Singapore Scene

If I missed my self-imposed deadline to publish a post (Sundays) it’s because I just got back from a business trip to Singapore. Like many visitors to the city state I’m always in awe of its orderliness and, given the building construction that takes place wherever one looks, the crispness that new and gleaming condos or office buildings lend to its environs, much like newly-minted banknotes. To be honest my impressions are gleaned mostly from taxi rides from whatever hotel I’m staying in to whatever meeting venue I have to go to or on trips to and from Orchard Road (I particularly like Takashimaya to visit Kinokuniya, which has to be the best bookstore in Asia).  When time permits I venture out to Little India to eat at any of the family-owned restaurants that can be found there and then pass by Mustafa where, within its expansive but crowded confines, one can buy everything from camera batteries to intricate gold jewelry (and gold bars).

Singapore is a little ecosystem that, on the surface at least, strives to provide a little bit of everything to everyone, from the moneyed professional class that seems to be dominated by Chinese, to expat white-collar workers assigned to the many regional headquarters and banks that comprise this international financial center, to the huge pool of foreign labor that serve as nannies, construction workers, and sales and wait staff.  Notwithstanding the diversity that all these people bring Singapore can easily be segmented into two distinct groups:  those who can truly call it their home and those who are merely passing through.

This balance of the permanent and the temporary, not to mention the affluence of many of its residents and the international money flowing through its commercial veins, combine to make Singapore a natural pan-Asian center of the arts.  Singapore authorities have worked hard to project Singapore’s multi-racial makeup onto the arts scene and, taking their cue from this, private galleries have mushroomed that sell the works of young and talented artists from all over Asia.  Talented Filipino artists have reaped the benefits of the Singapore market and have found a much wider and wealthier audience than their predecessors, so much so that when a gallery owner in the Philippines tells me that this or that artist will soon be holding an exhibit in Singapore I feel that what they’re really saying is, “buy now or you won’t be able to afford his/her work in the future”.  They could be right.

Ronald Ventura and Geraldine Javier are two Filipino artists who successfully embody young artists’ aspirations for international acknowledgment.   Ventura’s Grayground, for instance, sold at USD 1.1 million dollars in a Sotheby’s auction in 2011 and, thus far, is the highest recorded bid for a Southeast Asian work.  Prior to this, in 2010,  Javier’s tribute to Frida Kahlo Ella Amo’ Apasionadamente y Fue Correspondida (For She Loved Fiercely, And She is Well Loved) fetched more than USD 150,000.00 at auction.  This latter work now is part of the collection of the Singapore Art Museum.

Ronald Ventura, Grayhound,

Ronald Ventura, Grayground, graphite, oil and acrylic, 152 cm. x 395 cm.

228.5 cm. x 160 cm., oil on canvas and framed embroidery with preserved butterflies. Singapore National Museum

Geraldine Javier, Ella Amo’ Apasionadamente y Fue Correspondida (For She Loved Fiercely, And She is Well Loved), 228.5 cm. x 160 cm., oil on canvas and framed embroidery with preserved butterflies. collection of Singapore Art Museum

I’ll be headed to Singapore soon enough and have already made arrangements to meet up with a young Filipino artist named Raffy Napa who will be on residency there for a month.  Raffy won the 2013 Ateneo Art Awards with an original collection of visual works, employing thread and fabric in lieu of paint.  I’m especially interested to see how his exposure to a cosmopolitan market, a bigger stage as it were, and among artists from other countries will influence his art.

Raffy Napay’s installations and works at Pinto Gallery.

A Whoa Moment

Landscapes of the Mind, oil on canvas, by Janos Dela Cruz

Walking along the row of art galleries on Megamall’s fourth floor I resolutely looked straight ahead and avoided so much as glancing into any of their windows, fearing that my resolve to not buy even just one painting would crumble.  I hadn’t figured on my wife though who, as we passed one particular gallery, stopped in her tracks mesmerized by a painting that took up its main wall. She was like one of those hapless Greeks who were turned to stone simply by gazing at Medusa, the goddess chick with reptilian dreadlocks.  Breaking my fast, I followed her gaze and was struck by the painting.  On a generously-sized canvas  and painted in a wild assortment of colors, an entire city block (yes, an entire city block!) sprung from the musculature of a man’s head.  Before you could say “buy me” we were in there coveting the piece which had been made by a young artist named Janos Delacruz.

My lovely wife Ina with Janos Dela Cruz's Landscapes of the Mind

My lovely wife Ina with Janos Delacruz’s Landscapes of the Mind, taken in our home.

Okay, so the clouds didn’t open up and a booming voice tell me to take the painting home, but something did speak to me (us, as my wife now reminds me that she heard the voice, too).  During epiphanies such as these I forget to tread carefully as I tend to break at least a couple of rules about buying artwork.  The first is to avoid having your tongue dangle from the side of your mouth like an idiot.  The second is to never deal with the salesperson but talk only with the gallery owner.  Well, I closed the deal with the salesperson. I always say that a successful negotiation is one where neither of the parties comes away being too happy and I had the uncomfortable feeling that the salesperson was pleased as punch.  No matter, it was a good price.

