There are no one-liners here
"Essentially, abstraction is not an indulgence in the artifice of gestures (or art for art sake) but a necessary human way of checking responses—visual responses foremost—and to transmit new signs of socio-environmental change."
~ Raymundo Albano
A quick Google search for the definition of one-liners provided the classic Merriam-Webster "a very succinct joke" definition. Scrolling down to the bottom of the page, "Searches related to one-liner" appears:
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Note to reader: The top definition in the Urban Dictionary is "a perfectly timed, short, witty remark. Used to put someone in their place, put someone down, make a humorous remark or observation, or to simply show the world how awesome you are." The critical cultural references for what a one-liner could imply is absent.
This writer’s subjective definition for one-liners in the arts: Cliché. Didactic. Blatant. Superficial. Easy.
Clearly, a one-liner need not be interpreted as negative or simplistic. It can be concise, allusive, and contemplative. In the context of this essay, the use of the phrase "one-liner" is a critique of the negative connotation and perception that art, which is abstract, minimalist, and/or conceptual, is reductive, singular in meaning, or meaningless.
Galleria Duemila’s Art Fair Philippines 2019 selection of works continues to showcase multi-layered narratives of the artists’ interests. Raymundo Albano, Alfredo Aquilizan, Joe Bautista, Jinggoy Buensuceso, Roberto Chabet, Marciano Galang, Justin Nuyda, Roberto M.A. Robles, and Betsy Westendorp’s artworks are serial in themes and aesthetic sensibilities. Their solitary explorations are windows into metaphorical environments.
Representing two generations, masters of diverse artistic practices and influencers across generations—Chabet (b.1937. died 2013), Albano (b.1947. died 1985), Galang (b.1945. died 2001) and Bautista (b.1951)—had and continue to have auspicious careers. A brief glimpse into these artists’ backgrounds, one can see their interconnectivity. Chabet studied Architecture, Albano-Literature, Galang-Fine Arts, and Bautista-Fine Arts and Advertising. Chabet was the first director for the newly founded Cultural Center of the Philippines and served as the Visual Arts curator from 1967-1970 followed by Albano in 1971-1985. Chabet, Albano and Galang began their careers as Philippine modernist painters and went on to become the early innovators of contemporary art with Chabet at the helm of this movement. Chabet and Bautista were both members of the seminal conceptual art group, Shop 6 (1974-1980). In addition, Chabet initiated the CCP Thirteen Artist Awards. Albano, Galang and Bautista were recipients of this award.
Upon closer examination of the works featured in this year’s AFP made by these four artists, one cannot claim as a western one-liner that they are derivative of American and European artists and movements such as John Baldessari, Robert Rauschenberg, Josef Albers, Barnett Newman, and Arte Povera, to name a few. They were, in fact, created in parallel universes.
Chabet’s Untitled (Head Series) (1986-1992) are playful post-Dada collages comprised of pop culture images of the mundane from newspaper and magazine clippings, and monochromatic construction paper cutouts. A reoccurring faceless portrait serves as the background for each of the eight pieces. Their meanings subtly differ from one environment to another, if seen as a whole piece. As individual works—words, phrases, narratives come to mind—like self-contained non-linear thought-bubbles. Albano’s Circular Series and two Untitled works painted on cement paper bags speak to impermanence and the elliptical nature of life. Galang’s Untitled 1969 intimate 12-inch square painting is concerned with pictorial structure and color fields. These Philippine artists were the pioneers of their day, pushing the boundaries of their artistic practices. They created through life experiences without feeling the need to reflect them in figurative and concrete forms.
Bautista’s more recent architecture-inspired paintings on paper and canvas are a bold departure from his more conceptual installations, wall works created with found objects and everyday materials, and photography produced in the 70s-90s. His current body of work is consistent with his emphasis on ideas, now translated into an on-going experimentation with abstracting landscapes, spatial and temporal planes. Three-dimensional topographical and geometrical perspectives are actualized in two-dimensional spaces, utilizing a more organic process that is precise although no less challenging than his early oeuvre that catapulted him into the spotlight 40 years ago.
