Friday, April 4, 2008

ART AT THE CUTTING EDGE by Alice Guillermo (excerpted) October, 2003

The dazzling show at the Ateneo Art Gallery of the Ateneo de Manila University, ongoing until September 9, 2003, proffers a new art experience altogether, in the sense of a new way of viewing art in relation to the productions of 50 years ago at the crest of modernism in the country, and in the sense of a new way of making art with the use of an entirely different set of tools. In running commentaries on the walls of the gallery, these present works were categorized as New Modernism (not Postmodernism, nor even, mercifully, Post-postmodernism!). But, it is not our agenda here to set distinctions between these different labels. Suffice it to say that as suggested by curator Fatima Lasay, the label New Modernism applies here in the sense that these present artists who work with computers seek to retrace their steps backward to the time in the 1960's when software programs in video and audio were still in their infancy, thus requiring software developers to invent or create their own programs, and well before Bill Gates could impose a universal platform and commandeer all existing programs. While such an effort as theirs may somewhat appear to be on retrogressive, it however, makes a choice of greater latitude of inventiveness and originality in the use of a computer language that is not constrained by ready-made commercial programs or geared to set directions. This is not to say, however, that they have dispensed or can dispense with existing software altogether; the artist as programmer still works within a wide range of digital possibilities at the same time that he is able to manipulate them or install new commands to hew close to the original artistic intention.

The title of the show DECODE is thus open to a number of meanings. The basic premise is to make a juxtaposition between a modernist painting in the Ateneo Art Gallery collection and a new media work. The contemporary artist "decodes" the earlier work through a kind of digital analysis of it's components of color, light texture, etc., and reorganizes these into a new artistic existence. This is seen, for instance, in the relationship between Joya's Granadean Arabesque and Martin Gomez's D\ILAW, in which the elements are recomposed into grids of perpetually moving fragments, thus revealing the inner dynamics of the original abstract work.
But even more crucial is the difference in the very nature of existence of the juxtaposed works. Painting, of course, is a physically spatial art, spanning over predetermined two-dimensional surface. And sculpture is a three-dimensional art that occupies a relatively variable space. But these examples of new art redefine both space and time in the context of art. They occupy a different space because they belong to virtual reality--as it has been pointed out, a glitch in the power system would shut them out of existence, temporarily or even permanently. Thus, they are beguiling presences or seductive experiences, inviting interactivity or the part of the viewer: you reach out to the moving forms and they respond by cradling your hand or flying out of your grasp. But, at an external signal, they can so easily withdraw back to silences and darkness. They are the interweaving, surrounding presences, whispering or blaring simulacra that tease one's perception and put to question one's sense of reality. Likewise, they also redefine art, for while painting may bear allusions to time and its passage, these present examples run in actual time, may follow a linear narrative but more often are cyclical, multifocal and may continue ad infinitum. However, this sense of virtuality--of virtual volume, for instance--had been introduced earlier by the Russian Constructivist who rejected solid volume for virtual volume in their work's active engagement with space. And this principle was not valorized in a purely formalistic way but as a necessary element in the creation of a new visual language that sought to do justice to a modern technological environment.

New art technologies are stunningly displayed in the present show. Here, for instance is the printmaker Rodolfo Samonte juxtaposing his past and present work: Experimental Cube (1973) and Spheres of Time #2, a print (artist proof) that he did last year in the United States where he has been based for several years now. This work, visually engaging in terms of form and color, is an example of the digital technique of Giclee on canvas (white cotton duck). Though the 1973 work is much subdued in hue and controlled in form but with a satisfying clarity of disposition, one will hesitate to declare the new superior to the old, for the artist was but working then according to the modernist printmaking codes at that time. If the codes he uses in the new work are far different, he is only proving his excellence in his employment of the new digital language.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Rodolfo Samonte: Color as Shape/Scape. By Leonidas Benesa from "Okir. The Ephipany of Philippine Graphic Art"

==========================================================================
Leo
nidas V. Benesa first attracted attention when he won the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) award for art criticism in 1955. An A.B. and M.A. graduate from the Ateneo de Manila, he credits his early development in this field to Fernando Zobel. He has since written numerous articles and studies on Philippine art: Joya Drawings (1973), The Printmakers (1975), Philippinische Malerei (with Paras-Perez), a book on Philippine painting that was published in West Germany in 1970, and many others, including a weekly art review for the Philippines Daily Express. Benesa was a four-time president of the AAP. Benesa was the recipient of of several grants, among them the Fullbright/Smith Mundt, John D. Rockefeller III, Harvard University, and from the German, French and USSR governments. Benesa passed away in 1984 two years after the publication of this book.
=============
=============================================================

As a rule, figuration or the image is vital to the works of Filipino printmakers. The singular exception to this is the geometric abstractionist Rodolfo Samonte (b. 1941). Samonte however first attracted attention with his prize-winning (Art Association of the Philippines Annual, 1966) figurative woodcut entitled Love Garden. There are two or three other graphic abstractionists aside from him, but none of them can match the delicacy of treatment and feeling that invariably invests Samonte's work.

