Piglas

BY ALICE GUILLERMO

One of the most striking paintings in “Piglas” is that of Roy Veneracion entitled "Paulit-ulit ang mga pangyayari noong Pebrero sa gunita ni Ferdinand samantalang siya’y hele-hele sa awiting Dahil sa Iyo", in oil on acrylic in enamel. The colors, while vivid and in unusual combinations, do not have a decorative effect, but instead have the intensity of a dream or a lingering after-image that haunts the mind. The scarlet and golden hues mold the figures and lend them an unusual expressiveness. Its surrealism lies in its theatrical quality – the scene of Imelda singing to the crowd below with Marcos seated and watching – is like a stage for a lurid melodrama. But this time, Filipinas, the beautiful muse draped in the flag, is held captive by a familiar heavy square-jawed figure in the military attire. In Ferdinand’s dream, there are historical resonances: the Imelda form is sleekly dressed in a costume of the Thirties, while the work itself simulates a gilded antique frame broken in parts, It is not only Ferdinand and Imelda, it is also Peron and Eva, and the other conjugal dictatorship and fascist regimes of this century.

- Alice Guillermo
1986

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Worthy of Veneracion (Art Style Today)

BY CID REYES


Roy Veneracion …has taken a rather oblique approach, switching between pure abstraction and unabashed figuration or, as often, merging the two idioms, with results that invite polarizing opinions. Veneracion himself has been directly reproached for this duality of artmaking. The artist recalls being admonished – but gently, of course – by at least two influential critics, namely, the late Leonides Benesa and Alice Guillermo, both of whom preferred that the artist focus his energies on figuration.

Guillermo has been most impressed by Veneracion’s figurative works, writing, for instance: “The human figures have a vividness of form and color, striking in expressing qualities, and the work as a whole shows that Veneracion’s artistic talent in figurative art of sociopolitical meaning should not be lost but should rather be pursued and developed to the full, for it is here, and not so much in his textural abstracts, that he will make his lasting mark on the country’s art scene.”

Still another of Guillermo’s essays for the National Museum Visual Arts Collection brought more pressure on Veneracion to cast his lot on figuration: “Some of the most striking paintings reflecting the temper of the times came from a former abstractionist, Roy Veneracion.” Has Guillermo already decided that Veneracion will never do another abstraction?

As a cardinal rule, critics must never set directions for artists, though it is their human failing to point out passages that they perceive to be a dead-end. This failing, to my mind, throws the entire artmaking process out of whack. But as sometimes happens, this strategy of consultation may result in felicitous ends. Just to cite an example: Andy Warhol, desperate for a subject to paint, sought the advice of his dealer, who then asked the artist what it was that he desired most in the world. Warhol’s quick response was: Money! And that’s how Warhol painted his photo screen series of American dollar bills.

Actually, the problem does not reside in an artist’s ability to work in both figurative and abstract idioms. The problem occurs when one becomes merely an artifice and a conceit of the other. The resultant works endure the failure of a disharmonious whole. This makes one wonder: could there not be a happy juxtaposition – where the figure is not merely a truncated subject, and the abstract passages not to be dismissed as a superfluous brushwork.

In two successive shows at the Mag:net Gallery and the Galeria Duemila, Veneracion shows ample proof that he has successfully merged a human image and abstraction. In the sweet communion of a dreamy, enigmatic narrative, the artist constructed a harmonic blending of floating images, much like flashes of intuition, in the manner of, say, the great American artist Jasper Johns, whose works (in particular, the crosshatching paintings) incorporated such mystifying images as skulls and insects. Complex relations (which must be fathomed intuitively or analytically) occur in such works, and as in the works of Veneracion, the choice of iconography is always personal, its emotional signification sometimes known only to the artist.

