Jackie Lozano (some might know her as Ikaj) was supposed to have her second solo show “Awakening,” an exhibition of deconstructed human portraits, in Manila House, BGC, earlier this year. That was until the world turned upside-down, pandemic banished us to our homes, and activities that involved being a body in the world became impossible.
The show managed to push through in virtual form and you can find Lozano’s paintings on her website. Her work renders faces and bodies as frenetic and fragmented, jagged lines and sweeping swaths of color making the human shape unfamiliar. The titles of each work follow a formula—abstract concept plus timestamp—and therefore invite us viewers to read these paintings as diary entries, snapshots of the artist’s inner life and how a bolt of feeling can appear from seemingly nowhere.
When the world is going crazy, it helps to turn our eyes from the madness and look within. What follows is an interesting conversation with Lozano about mental health management, and how this global crisis complicates the exercise of reflection.
ANCX: Between the time you started painting your work for Awakening, and the date of your online opening, did you expect life around us to change as much as it did?
Ikaj: Every time I do something this long—my last show [took] a year, this one was two years—I always expect something bad to happen. I guess that’s my pessimistic side. But I didn’t expect it to be this fucking bad. [laughs] Like the worst thing that I ever think of [would be] my paintings would get ruined in a car crash or something. Not like this.
ANCX: So when you started seeing the world turn upside-down because of the pandemic, what was going on in your head?
Ikaj: First would be…I wasn’t sure about the show being cancelled yet. The biggest problem I was looking at was, Are people gonna be interested in buying art, which is not an essential good? Especially since the paintings that I sell are kinda priced a little higher than several artists. Even before the pandemic, I’m already trying to compete with my pricing, because it’s kinda high. And then you have a pandemic, and then I think, Oh shit, nobody’s gonna buy. [laughs] I’m not sure how this show is gonna happen. But compared to my first show in Manila House, I think the place really sets a mood and it gets everyone excited. For this one, my opening’s virtual and, hmmm, I haven’t been selling yet, so it’s kind of a big—either a disappointment, or a challenge. But that’s just one part of having a show. Selling’s just one part.
ANCX: When did you start painting? And what draws you to human figures and the deconstruction of them?
Ikaj: Do you play video games? Just wondering.
ANCX: Do I play video games? Yeah.
Ikaj: That’s something I never did. [laughs] I never played video games, cuz I was just painting and drawing. When I compare myself to everybody, I find myself weird, because I can’t relate. I didn’t even watch anime or anything! Or TV. Anyway that’s how early I was on drawing. And by high school I was already drawing portraits of the Backstreet Boys and the like. And that led me to going to college in UP Fine Arts, and it took off from there.
I really just like portraits. Like this guy here. [gestures to a portrait behind her] I still don’t know the exact reason [why I did this]. It’s very interesting to me, just to be able to relate to other people when I draw them. I also tried different—like landscape, abstract… tried to. I guess the message that I wanna say has to be expressed through either a face or a body.
ANCX: Awakening as a show has themes of reflection. How do you approach the exercise of reflection?
Ikaj: I start with the drawings, right? I end up with a drawing when something’s really bugging me. Like I can’t stop thinking about it. I know for maybe writers, you would write it down and that would help let it out? For me, I’m not so good with words. If you notice I’m having a hard time explaining things. [laughs] I would draw it, and that’s step one of letting it out, so that I can process it. Like, once I let it out, I’ll think about it more.
There’s one painting about my husband that I couldn’t talk about. I just won’t share the details to you. But once I painted it, he asked what it’s about. And then I got to tell him, ‘Well this is what I think about us…”
ANCX: The titles of your pieces also feature timestamps, and this is your way of keeping track of a moment whenever you’re hit by an intense emotion or memory. But I’d like to get your thoughts on the passage of time. In the context of this pandemic, time seems to be moving in unusual ways. Like some months can feel like years, other months come in and out very quickly. Have you felt the movement of time misbehave, and does that affect the way you do your art, or the way that you reflect.
Ikaj: I put a numerical [timestamp] there to remind me that it is possible that I will feel this way again and again and again. Let’s say it’s a feeling of self-doubt. And then, whenever I’m in a situation where I doubt myself, I think that it’s the end of the world and nothing good will ever happen again. I like to have these paintings—if I could hang them on my wall, then great—I like to have these paintings as a reminder that this is just a phase. It may be difficult right now, that’s why there’s a time it could happen again. I just wanna manage my anxiety I guess.
ANCX: So you don’t lose yourself—
Ikaj: Yeah. I also have paintings about a good feeling, so I also wanna remind myself that this good feeling can happen again and you can look forward to it, maybe not now. About the pandemic time, I guess it’s hard for all of us being at home, ‘cause like, I would look forward to next week, to going out to school, but now it’s not there. By the day, I’m trying to work my way to get up and be excited about, I don’t know, eating lunch.
ANCX: Would you say your artistic practice is one way of coping with all the craziness going on?
Ikaj: You know what, I think people would be expecting artists to incorporate this pandemic [in their work]. I’m not sure if I’ll be the one to do that. Maybe not up-front. I don’t paint or draw whenever I’m free, because it’s too much of work already for me.
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ANCX: What do you miss most about a pre-quarantine world?
Ikaj: I miss going to my class. ‘Cause I teach twice a week at UP, and that’s the only time I ever go out of the house, and that’s the only time I talk to people. That’s one of the things I miss the most.
ANCX: On the topic of awakenings, have you experienced any significant awakenings or realisations lately?
Ikaj: Actually yeah. This is very personal. Because of the pandemic, and we’re stuck at home… like, I’m gonna be honest and say I could see why I have some toxic traits—Now this is really getting personal [laughs]. I have some toxic traits between me and, I don’t know, friends or family. And whenever things bother me, I just go out to the mall or go to class, get out of the house, and that distracts me. I go to work and that distracts me. So I don’t really think about my attitude or the way I think, it’s too negative. And so now that we’re in a pandemic, and we’re stuck at home, I am forced to think about it, and I’m forced to deal with myself. Actually, this is the first time I ever really acknowledged my own attitude. Now I think I’m trying to be better as a person. Am I making sense?
ANCX: Do you see this have an effect on your art in a way? Maybe explore self-portraits?
Ikaj: Yeah you’re right! I’m surprised that you guessed it. I haven’t done a self-portrait in years. When I said I don’t draw in my free time, I just did once, and it was a self-portrait. So I’m planning to do that next time. And also, the Awakening series, the paintings we’re kinda—can you say kinda grim? Some of them were grim. And they’re not like, happy-happy. But after this, in the next series, I want them to be very happy, actually. With what I experienced at home for three months, resolving my own issues, I think I’m going to be a much happier painter now. Weird, after a pandemic.
You can view ‘Awakening’ on Jackie Lozano’s website.