A self-confessed heretic then, and more so now, always at the pitch of stirring the pot of contention of current politics. With a career spanning 30 years, Manuel Ocampo has forged a path of (meandering) resistance in the international art circuit. Born and raised in the Philippines, he migrated to the US, graduating from college in California, where he used to be based for almost a decade.
His first solo show at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1988 brought him unprecedented attention in the international art scene; cemented further by his inclusion in two prominent European art events: Documenta IX (1992) and the Venice Biennale (1993). His work later caught the eye of curator and art historian, Fred Hoffman, who showed several of Ocampo’s works in his LA gallery.
One particular piece, You Better Watch Out What You Are Saying in this Society People are Quick to Crucify You, fittingly finds its way from the Hoffman exhibition and into the collection of Tom Patchett, whose eccentric habit of exhibiting together his Americana and amassed fine art raised a few eyebrows. Patchett who was known as the co-creator of the 80’s TV series, “Alf,” made tremendous contributions in the art scene and eventually opened his own space, Track 16 Gallery, where Ocampo’s piece was mounted.
Made in the 80s right after Ocampo’s migration to LA, this work resonates more than ever in the prevalent climate of cancel culture and culture wars. Never to shy away from the polemics of the day, Ocampo’s foray into issues of identity were the de rigueur of a transplant in a multi-ethnic city such as LA, but it incises and beheads accepted notions of it. Who determines what a person or a group of persons is has always been served in the agenda of power dynamics. Now it serves as clickbait for the algorithms that fan the tempers of conspiracies and opinion on social media.
There is sureness in the precarity of its assembly, swiftness in its boldness, conciseness in its rudiments. We see familiar motifs as the church, an institution Ocampo skewers for most of his works, and nascent attachments of crumpled painted canvases that stick to its side like a barnacle or rather a scab peeling off a wound. A figure silhouetted in black emanating either sparks or spurts of blood lie on the side on a crude framed panel, flanking the bigger canvas with a headless torso, arms across its chest, its neck a fountain of black bile.
Crucifixion here comes as a decapitation and a castration. A lowly blue plastic pitcher anticipates the ripples from the shower of its guillotined head. As a self-portrait, it deprecates and offers itself to its own chastisement, but leverages further mythology of a persona as the artist as martyr, as heretic, as Christ, as its own icon. The shroud hung up as a blue denim jacket, the cape of a blue collar rebel, slung on the side for a brief respite of beer.
There is implicit violence in the act of chopping off a part, more so the head. Even in its symbolic depiction, its obliteration is brutal. The viscerality of the cut up quality of the assemblage sums up its parts as a reanimated Lazarus—painting as a canonical medium denies the pronouncement of its death by theory. Sheer and stubborn practice of it is its infinitesimal resurrection. Maybe like the house on the side of the decapitated figure, it rises to house its own cathedral to preach its canon of contradictions. If this is a self-portrait, it is of both many and one, catholic and carnal, sacramentally penitential and dispassionately nonchalant. It is virtue and vice in a teetering cross.
This work was part of a repatriated collection from Track 16 gallery and was exhibited in a retrospective hosted by Archivo 1984 in 2017, an art space aligned to Patchett’s vision of exhibiting Americana (in this case, Filipiniana) along with fine art.
[Manuel Ocampo’s self portrait You Better Watch Out What You Are Saying in this Society People are Quick to Crucify You is one of the highlights of this weekend’s Leon Gallery Spectacular Midyear Auction (June 5). It is co-presented by ANCX.ph, the urban man’s guide to culture and style, and the lifestyle website of the ABS-CBN News Channel. Previews are ongoing at León Gallery up to June 4, from 9 AM to 7 PM. For additional information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact +632 8856 2781. To browse The Spectacular Mid-Year Auction catalog, visit www.leon-gallery.com.]
Photo courtesy of Leon Gallery