by REUBEN RAMAS CANETE
A stylish rebelliousness and voracious capacity to coopt - and then transcend - aesthetic barriers has often characterized the work of Manila-based artist Roy Veneracion (b. 1947).
Starting from a decidedly abstract expression background in the mid-Seventies, Veneracion has succeeded in welding graffiti and pop figuration as painterly accoutrements since the Eighties to arrive at his artistic philosophy of "Syncretism", which he avers to as: "... (a) stylistic tendency of combining opposing principles in a single artwork. I developed my theories around the eastern "yin-yang" idea of finding "wholeness" through the acceptance of the dualities in all experience. My attempt to resolve the contradictions inherent in the exchange of influences between east and west and the impact of the information age upon cultures, as well as the need to find the visual equivalents to contemporary thought and experience, led to this synthesis."
The Daoist core of Veneracion's credo can be judiciously plotted from his earlier works to the present: the opposing blocks of textured, woody paint and broad, thin washes of his improvisational series of 1975, for example, that speak of this constant need for formal balance finds its restless reincarnation in his 1978 series of color-field paintings divided into broad and thin bands of alternating monochromatic hues; his pointed departure from complete abstraction in the early 1980s, when he focuses on the female nude in expressionistic and sometimes social realist-like stances, interpellating with abstract color planes, contrasting linear gestures, and naif-painted maids and children; and his art-brut-like collages intermingling with post-painterly gestures and neo-ethnic motifs, assembled into irregularly-shaped canvases in the mid-1980s that appropriate the Postmodern architectural "ziggurat" motif, the tropicality of its pastel hues mingling with a darker backdrop that forces the viewer to realize its semiotic connection not to sunny Miami, but to darkened Manila.
This chic Modernist angst lightened through Postmodern pastiche also draw attention to Veneracion's alterity as a meditative commentarist to the artworld fortunes and aesthetic reversals of the international "transavantgarde" movement, graffiti art and the simultaneous return of both the human figure in painting, as well as the baroque age of Neo-Expressionism and Minimalist art. His works, extending into the lete Eighties series of surreal-like montages inhabiting abtracted rooms and tackboards; his Nineties series of brilliantly-colored abstractions with sinous gestural lines; and his current series of human-figure-and-abstract-ground palimpsests should be taken as the Other's productive response to the gesticulating self of the fractured international consotium - a narrational and artworld space that Veneracion appropriates and then transgresses as a vital project in restoring balance to aesthetic chaos.
Veneracion's aesthetic position should also alert audiences to the difference betweeen his avant-garde artistic production to that of others, say, in the West and East Coasts of the United States, or even to that of Europe (where the not-so-young YBAs and the not- so-new New German Painters jostle for aesthetic and market dominance), which is the first temptation to make, Neither should his work be mistaken for the East Asian contemporary aesthetic rush for "Occidentalism" (the East's exoticizing response to the West's othering), particularly from Japan and China, which has gathered steam since the Niineties. Rather than playing to an established orthodoxy, Roy Veneracion has consistently traveled against the grain, resulting in a harmonic fusion of both dominant and resistant.
This refusal to play a fixed, constant role in the act of cultural enunciation, doubling against itself in an act of determined oftentimes ellipsistic, interjection, re-sutures Veneracion's work as the double-but-never-fixed, a process of always-becoming for those who feel that categories like East-West/Black-White binaries are the fossilized remnants of an autocratic age. The democratic turn that reinvigorates this narration also translocates Veneracion's aesthetic hybridity from an ethic-less exercise into a pointed critique of the auto-destructive techniques of runaway consumerism: Hollywood pop industrialism is immersed in the cauldrons of the Seven Sisters, emerging not quite pristine from its carbonate bath; canonical bodies lounge in acid bars, the pictorial skin peeling and piss-stained like so many layered posters in an abandoned city street; abstract color fields interacting with thick textural planes and gestural lines; and an always-sentient premonition of oncoming disaster, or an archeological assemblage of its occuring effects. One can measure this in Veneracion's critique of Western aesthetic dominance among Pacific Rim artists by reseeding it with organic growth from their subjugated traditions:
"Western Centrality is situated only in the mind of the outclassed and the colonized. What is essentially Eastern and native in my art was my search for the colors and rhythms of the Tropics whiuch I called 'Stilo Tropical' and found affinities with the complex intricacies of Indonesian and Indian art rather than the black and white of Japanese calligraphy. Even my colors which are almost always complementaries found inspiration from the painted Indian temples statues and wall paintings, the weaves and banigs of the Badjaos and other Philippine tribes. As objet trouves I used the colorful banig of Southern Philippines in place of canvas in my polypthic paintings. These colors are still with me now even if I use more global or world images instead of the regional in my present work."
In this ambivalent space of the speaking subject's culturally polymorphous possibilities, Roy Veneracion's re-assertion of what Homi Bhaba calls "the third space of enunciation" should guide us to this project of of his resistance to the either-or of pure abstraction and re-emergent figuration dilemma of his colleagues in the early-Seventies. Rather, he posits the strategy of Syncretism as "...my attempt to put this unresolved theoretical contradiction, irresoluteness, and impasse to the rest-to flatten and obliterate art historical issues...I take eclectism and ambivalence as a linguistic tool to challenge the orthodoxy and ethnocentricity of both Western and Eastern art traditions that now collide as an aftermath of the expansionist scramble for empire building and today's cyber-info age and globalization, that is, to hasten the inevetable in art. After all, art has been emerging and merging in all cultures throughout its history."
As metanarratives, Veneracion's abstracts-plus-figures play in the tertiary spaces lurking between the conjunctive utterances of various cultural selves, thus revoking and contesting the simple, linear discourse that makes one so certain of one's identity, and yet so blind to its fallacies. These "as-yet-selves" occupy ambivalent spaces that, despite the appeal to simulacra that postmodernity advocates, projects very real effects to its viewers, and hence may be said to constitute post-modernism's critique, post-post-modernism. This willingness to take on what had often been thought of as static aesthetic viewpoint is deconstructed in his position regarding the historically integrative nature of Syncretism. - 2008