The extraordinary thing sometimes about art we’ve come to love is to see them with completely fresh eyes. I have always loved Hersley-Ven Casero’s “Catch a Moment” photo series, ever since he started prowling the streets and byways of Dumaguete more than a decade ago to, well, “catch moments” with his camera. I’ve written about his process before, how he’d put himself into specific spots, observing everything in the urban landscape before him, and always waiting for a literal voice floating near his head who prompts him with a simple command: “Now.” And then he’d click. The reality of getting it all in breathtaking composition, honed after years of study and technical know-how, only adds to that magic of obeying an unexplained inner prompt. [My insistence on the use of the word “magic” is deliberate, especially if you know where Hersley comes from.]
In any case, I and many others have enjoyed these gorgeous photos from his walks around town over the years, many of us claiming certain favorites. His sepia photo of a Dumaguete street complete with a tricycle, with the morning glimmer of the Rizal Boulevard in the distance, is mine. This shot of children playing with wheels and running through a smoke-drenched road is another. [Come to think of it, I do have a thing for sepia!]
And now to see the latter in a way I’ve never seen it before: in glorious, gigantic reproduction, 41.33 x 61.41 inches in size, and printed with pigmented ink on smooth cotton rag! The result is an immersive experience with the photos, as if privileged with stepping into the reality they offer. I have always wanted to have a photo exhibit like this in Dumaguete, but have always felt it would remain a dream: no Dumaguete printer is capable of printing photos in this size, and if there are any, the cost would probably be prohibitive. Now that it has come true with this exhibit, Onion Kids: Homecoming, in MUGNA Gallery, it feels like a dream fulfilled.
And what a dream! Because I’m seeing this photo with details I have missed before: the density of the smoke, the griminess of the dirt, the prints on the children’s shirts, the fullness of the shadows, the texture of the foliage. And the joy that bounces off the kinetic energy of the children becomes more magnified. Hersley’s photos have always had that ingredient of joy. You can never find a note of dourness in them. In his photos, people fly into the sea, swim beds of onions, chase balloons, chase each other. [Heck, one of his iconic photos, which has traveled the world over and has become a meme, is that of a laughing kid!] I think people respond to that joy instinctively, which has made Hersley perhaps the most appreciated Dumaguete visual artist of his generation today.
The exhibit runs until 7 May 2023.
There seems to be a whirlwind of pop art brewing in Dumaguete these days.
Last April 5, Arte Gallery Café [2nd Floor, Allegre Building, Rizal Avenue] opened the first solo exhibition of Moshi Dokyo, a testament to delightful chaos the artist calls Proquackstinate. And peering closer into the exhibition, it becomes also a testament to the bewildering “gifts” of anxiety and doubt and rage. Looking at the whole caboodle of it, I can also very well say they are mirrors to the bundle of nerves I call my life. [Perhaps also yours? Welcome to the club!]
Because what do you have here? A rash of confessional works that speak of a chaotic mental state, but acknowledging that chaos with whimsy and artistry, and rendering it into a playful landscape of color and lines. One work in a particular is a triptych of paintings, all portraits, that show the evolution of the subject — most likely the artist himself — from a state of edgy calm to a state of full-on rage, all three marked by fiery all-seeing eye floating, like a signifier of anxiety, on the subject’s head. The eye rages more with its fieriness as the pictures evolve, the rage made even more animated when the flames burst out of the confines of the painting’s frames. This work would have been terrifying if it were not, somehow, also funny. Which I guess is a double-edgedness I see embedded in the very nature of much of pop art: they can contain all sorts of expression, even maddening ones, but somehow the best of them retain an element of playfulness that provide us an ironic distance from the emotions at play. I like that. I like seeing the rage, and acknowledging its anger, but I also like being able to laugh at it. That is a good recipe for catharsis.
