Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Existential Appeal of 'Soloism' in Aesthetics (The Eccentric Art of Francisco Pellicer Viri)

Francisco Pellicer Viri and his works, photo by Danny C. Sillada

Published in Manila Bulletin (Arts & Living), December 6, 2010

“Language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has also created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”
– Paul Tillich

IN THE LAST three lines of his poem, The Solitary Reaper, William Wordsworth extols the melancholic song of a woman harvesting in the fields of Scotland. The speaker in the poem goes through a transferential loneliness that the solitary reaper sang in her heart when he says: “And, as I mounted up the hill, / The music in my heart I bore, / Long after it was heard no more.”

An artist, in general, is solitary, not because he wants to escape or avoid the bustling routine of familial or societal life, but to find his own solitude where he can be at home with himself and his art. Paradoxically, it is only in solitude that an artist can see the world with unparalleled vision, exploring his boundless freedom to create.

One such artist who immerses himself with recurrent themes of loneliness, solitude, and estrangement is Francisco Pellicer Viri. He epitomizes the organic and intangible state of solitude on his canvas and paper. Unbroken line traverses amid the overlapping mass of planes and colors, self-contained and undefined figure emerging, aloof and distant yet outreaching, like an abandoned child on the street, hungering for human affection.

But Viri’s works are beyond empirical representations, they are transcendental portrayals of an existential journey born out of a throbbing solitary existence.

It is for this reason that his art can be categorized within the vein of ‘soloism.’ In the language of aesthetics, Soloist Art or solo-art, as coined by this writer, is an artistic principle that perceives life as a solitary struggle, a constant creative struggle to make life sensible amid the irrational realities of human existence.

As an artistic idiom, ‘soloism’ can be expressed in other modes of creative activities, like poetry, music, or performance art. Most often, it manifests the drab reflections of man’s harsh conditions in the society.

Some elements of “soloism” can be found in the works of painters Francis Bacon, Egon Schiele, and Edward Munch; confessional poets John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, and Robert Lowell; existentialist philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus, among others. Soloist art is akin to existentialism except that, as an aesthetic principle, it actualizes human freedom and purpose in life through creative activity.

“It is a linear philosophy which is trying to express an underlying need for a sense of order due to the psychotic disturbances found in everyday life,” Viri describes his art with succinct candor, bereft of sentimentalism. “My images are essentially a personal figurative abstraction which, in the recent years, evolves into one ‘unbroken line’ of figure.”

He is one of the few artists who can articulate his mind with cogent opinion and perspicacious acumen. However, amid all his forms and colors is a lonely creator trying to make sense from incongruous circumstances that constantly hound his lonely existence.

A bachelor in his 50s, no family, parents, or siblings to anchor his dreams, thoughts, and feelings, he lives an eccentric, solitary life, which is ubiquitous in his works. In fact, there is a very thin line that borders between his life and his aesthetics. His life and his art seem to exist in symbiotic manner, giving a teleological reason for each other’s existence.

His iconoclastic frame of thinking is reflective of his educational background and assimilated cultures during his travels and stints abroad. Similarly, although he does not identify his creative style and technique to any artistic movements, it is obvious that his works are avant-garde assertions against the conventional.

He studied in Rhode Island School of Design, known as the number one fine arts college in the United States, and finished his BFA degree in Illustration in 1979. From then on, Viri would travel to several countries to exhibit his works, but he would always come back to his motherland in the Philippines. From 1990s to the present, he has already launched several one-man shows and participated occasional group shows in Metro Manila galleries.

The turning point of his artistic career came when his brother died, leaving him alone and devastated. “My brother died on September 8, 2007,” Viri recounts with a trace of gnawing sadness in his eyes. “I watched him having five successive heart attacks in the span of three days until he died in the hospital.”

The loss of his brother is parallel to the loss of Theo to his elder sibling Vincent van Gogh, except that Viri lost a supportive brother, like Theo, who stood by his side throughout his artistic career. Viri could have uttered the same poignant words written by Theo to his mother after the tragic death of Vincent: “It is a grief that will weigh on me for a long time and will certainly not leave my thoughts as long as I live…” (August 1, 1890, Paris; R.G. Harrison)

What is life without tragedy, what is art without solitude or madness!

One can remember the tormenting loneliness of an American poet Sylvia Plath or the remaining years of a famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The latter suffered from chronic melancholia before he died in Weimar on August 25, 1900, while Plath succumbed to self-destruction during one of the coldest winters in Europe on February 10, 1963.

On a positive note, Emily Dickinson, out of her lonely, secluded life, had written the most important collections of poetry in the history of world literature. Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran wrote the most compelling philosophical treatises and reflections in Paris, while living in poverty away from his homeland. The German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven created some of his greatest masterpieces; he was deaf and he died a pauper without even hearing the heavenly sound of his music.

Despair, solitude, tragedy, or poverty can break the artist, but it can also redeem and propel his aesthetic freedom to create a magnificent opus.

