowers contemplating triumph and mortality. He is on a stand still observing the woman who abandoned her innovation and creativity as represented by the symbolic elements in the background such as the plane, palette, brush and torso made out of plaster purely visible in Fetti’s work but is deliberately made into just silhouettes by Cerda. The woman is so much overcome with grief and depression as she is holding a skull, the symbol of doom. The background temperament does not help at all, it is dim and purely of earth tones and no such green to indicate life nor hope. Toti Cerda is looking not literary on the woman but to the real muse of art, one’s self. For an art to be born and function the creator must be inspired. The pandemic indeed hit most people rock bottom and the creative industry is not exempted.
Contemplation and Exaltation
Gerry Joquico is adamant with his spirituality. He professes his faith and philosophies through symbolisms rooted in research which is present in all his paintings. One must be versed historically to notice the books on the foreground of his recomposited Spoliarium, titled ‘Dance me to the end of love: Homage to Luna.’
The books represent knowledge and understanding. King Solomon in his last days wrote ecclesiastically about the folly of men. His lamentations about all are nothing corresponds to the inequities of men. The fallen gladiator represents man as both dead in body and in spirit. The warrior might be formidable and fearless when he was alive yet the inquisitions he afflicted upon himself has taken its toll on him. The onlookers are no way helping as well, they are just curious but ignorant of the man’s afflictions, therefore, they will fall in the same fate unless otherwise accepted salvation through Christ. Dance me to end of love according to Joquico is a dialogue to his audience and remind them that to be saved, one must dance away from the love of this world for it causes enmity with God. All of these, lust for power, lust for the flesh, greed for money and envy will ultimately cause great sorrows in the end. If we are guided by true faith then we will be blessed by the love of God, the epitome of all things.
Joquico’s ‘Cuentos de la Luna: Homage to Vermeer and Luna’, is a lesson about truth benders or false prophets. They might look knowledgeable and represent themselves as highly intelligent scholars yet their dependency on science alone made them blind. They consider themselves gods for they are powerful and influential, however their light is faint compared to the true source of knowledge and understanding, God. As the moon borrows its light from the sun so do the scientists who do not accept the divine. They can only lead people astray because of their pretensions and deceit. More importantly, the wicked people resemble the dogs present in all Joquico’s compositions, they seem amiable and naïve but in truth they represent conspicuous and mischievous spirits, lurking even in the daylight and prepared to pounce without notice, equally in the bible according to Paul, they are evildoers and mutilators of the flesh.
Inspired by Luna’s controversial Parisian Life, Joquico’s ‘No cure for Paris’, juxtaposed the earlier composition with a cone-nosed-man an allusion for lying and deceit seated on the bench in-between the heroes and the woman with lips tied sealed.
France is a beacon of higher and modern thinking even in the time of Rizal, Luna, del Pilar and Ariston Bautista-Lin. They are indeed called the enlightened ones or the ‘Ilustrados’ for nothing. They believe in reformation, innovation and the true cause which is not to be blinded by personal motives and interests.
Image and Subtext
Image and Subtext Inspired by the decorative and art nouveau mostly characterized by fluidity and movement of the elements in layout, CJ Tañedo’s treatment is illustrative in the sense that his work is composed more like a poster than a painting. The tongue of the manipulator lies in his work ‘Devour/Devout’ as Tañedo describes it is the focal point in his painting. It signifies control and dominion over people as symbolized by the discarded and amputated pile of dolls in the foreground. The devourer represents men of power who abused their authority to displace many into believing they are doing acts of service for their leaders, but they are in fact being manipulated, cannibalized, and mutilated by their leaders. As a result, the devout feeling helpless, dependent and with nothing to cling to, hold on into their dear life and put their faith and fate regardless of if there are immediate results or promise of change at hand. The dark background represents void and lack of hope. Tañedo is critically channeling his observations of the society which his signifier texts on the edges of his canvas.
His second painting “There is a light that never goes out” however is the opposite of his first. The obscureness of the dark background is washed away by the light coming from the moon and the bulb of the angler fish. Pre-Raphaelite and symbolist in execution the child in the painting is navigating towards the unknown, his feet firmly on the back of the fish, his left arm in an alert stance, his right holding tight its antenna and his eyes fixed on the horizon line. He is a warrior at a young age being trained and guided by his spirit animal the angler fish. In fact, this painting is personal to Tañedo for it is him and his son who will turn two years old soon. Tañedo’s guidance is in its most crucial stage in its development. Tañedo might as well be still the same solitary hunter as before which is apparent from the fish’s emotionless eye and ragged teeth, but he has one solitary goal now as a parent, to raise his child well.