Veneracion claims to harness dream images, thought reflections, philosophical puzzles, existential riddles, memory impressions, musical passage and weather changes – quite a battery of aesthetic stimuli. Many of his works validate these contemplative acts. ‘Mang Juan’ and ‘Vincent’, for instance, are dream portraits of two revered artists, surely inspiring lodestars for any aspiring Filipino artist. The great Luna is shown seated with a brush and palette in hand, frame in the background. A goat grazes in a pasture of thickly brushed acrylic pigment, any section of which could pass for an abstract painting. The Van Gogh portrait is a figuration from the tragic painter’s self-portrait, with subtle appropriations from the bowl shape of those famous sunflowers. What predominates, however, are the counterbalancing brushstrokes that flay the pictorial space with smears and dripping splatters of watery acrylics.

An easy give-and-take of figurative and abstract presence creates a heterogeneous resolution in the works ‘Sleeping Nude’ and ‘Logical Conclusion,’ where a womanly figure lies recumbent. The shapely figure is a free-floating image undefiled by a formidable display of abstract elements whirling about her.

I found the many abstract works of Veneracion, many on view at the Galeria Duemila, more dynamic in their unpredictability – in terms of conception, composition and execution.

Perhaps these are the works executed outdoors. The very titles and chromatic treatment betray the intensities of space, the sky and the seasons. Connotative of light, wind and weather are titles such as Red Zone, Yellow Over Gray, Under the Blue Sky in Bright Sunlight, Summer Solstice and Zazen at Noon.

What distinguishing characteristics unify these works into a cohesive vision for the artist? The works grow by an accretion of spatial and surface attacks. Veneracion has a predilection for dividing space into geometric areas. Some of the works are done in diptychs and triptychs. There are freely deployed squares and rectangles that turn into color-bearing vessels. But the real ballast of Veneracion’s art would be the imaginative methods by which the artist enlivens the canvas surface: the dripping of water-thin pigment against an atmospheric ground, the evocative scratches, slashes and emblematic markings, the assertive overlayering and erasures. Veneracion keeps his paintings always in a state of upheaval.

The manner of composition and design is eccentric and idiosyncratic and, in some works, deliberately provocative in their seeming disjointedness and dislocation. Nothing validates this observation more than a comment made by another artist (something shared with us by Veneracion himself) that the works look as if they had been assembled from different parts of various paintings.

Indeed, this conundrum, or puzzle, lies at the very heart of Veneracion’s art. Herein, most likely, is the source of his strength. To wonder whether Veneracion should give up abstraction for figuration seems, to me, surprisingly irrelevant.

- Cid Reyes
2002

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Exorcising the Demons of Art

One of the undisputed doyens of modern abstract art in the country, Roy Veneracion literally goes to town with the most disarming use of color in a show of his latest works at the newest gallery in town (mag:net +, until Oct. 12).

While other abstractionists of his generation have predictably gone minimalist or unabashedly expressionist, Veneracion, the ever-fervid colorist par excellence, has chosen to let loose a torrent of tones and colors that, by their very essence, are of the neutral or neutralizing variety. It is most presumably the artist’s way of expressing his current preoccupation with the intuitive power of memory and the subconscious state where dreams lurk and chaos spells order.


But that is barely scratching the surface of Veneracion’s oeuvre, which explores his continuing fascination with dreams and lifelong practice of dream analysis. The process of introspective has allowed him to delve deeper into the multiple levels of meaning and the dissonance of imagery in the postmodern world. Thus, his canvases are indeed far richer and more resonant than what they initially and randomly signify, and the viewer is correspondingly admonished to spend equal quality time ruminating on his creations, which teem with anecdotes and impressions, not to mention dreams and nightmares.

Veneracion has himself led an equally colorful life in the arts, having witnessed the evolution of abstract expressionism from the ‘60s, when as a gifted prodigy of the late Dean Jose Joya of UP, he initially ventured into the spontaneous and highly gestural approaches characteristic of the New York School. Later, in the turbulent decade of the ‘70s, he likewise trod the path of social realism, through not of the hardcore variety like Pablo Baens Santos, Renato Habulan, and Antipas Delotavo, as his works explored the spiritual realm in yoga and Zen Buddhism.