Detail from Landscapes of the Mind

Detail from Landscapes of the Mind

Detail from Landscapes of the Mind

Detail from Landscapes of the Mind

janos detail3 Delacruz is a traveller of sorts within various media of the visual arts.  According to his bio he is a painter, etcher, and printer, having exhibited in the Philippines and abroad.  His body of work tells me that while he is at home in all of these creative capacities he is not too comfortable as to be complacent with each one.  If this signals an artist that has yet to settle on his style and voice, then he’s got an exciting journey of discovery ahead.  He explores the what-if side of things, like what if Hannibal Lecter opened up your head and a city popped out of it. While his paintings of cities-for-brains and carnival goers tend to the bizarrely humorous his watercolors are more dreamlike in execution.  His lithographic prints, on the other hand, convey the confusion of life in a mega city such as Metro Manila, and the resulting madness that can creep in by just trying to cope with its daily offerings of traffic jams, cheek-to-jowl slums in the shadows of brand new high-rises, and more “interesting” inhabitants.

Watercolor by Janos Dela Cruz

Nuno sa Punso, Watercolor, 21 ” x 14″ (Note:  All photos following are sourced from http://www.190gallery.com/artists.php?profile=30)

Watercolor by Janos Dela Cruz

Muni Muni, Watercolor, 19″ x 19″

Watercolor by Janos Dela Cruz

Pilak sa Langit, Watercolor, 19″ x 19″

Hari ng Kamaynilaan, Watercolor, 23" x 22"

Hari ng Kamaynilaan, Lithograph, 23″ x 22″

Bulong sa Panaginip, Lithograph,  23" x 18"

Bulong sa Panaginip, Lithograph, 23″ x 18″

Crossroad, Lithograph, 20" x 25"

Crossroad, Lithograph, 20″ x 25″

What draws me to Delacruz’s work?  It teems with activity and motion, creating his vision of life in a disordered but magical world.  And that is what art should be: not just colorful pictures to prettify a room (although that’s a bonus, especially with the colorful piece that we acquired), but the artist conveying his sentiments and consciousness though his craft.  In short, it must speak to the viewer. Postscript:  my wife brought home a painting recently by a relatively well-known artist.  It’s a pretty piece done up in blues and greens, with wiggly lines that go this way and that.  She asked me how I liked it.  I looked at it.  Then looked at it again.  I closed my eyes in concentration.  I opened them and declared, “It didn’t speak to me”.

MANILART 2013: Two Women Artists

With traffic across the metro at a standstill on opening night of MANILART 2013 one could be forgiven for thinking that all roads led to the exhibit venue.  There was, I understand, a more prosaic reason for this: a bomb threat somewhere along EDSA held the city hostage to traffic gridlock. By the time my wife and I arrived after an hour and a half on the road (normally a fifteen minute journey) we were hungry and feeling bent out of shape.  Thankfully, our intrepid spirits were rewarded as we walked into the huge exhibition hall, which had been turned into a veritable candy store of paintings and sculptures.  While pop music blared in the background visitors moved about evaluating the offerings on display, artists and gallery owners alike eagerly discussed the merits of their works, while waiters weaved their way through the crowd offering trays of canapés and refilling empty wine glasses.  The participating art galleries put their best foot forward, exhibiting works by accomplished and familiar artists.  What drew us in though were the works of lesser-known but amazingly-talented painters who rendered their craft in unusual ways.

Our first purchase was a portrait of a pony-tailed boy by artist Taka Coloma.  Notwithstanding the subject’s long look the work is exuberance itself all done up in a riot of color.  What delights, however, is the artist’s chosen medium:  paper painted in primary and neon colors, rolled into small tubes, “mummified” in a solution to harden and preserve them (for life, claims Ms.  Coloma), then stuck onto a board jammed against one another, creating a tactile and pixelated, almost sculpture-like piece, the uneven lengths of tubes accounting for the contours of the subject’s face and adding “movement” to the work.  It is art like this (I found it in a small art gallery that was located away from the main part of the floor) that gives the fair its reason for being, viz., encouraging young artists to push beyond their creative boundaries while appealing to a broad but discriminating segment of the art market.

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Untitled, mixed media, by Taka Coloma

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My wife Ina, the artist Taka Coloma, and I. Behind us are her other paper creations.

The second piece we picked up is a painting by Italian artist Margherita Del Balzo.  Entitled Nalen, it is a profile of a beautiful Indochinese lady gazing into space.  She exudes a quiet but confident mien, detached from the noise and hubbub of the crowd, a female Buddha.  One doesn’t need to shout to be noticed, she seems to tell me.  The subject’s visibly delicate strength could only have been due to the technical drawing skills of Ms.  Del Balzo, who obviously has had extensive classical training.  Most unusual though is her use of a thick and rough paper colored with organic dyes, both materials of her own creation, I understand. The heaviness of the papyrus (I imagine that this is what paper looked like in ancient times) gives a permanence and solemnity to the work that does not undermine the subject’s serenity, but instead preserves it.

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Nalen, mixed media (48 cm x 67 cm) by Margherita Del Balzo. Source: http://margheritadelbalzo.com/?page_id=12

Hmm, looks familiar.

Hmm, looks familiar.

If there’s anything that Misses Coloma and Del Balzo have in common it’s their ability to express their considerable artistic talent through the creative use of paper and marry this with their visual art skills.  In their hands, paper is not just material on which art is expressed but is an integral part of the creation, imbuing it with character, mood and texture.  We came away from MANILART 2013 not just with great finds but, more importantly, with great hopes for what the Philippine art scene has to offer.

(Note:  I’m not connected with MANILART 2013 or any art gallery)