Viri’s solitary life was heightened after his brother’s death, but he never gave up. His art is not only a vehicle to find meaning in the midst of chronic solitude and tragic past, e.g., the death of his beloved brother and parents respectively; it becomes his life and his life becomes his art, trying to make sense from a seemingly absurd existence.

Great works of art are not created from the allure of comfy environment, but from the creator’s debilitating solitude, in a manner of speaking, traversing through a perilous journey between darkness and light in order to give birth to his creation. It is during this harrowing process that an artist can be so fragile, like a delicate crystal; yet, he can also be formidable, transforming himself and his art into a metaphysical encounter with Truth, Good, and Beauty.

Art, to reecho Viri’s unassuming statement, “is to express an underlying need for a sense of order due to the psychotic disturbances found in everyday life.”

© Danny Castillones Sillada

Friday, August 27, 2010

Art, Music & School from Industrial Scraps

Jonahmar Salvosa's steel sculpture, Illac Diaz's bottled wall, and Lirio Salvador's sandata

Published in Manila Bulletin, Style Weekend, August 20, 2010

“The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.” – Ross Perot

MOST ARTISTS, WHO have used industrial scraps in their arts, create not only to liberate their artistic vision and commitment, but also to make a powerful statement in addressing the inordinate desire of our progressive society to build structures and accumulate more industrial products in our respective homes and working places.

Filipino artists, like Jonahmar Salvosa and Lirio Salvador, transform electronic and industrial scraps into an objet trouvé in their oeuvres. They fashion beauty out of scraps, so to say. In like manner, social entrepreneur Illac Diaz, in one of his social architecture projects, uses plastic bottles and organic materials to create schools for children and low-cost homes for the homeless.

These Filipino artists and social entrepreneur create beauty from abandoned materials and give hope from a hopeless condition. In their own humble manner, they build something from industrial scraps that will benefit our environment and society.

Jonahmar Salvosa: The Beauty of His Steel Scraps

An environmentalist and a Zen enthusiast, painter-sculptor Jonahmar Salvosa challenges the conventional norm of art making without being obtrusively messianic in his creations. He uses steel scraps, particularly the round steel bars, from their seemingly futile shapes and transforms them into a functional and decorative art pieces: from chairs to tables and from organic forms to human figures.

In the process, Salvosa produces grace and elegance from steel fragments, letting their forms and shapes come out with minimal human intervention. Consequently, the bends, curls, and tangles of round steel bars create seductive and harmonic noise, in figurative sense, which are not only pleasing to the viewer’s eyes but also beneficial to the environment.

As the artist says, “The process is liberating, satisfying my hunger to transform the abandoned state of metal into a functional and decorative objects, thus decreasing the industrial wastes in my community.”

Lirio Salvador: The Mesmeric Sound of His ‘Sandata’

Known for his "Sandata" musical instruments, like the bass and lead guitars, Lirio Salvador, the founder of ethno-industrial band called Elemento, redefines avant-garde music with eclectic sounds emanating from assembled electronic and metal scraps. As a sculptor and musician, he fashions ordinary and discarded materials into a sublime objet d'art, which is both functional and interactive.

Found objects such as stainless pipes, bicycle gears, electronic gadgets, transistor radio, mini-amps, and aluminum kitchenware, among other materials, are recycled and given with new meaning as assemblage of sculptural piece and, at the same time, interactive musical instrument. Stunningly, his homemade keyboard machine, aside from lead and bass guitars, is mimetic of industrial environment, transforming its discordant and abrasive noise into an orchestral sound of ambient and mesmeric harmony.

Lirio Salvador’s Elemento is not the typical group of musicians. Its members did not undergo the routine of rehearsal that most musical band does; some members are not permanent either or mainstay in the band. Whenever the leader, is present, the members converge and create ephemeral music that reflects their inner thoughts and feelings. The cohesive form and texture of Elemento’s music is born out of unrehearsed and spontaneous flow of sound coming from its respective instruments deconstructing the conventional structure of music composition.

From what used to be a meaningless metal scraps and discarded electronic gadgets, Lirio Salvador and his Elemento generate a poetic encounter in music that emits sounds of hope and harmony.

Illac Diaz: The Elegance of His Bottled School

Known as a social activist and entrepreneur and founder of My Shelter Foundation in 2005, Illac Diaz’s passion to create for the economically-challenged communities, particularly the schools for children in remote areas in the country, seems inexhaustible.

After his successful projects in Surigao Del Norte by creating Earthen Schools and his recent “Bottle School Run” last June 13, 2010, he embark on rebuilding the damaged schools in Maharlika Village, Taguig City, which are literally made of soda bottles mixed with some organic materials.

From empty plastic bottles rose an eco-friendly and architecturally revolutionary classrooms. The patternic design and texture of soda bottles that are integrated on the walls create an avant-garde look – a public art installation of sort. Whether the pattern is consciously or unconsciously infused in the blueprint, the architectural edifice has already achieved both its aesthetic appeal and functionality as classroom for children.

The genesis of his advocacy and social commitment started from his first project the Pier One, an organization that caters affordable transient house for seamen who are either looking for opportunities to work abroad or waiting for another overseas voyage. It was followed by the Peanut Revolution, building pedal-powered machines for women in shelling off the raw peanuts. Then the First Step Coral, creating an artificial coral reef system in shallow waters.

