Three ongoing simultaneous exhibits at West Gallery by three young artists provide a refreshing, quite positive contrast to the gloom-and-doom atmosphere fostered by the Covid-19 pandemic that seems to show no sign of abating. We refer to “Sibol,” the new female portraiture-botanical oil series by contemporary painter Anton Mallari, and “Hereafter” and “Kapaligiran” by women-artists Johanna Helmuth and Rocelie V. Delfin.
“Sibol” continues Mallari’s melding of female portraiture and flora, in what amounts to a homage to Mother Nature in both literal and allegorical senses. We witness again wonderful juxtapositions of female beauty with floral splendour, of female mien and natural forms. Pioneers of this style are veteran painters Fil Delacruz and Hermes Alegre.
What may be new with “Sibol” are the golden husklike forms Mallari juxtaposes with, for example, the woman’s hair in “Golden Hour” and “Full Bloom.” (Fil Delacruz himself again may have pioneered the style with his famous “Bulawan” series back in the 1980’s.) In “Sagana,” probably the piece de resistance of the series at 6 x 4 feet, gold filigrees dapple the flora that seem to either grow out or take over the female form lying supine; her face, arms, and thighs appear tattooed likewise by the golden forms.
The gold element appears in bouquet forms crowning a woman’s head in “Kintsugi,” which refers to the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the damaged areas with lacquer dusted with powdered gold.
The reference is clear: a damaged environment could be repaired by devoted artifice and artistic conscience. Art is always a mirror of nature. Cracked, the broken mirror of nature must be repaired and rehabilitated. Amid the pandemic, which may have been caused by man’s over-ambitious tinkering with nature, the artist’s task is to provide images of beauty and hope; the artist is in the business of repair, relief, and healing.
Providing comparison and contrast with Mallari’s romantic works are Helmuth’s “Hereafter” series of oil-on-canvas paintings of mainly women in mundane everyday settings; they’re relaxing it seems after the day’s household work, such as the daydreaming woman amid the laundry and clothesline in “Daydream,” and the woman lounging on the lawn amid flowers in “Will I Also Grow Here?” A separate series focuses on florals in oil-on-canvas and plexiglass.
Like Mallari’s works, the women figures are contrasted with nature, in this case, flowers. In almost-pastel blues and greens, the easy-on-the-eye oil-on-canvas and stand-alone glass paintings radiate light-hearted ordinariness and everyday vitality.
The domestic bliss fostered by Helmuth’s “Hereafter” seems contrasted by Delfin’s “Kapaligiran,” consisting of pen-and-ink works that depict houses that have been drawn from pure memory and imagination. The drawings focus on architectural and interior details of the houses. They’re devoid of people and pets, giving the viewer the feeling of isolation most people are feeling while on quarantine.
The sense of oppression of these drawings of empty houses is checked by the larger drawings of idyllic forests where flora and fauna thrive luxuriantly, seeming to represent the respite and relief that have been provided nature as a result of the quarantine and the near-cessation of industrial activity. Delfin’s stylized drawings of nature and abundance captivate and endear.
Overall, Mallari, Helmuth, and Delfin, in their respective ways, provide artistic paths toward coping with the Covid-19 surge. They provide some sort of a much-needed convalescence.