His art-making took an unpredictably new turn at the fall of the conjugal dictatorship and the ascendancy of a new political order, infusing a newfound sense of artistic freedom that found fruition in increasingly surreal and markedly apocalyptic works. Thus, we can see in his current exhibit a merging of two opposing elements – the formal and the casual, the conscious and the subconscious, the classical merging with pop imagery – even the strictly personal attempting to cast light on the formidable shadows of art and history.

Take the work “Mang Juan,” for example, where he cleverly transposed Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles in his wild imagining as being a place of the entertainment capital, which he visited last year in the course of his visit to California. Here, we see in the center the image of Juan Luna with brush and palette in hand, as if gazing from the hills to the viewer. Curiously, Veneracion added the image of a goat, which he claims is a fixture in his new home in the Antipolo hills, both the artist and the beast as itinerant characters plucked from his personal history.


In the other piece “Vincent,” we see the famous face of Van Gogh, amid a sea of wildly scrawling patches of line and color. It is presumably his own tribute to a master whom he deeply admires and whose own madness must have been the primal source of his legendary genius.

The reclining nude – that of the female, of course – is another recurring image of the artists in his show. In “Logical Conclusion,” this image is the only clearly figurative as all else is clearly abstract in form and spirit. It signifies the one muse that artists ultimately seek and desperately desire, an image that must be rendered in a representational manner, perhaps the logical end he refers to the title.

Veneracion’s other works become more uncompromisingly abstract in “None Entirely Definable” and “Issue of Black and White Internalized,” as well as in “Summer Solstice 2.” In the first, a diptych of sorts, he simply mesmerizes the viewer with his palette, the overlapping hues that evoke a peculiar mood. In the latter, he show us what dreams can be like in a totally seductive interplay of media, colors and imagery.

Veneracion has, in his show, embarked on a voyage through time and space that has made him reexamine his artistic roots, indeed the artist’s own way of exorcising the demons of art and artmaking that have continued to haunt him.

- Gino Dormiendo
2002

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Roy Veneracion: Art on the Edge

Viewing the latest collection of paintings by Roy Veneracion, one is awed by images that are ostensibly unconventional, seemingly inchoate, puzzling to the mind and eye. Very well, I confess that the aforementioned epithets may also apply to Veneracion’s art, abstraction in the post-modern sense, workings of the hyperactive mind being suddenly stilled, indeed stalled, by an afterthought, a Freudian slip, or simply, the thought process seemingly gone astray.

Here is an artist who is thinking and painting with the spontaneous sparks of the subconscious, culling images through the mind’s eye in a largely deconstructive mode. With the provocative title, “Painting the Subconscious,” the show of 15 predominantly acrylic and enamel canvases attempts to record both the visual and visceral responses to a variety of creative stimuli engendered by pop music, New Age religion, Zen Buddhism, current affairs engulfing once peaceful places on earth, and, as with any abstractionist worth his brush and palette, the sheer seductive interplay of form and color.

Veneracion has time and again parlayed images that, like a seismograph, record his wandering into the subconscious realm. In a previous show held last month at the newly-opened mag:net, he initially explored his fascination with dreams and intuition, an act of exorcising his personal demons. Interjecting the mainly abstract field with a sprinkling of figurative images culled from art history, the artist grappled with his own personal battles to put sense into his wildest imaginings.

In the present show at the Galleria Duemila, which ends on Nov. 28, Veneracion reinforces his subjects with his trademark touches of layering, visual puns, graffiti, and generous splashes of paint on canvases mainly of the diptych or triptych format. Need we add that here, too, in what seems like a spontaneous clanging of brush and paint, Veneracion, battle-tested through many artistic upheavals, has found greater chaos to further stimulate his creative juices?

