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