Influenced by his studies with Robert Beuchamp, a former student of Abstract Expressionist, Hans Hofmann at the Arts Student League in the late-1980s, Aquilizan (b.1962) went on to produce a series of contemplative gestural paintings that call attention to his environmental concerns. His mixed media works on paper—Mangrove, Phytoplancton & Seagrass, Knox, and Prinston Butterfly—invite the viewer into ecosystems, fusing written and expressionistic visual language into lyrical poetry.
Love of paint and the act of painting are the ties that bind Robles (b.1957), Nuyda (b.1944), and Westendorp (b.1927) together. Longevity of their passion for their practices and insistence of following their vision/s seals their success.
In Robles’, "Saluysoy: A Eulogy To The Filipino" artist statement for his retrospective at Ateneo Art Gallery in collaboration with Galleria Duemila (2011), he succinctly says about his work: "The art forms hold biographies and autobiographies; their narratives are an oration for the living, for the spirits of our forefathers, and the Filipino race to live its origin." Perhaps to some viewers’ eyes, such a pronouncement is difficult to construe. And to others, a welcoming motion to enter into his paintings and sculptures with wonderment and trust. Flying Kites and Dragonflies, Barking Dog, and The Old Pond, A Frog Jumps in, The Sound of the Water, the titles of his featured painting and sculptures provide these passageways into Robles’ world. Nuyda’s four commissioned Search Mindscape paintings evoke feelings of dance, flight, movement that flow beyond the canvases’ frame. They are a homage to his other great love—butterflies. His masterful, signature painting technique of using several brushes bound together to form sweeping multi-colored unified strokes unfolds the imagination to magnificent nature-scapes.
To believe and/or interpret non-figurative paintings as non- communicative and exactly the same are gross misperceptions and tiresome stereotypes. Stand before Westendorp’s thirteen paintings, and you, the viewer, will feel what you see and vice- versa. Her impressionistic, ephemeral landscapes depict that which is transient in nature. These light-handed painterly strokes of a spectrum of muted blues, greys, and reds conjure up images of tireless sunrises, sunsets, gathering storms, rays of light in an open sky or upon a vast sea.
The child’s imagination is a treasured gift, especially when an artist can infinitely draw from this scared place. Buensuceso’s (b.1982) Ancient Cities of Children I and II sculptures made of charcoal, century old mango tree, Legos, and plastic toys tell a tale of destruction caused by fire and what can emerge from such contradictory beauty. Built within and upon these remnants of trees is an amusing, integrated and inventive world while at the same time, a critique of urban development and experiences. Such ambiguity opens rather than closes one’s imagination and ability to enter the spirit world while still being situated in tangible reality. These nine iconoclasts resist and transcend one-liners in the arts. The ways in which they innovate and creatively address lived and imagined socio-cultural concerns are, indeed, "visual responses" to Raymundo Albano’s insightful definition of abstraction.
Angel Velasco Shaw, 2019
Angel Velasco Shaw is a media artist, educator, curator, and cultural organizer living in Manila and New York City. Her documentaries have screened in American, European, and Asian film festivals, museums, galleries, and schools. They are in the film collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Cinematheque Suisse Schweizer Filmarchiv, Casa Asia, and the Museum of Modern Art. She is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Arts and Sciences/Communication Arts Department, and the Founding Director of the Institute for Heritage, Culture and the Arts at Philippine Women’s University. She has curated and produced several visual art and film exhibitions, and cross-cultural exchange projects such as, The Inverted Telescope, Markets of Resistance, Women as (Mythical) Hero and Provocations: Philippine Documentary Photography (co-curated with Neal Oshima). Shaw co-edited the anthology Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of An Imperial Dream: 1899-1999 with Luis H. Francia (New York University Press, 2002) and self-published Silent Stories (1985).