Nowhere is this display of fine excess more mind-boggling than in a suite devoted largely to the contrasting image of tranquility and terror, as in “A Freedom Holiday Against the Killjoys of the World,” which is a visual rumination on the spate of bombings that took place in tourist-friendly Bali, Indonesia recently. Here, the splintered road signs gone suddenly awry amid a four-panel canvas shatter a giant orb symbolizing Bali’s effervescent tropical beauty.

Equally disdainful of this generation’s preoccupation with lip-service communication is the painting titled “Lips Express,” a wit-laden montage that shows what, in the morass of layered and superimposed forms, looks like a peephole that allows the viewer a peek into the hidden agenda beneath the mouthful superficial exchange, with a blown-up exclamation mark delivering the ultimate visual punchline.

The changing seasons also get a jabbing of sorts from Veneracion’s wildly acidulous brushwork in the “Red Zone,” a diptych that shows the changing landscape, which has by now fallen prey to the lethal charms of the El Nino. In “Summertime 3,” however, Veneracion seems to look more kindly at the natural course summer has taken, throwing in pigments of sand which have, in the process, been wittily incorporated in the canvas.

14A staunch yoga disciple who goes into Zen meditation as a way of quelling his wildly restive mind, Veneracion has painted the equivalent of his wanderings while the mind is deep in thought. In “Zazen at Noon,” time and space are encapsulated in the textured surface in almost minimalist form. A small window is represented symbolizing the mind just about to open up gently, the artist’s thoughts ferried across time and space by a dash of cloud here and a portentous calligraphic smoke there.

Another piece in diptych format, “Yinyang” is executed in almost similar fashion, with two largely contrasting pictorial fields, one full with bright splashes, the other almost starkly bare in an off-white configuration. Here, in the left image-rich panel, Veneracion has incorporated figurative drawings of flowers and leaves as a counterpoint to the nearly empty space on the right panel, a homage to the Chinese epigram symbolizing nature’s contrasting polarities.

The pervasive influence of music is also present in a number of Veneracion’s pieces, not those of the present-day all-boy or all-girl pretty crooners, but that of a much earlier era, where he, at one point, was himself enamored with the music of the Beatles, James Taylor and Roy Orbison. In “Only the Lonely,” a ditty made famous by Orbison, with its still enchanting lyrics and melody intact, Veneracion has incorporated a string of copper wire onto his canvas, presumably to harp on the impact of his generation’s music now sadly lost in this age of the Videoke and MTV.

The ecological landscape is not about to escape the artist’s endless ruminations. In “Ode to the Rainforest,” he traces the route back to the primeval wellspring of all creation. With the help of signs and symbols both suggestive of a road map, the artist dreams of embarking on a personal journey if only to retrieve and relive what has been irretrievably lost today.

With a sensibility as irresistible as this ardent disciple of abstract expressionism, the art of Roy Veneracion continues to boggle, disturb and haunt, even as it speaks to us of the beauty and ugliness, the Jungian face of man, the trials and triumphs of the human soul.

- Justino Dormiendo
2002

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“The Changing image of the Filipina ” (The Arts)

“…The same sense of moral violation is expressed in Roy Veneracion’s ‘Mutya ng Pag-ibig’. The central image is that of a poor Filipino family, the woman looking anxiously to the future while sheltering her child with her arms, and the father crying out and raising his flayed and bleeding arms in protest. They are flanked by the two contrasting figures of the beautiful female nude on the left, symbolizing the Filipina, and the robot at the right against a background of factories spewing smoke, symbol of dehumanization and ecological destruction. A heart surrounded with barbed wire, an image of intense pain, is above the crossed flags of the Philippines and the United States, thus implying the human suffering that ensues from their avowed ‘special friendship’. The human figures have a vividness of form and color, striking in expressive qualities, and the work as a whole shows that Veneracion's artistic talent in figurative art of socio-political meaning should not be lost but should rather be pursued and developed to the full, for it is here, and not so much in his textural abstracts, that he will make his lasting mark on the country’s art scene.”

- Alice G. Guillermo

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