TO SUM, EVERY individual, as co-steward of this planet, has a social and environmental responsibility to recycle or transform industrial scraps in a manner in which they can function again in our respective homes and communities.

For every scrap, metal or plastic bottle, is comparable to a wild plant that grows in our backyard, waiting to be transformed and nurtured by our creative hands until it becomes useful again, with value and meaning, in our day to day existence.

Illac Diaz, Lirio Salvador, and Jonahmar Salvosa (photos by Danny Sillada)

© Danny Castillones Sillada

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Poetry & Live Art Performances at Cesare Syjuco’s ‘Ancestry of Stone’

“I don't think artists can avoid being political. Artists are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine. When we stop singing, it's a sure sign of repressive times ahead.”
- Theresa Bayer

It has already been a tradition for a multi-disciplinary artist to invite poets, performance artists, and musicians to perform at the opening of his or her show. The convergence of different artistic mediums at the opening of Cesare Syjuco’s exhibit, for instance, produces interactive dialogues between the artists and the audience. And for the audience, it has always been a treat to witness such unique gathering of artists from different disciplines to reveal their aesthetic discourses through poetry, music, and live art performances.

Among those who performed at Cesare’s “Ancestry of Stone” last July 24, 2010 at Galleria Duemila in Pasay City were Gimeno H. Abad, Alfred “Krip” Yuson, Rayvi Sunico, Vim Nadera, and Maxine Syjuco for poetry; Cesare Syjuco, Mitch Garcia, Ian Madrigal, and this writer for live art performance; Lirio Salvador, J.P. Hernandez, and the members of Elemento for music.

Gimeno Abad always performs his poems from memory, thus speaking his poetry from his soul. The lightness of his persona and the sound of his placid voice emanate a buoyant atmosphere, cradling his audience with the rhythm of his verses. Alfred Yuson, on the other hand, seems blasé yet bubbly the way he engages his listeners with his spoken words. He always delivers his poems with wit and humor, titillating the mind and heart of the audience as though he was seducing a woman. Rayvi Sunico, a bilingual poet, speaks his poetry with such passion, drawing his audience closer to the texture of his linguistic expression.

Clad in tuxedo impersonating an opera singer, if not Pavarotti, Vim Nadera rouses the audience into laughter when he sang the name of Cesare Syjuco to the tune of “Besame Mucho”. Wearing a white mask and hand gloves, this writer also performed a poignant piece titled “Suicidal Tears”, an existential cry of anguish and despair, as expressed through bodily movements and bloody tears that came out from the mask’s eyeholes.

Lirio Salvador, the founder of ethno-industrial band called Elemento, redefines avant-garde music with eclectic sound that comes from assembled electronic and metal scraps. His orchestral music, with J.P Hernandez playing the percussion, creates an ambient backdrop for other artists to perform their pieces, like the sensual and mesmeric Maxine Syjuco with her short poem about the rain. Then, later, it was segued by Mitch Garcia, showing off her written statements on sheets of paper before the audience. One of her conspicuous avowals says: “Atheism is a non-profit organization.”

Cesare Syjuco’s performance is indubitably satiric and whimsical, luring his audience to listen attentively to the playful sound of his plastic gun with his emotive soliloquy: “She loves me, she loves me not…”(The man himself seemed to be overwhelmed and gratified over the success of his show). Noticeably, among the audiences were from showbiz, like Ronnie Lazaro and Joel Torre, and visual artists, like Tony Twigg with his wife, Gus Albor, Eghai Roxas, Red Mansueto, Roberto M. A. Robles, Raffy Ignacio, Boy Achacruz, and UP Professor and art critic Reuben Ramas Cañete, to name a few.

Hosted by gorgeous Trix Syjuco, co-host of Illuminati opposite Alfred Yuson at GNN Destiny Network (Channel 21), the superbly curated “Ancestry of Stone” and the entire performances were aesthetically orgasmic, culminating with exotic food, beer, and wine.

After the guests left one by one before midnight, this writer with Jean Marie Syjuco (painter and performance artist), Silvana Diaz (gallery owner), Lanie Aquino (cousin of PNoy), Gus Vivar (publisher), Mary Ann Sillada (Director of Neatnix Philippines), and Ilac Diaz (Pinoy social entrepreneur, activist, and model) relished once again the oeuvre of Cesare with a warm conversation on arts and culture, social issues, politics, and, of course, religion.

It was, after all, a night of aesthetic revelation that reopens our eyes to many facets of political and social realities, and a beginning to renew our hope and trust to our new political leader. And as one of Cesare Syjuco’s artworks says, “God Speaks to Cesare,” we (visual artists, writers, poets, and indie filmmakers and musicians) are hoping the same thing that God will already break His long silence and, this time, HE WILL SPEAK TO NOYNOY to bring peace, harmony, and prosperity in our country!

Lanie Aquino, Gus Vivar, Ann Sillada, Danny Sillada (me), Jean Marie Syjuco and Silvana Diaz

© Danny Castillones Sillada