writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Art is like a journal

I wrote the text for Mark Andy Garcia's second solo exhibition at Blanc in February of this year. I was asked by Jay Amante, the gallery owner of Blanc, to write the text for the exhibition. In a sense, I was quite interested to do so with Garcia approaching art intimately connected with his personal life and using art as a form of therapy. Having worked at the Cunningham Dax Collection, a collection of works of those who've experienced mental illness and/or trauma (one of the largest collections in the world of works of this kind), in Melbourne as a Curatorial Scholarship Student for a year was a very interesting experience for me and one that I was interested in connecting with my practice working in contemporary art. I'm not sure what further directions my experience there will lead to but I am a big believer in mulling over things, letting it fester and bringing it out when 'it's time' whether it be weeks from now or years from now.

Art is like a journal

Art is like a journal, Mark Andy Garcia once said. If it is a journal, the selected works in this exhibition script the startling, tumultuous past year Garcia has had. The unusual succession of events that have unfolded in Garcia’s life within close proximity to one other has placed the artist squarely in an overwhelming test of his disposition. Briefly, the story of this episode of Garcia’s life is this:

Rochelle and Raquel, Garcia’s two younger sisters at nineteen and seventeen years old (both single and still in school), wound up with overlapping unplanned pregnancies. His older brother, Rhyan, got married but, within a month, forlornly had to leave his pregnant wife behind to work in Taiwan for much needed finances. In addition, the kidneys of Garcia’s father stopped functioning and regular (and expensive) dialysis sessions became necessary. And like many mothers who become the family’s resilient pillar in times of crisis, Garcia’s mother has more than dutifully stepped up to her task as the caring, loving wife and mother who sources her strength from places of unplumbed depths.

Now, Garcia, the second of the four children, is amidst and in between all of this.

While seemingly aloof in manner should one meet him in person, Garcia’s composed exterior veil a tempest beneath. The furor and confusion that Garcia rightly feels for all these occurrences is directly seen and felt in these exhibition’s works. The works were each created quickly and unplanned in a torrential flood of feeling – in the need to suddenly discharge these hot flashes of intense emotion and moments of great duress. Grief, anger, despair, sympathy and bewilderment are bared in Garcia’s childlike brash slashing strokes and in the impetuous scribbled phrases found all over his paintings. His selection of damp browns, purples and greens further insinuate the artist’s brooding and foreboding mood.

Focusing on Garcia’s mother are the works Charity, Sorrow, My Mother and She’s Always There. They, in some sense, pay tribute to her vigor, her steadfastness and indeed her anguish as well, as Garcia perceives it. Depicting his brother and sister-in-law, Kuya Rhyan and Ate Raquel centers on Garcia’s brother’s distressed reaction to his sister’s pregnancy news which followed only a day after what had been his joyous wedding. The events of Rochelle and Racquel, the objects of Garcia’s mother’s charity, shadow and dominate most of the show, along with Garcia’s deep loathing towards the men who got his sisters pregnant. One of the men is obviously referred to in Raquel in the Shadow of an Imbecile; the other alluded to in The Brainless Murderer. The men loom in the corner of Under the Watchful Eyes while Garcia’s self-portrait sits on the opposite side holding a double-edged sword, a biblical reference to the word of God. The importance of faith in these events that have cast such a feeling of vulnerability to Garcia, understandably feeling prey to his emotions, is echoed in his Prayer Request of a Weak Man.

The exhibition title ‘Under the Watchful Eyes’, taken from the title of the largest work in the exhibition, originally referred to a divine being overlooking these events and, simultaneously, the judgmental perceptions of others to what had happened. Yet, the title takes new meaning in the recent death of Garcia’s father, who passed away shortly after the works for the show were completed. It perhaps movingly bookends a conclusion in this particular chapter of troubling events in Garcia’s life.

Undeniably, the weight of such severe family circumstances Garcia finds himself in weighs heavily on the works. Who would want to own something filled with so much personal tragedy? Would it be so sadistic to purchase and display such a memento of events that are so obviously deeply painful to the artist?

Yet, if art is like a journal as Garcia says, there is something very precious then about owning what amounts to a page from the artist’s diary and one so specially invested in by the artist. It is rare to find works these days with such a fervent personal connection to actual events in the artist’s life. The impulsive painting process has certainly been a therapeutic one for Garcia, the transference of emotions done through the very physical sensation of daubing here, there, anywhere and everywhere. There is an evident amount of gratification in expelling the hurt, the demons, the confusion and the sadness.

Yet, there are still some few last stages of this progression of healing being completed. The works have entered the realm of the commercial world. They are now exhibited in a gallery – ready to be sold off and shipped to its new proprietors, who will own not only a part of the artist’s experience but, with such inundation of the artist’s inner self, also in a sense a part of his soul. As Garcia lets go of these works and they go into the homes of the appreciative and enlightened, perhaps he may find the cathartic release and the prayed-for strength that he has greatly longed for and that he so much deserves.

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