The fiery all-seeing eye is a motif that touches most of the works in Proquackstinate, including an installation piece that makes use of it as an emblem to a kind of altar, complete with another triptych set of portrait caricatures — perhaps depicting the artist and his fellow artist friends — in lines that evoke a weariness, a certain madness. Is this the artist’s way of acknowledging the pain that comes about when you come to the worship of the artistic life? I’m not exactly sure, but that’s how I read it. And the subtext everywhere else seems to be pain — we see a bloodied nail, a bisected dog, a plane window surrounded by objects of despair, a wall of graffiti that reminds us of the zany madness of the underground artist Robert Crumb.
And yet, despite all that pain and all that expression of anxiety, what transcends is an antithetical brightness. I like that duality; that is the essence of life — to know that undergirding all our brightness is also a consuming darkness, and vice versa. Life — and mental health — is not a monolith: I can both cry and laugh at the same time.
Moshi Dokyo carries over that playfulness — and thematic duality — in another work that’s part of a group exhibition, Hue, that recently opened in Shelter Gallery [Angatan, Tabuctubig]. In “Moshpit Aftermath,” Moshi’s contribution to the collection, we find the same tortured, fire-ravaged figure on canvas, but it comes with a more sinister twin: a work that reminds you of an emergency box glass casing, but inside, there’s a facsimile of a gun [dolled up in baby blue], and on the casing itself, a message: “Breakdown in Case of Emergency.” I found that play of words chilling: not “break glass” but “breakdown,” like an invitation to despair willingly. Why does Moshi Dokyo’s work feel like therapy?
Many of the other works in the group exhibition also take pop art’s cue, including Jascer Merced’s resin and acrylic renditions of Gandalf and Frodo from The Lord of the Rings; Skye Benito’s “Psyche,” a splendid and expressive portraiture of a woman with butterfly wing ears; and Jonee Jibe’s “Noe’s Space,” a beguiling work of acrylic on canvas that functions very much like a dream: you see a playground swing done up in barber’s stripes occupying beyond a forbidding arc, and silhouetted by either moon or sun, all the while flooded by undulating flesh-colored blobs that feel threatening but have the texture of cotton candy dreams. I live for images like this — because they are truly Rorschach tests. My favorite remains Dolly Sordilla’s “Daisy,” a gorgeous sculptural work from polymer clay, epoxy clay, synthetic glass, synthetic hair, resin, and acrylic paint, which depicts a girl with a sunflower for one eye taking a walk — but walking via the animated tendrils of her blue hair. It speaks nightmare, it speaks delightful anime; it reminds me of the dark fantasies of Neil Gaiman. But the gorgeous details of it all — the sculpted hair, the knitted dress, the blue eye, the sunflower — reminds me once again that Dolly is one of my favorite Dumaguete artists whose work I want to see more and appreciated more.
The other works in the group exhibition do not exactly epitomize pop art: two are pure abstraction, including Daniel Vincent Fabros’ “Exotiq 2,” which is a delightful uncut gem of a canvas pulsating in shades of emerald and amethyst and garnet, and Amber Tashiro’s “Liberosis,” which is a ravishing Zen-like work almost delicate in its deliberate use of dots and shades and shape; Sid Labe’s “Mangtaso’ng Kahanas” and “Bulawanong Bahandi,” both of which depict men of the laboring class going about their daily work [one is a potter, and the other is a peddler of plastic wares], are representational works of painstaking photorealism that Sid has become known for [although I still stand on my conviction that his sculptural works made from old ballpens represented a major departure for his art]; and two others are more conceptual — and almost invisible if you do not pay attention: Jan Alix’s “Terminals” occupy ceiling space, an installation of playing cards and strings that for the artist call attention to “the intentions of what we make [which] are evident in the ethics of how we create,” and Ma. Isabel Gutang’s “Work Transfer” occupies the floor space, which litters it with paper on which are printed assorted diagrams and texts and pictures, occasionally threaded by shoe marks. Both are ciphers done well.
Proquackstinate in Arte Gallery runs until April 23, and Hue in Shelter Gallery runs until May 5.