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