The Love Garden period was when he was still feeling his way around for his proper subject, under the influence not of the Rodriguez workshop with its many adherents, but of the xylographer Paras-Perez.

But he was soon to abandon figurism altogether not only in his paintings but also in his prints under the inspiration of Arturo Luz whose evolution from representation to abstraction, from image to glyph, was and has been an irreversible process.

In the early 1970s Samonte was practically alone in the geometric-abstract field as a printmaker, with the exception of colleague, Romulo Olazo, with whom he was collaborating. When the Sao Paulo authorities asked for Philippine participation in the Bienal of 1973, the Manila authorities sent the works of these two artist, together with those of the woman printmaker Gelvezon-Tequi.

The following year, 1974, Samonte was the only printmaker selected to participate together with painters from the country in the ASEAN Mobile Art Exhibition which toured five capital cities of the region, Manila included. That was because his graphic work was considered at par with the paintings of the other artists by the organizing committee at the Manila end.

Samonte it was who made local art enthusiasts keenly aware of color as shape and scape (one of his exhibits was called "Colorscapes") without any direct reference to nature. When he first showed in 1969 at the Print Gallery of Joy Dayrit's, the linear arabesque of his color woodcuts showed his admiration for the works of Paras-Perez, but he almost immediately went on from there to develop his own style in the field of relief serigraphy, going as far as casting his own paper to get the desired results.

His relief prints resulted from the technique of applying layer upon layer of color on the surface in a transparent fashion reminiscent of the Vietnamese lacquer technique. The Filipino artist's intention, however, was not to achieve depth through transparency, as certain opaque effects were likewise important in his structural laminations.

As always, the color approach in these prints was understated, with the artist depending more on a schematic interplay of tones rather than on outright chromatic statements. This was particularly true of a series of prints he exhibited at the Luz Gallery in which the Leitmotif of Gestalt was the striated binary, a shape with symmetrical halves.

At one point of his development, Samonte even got rid of color completely with his cast paper relief prints, depending on shadows, to provide the tonal qualities. He was one of the first to make his own paper for his graphic use, if we can forget the experiments of the father of Philippine printmaker Rodriguez, in the 1950s. Samonte's own experiments with mashed paper yielded some works in paper sculpture, but this remained peripheral to his central concern which was graphic art.

Another facet of his artistic growth may be seen in the "colorscapes" which were only concessions to the representation of the natural world through the use of color areas allusive of blue skies and green fields; just the same, the shapes were typically geometric-planar in structure. The works were shown at the Galerie Bleue in 1978.

The colorscapes emerged as a result of extensive travels that he undertook in 1976 and 1977 in Japan, the United States, South America and Europe, during which he held exhibitions of his works in Tokyo, Bogota, Cleveland, and Amsterdam. As early as 1974, when his works were exhibited in Tokyo for the first time, certain Japanese qualities were already being noted in his prints in their delicate color nuances. It was probably also in Japan where he was inspired to go into paper-making and -casting for graphic and sculptural purposes.

Completely committed to the aesthetic of international abstraction, Samonte eventually gave up his country altogether to migrate to the United States in 1979. He thus followed in the footsteps of other printmakers who had gone before him and who used to be rather active in the Manila art scene: Hechanova, Lucio Martinez, Marcelino Rodriguez, Restituto Embuscado, Joel Soliven. Even the old guro of Philippine printmaking, Manuel Rodriguez, prefers to stay in New York with his children these days.

Many young printmakers cite Samonte's influence on their development, not so much in the area of style as in the dedication to his craft and art. Samonte's biggest influence was on his colleague Olazo insofar as geometric expressionism is concerned.

Both went into making and casting paper together and even showing their works jointly. It is interesting how Olazo went on from there to develop his own unique abstract style, using his prints as the research material, as it were, for his large paintings.

Samonte has also gone into painting large works but not as successfully, as he is primarily a printmaker. In his particular area -- the layered relief print -- none of his colleagues can come close to him, as mentioned in the beginning, as feeling and reason, craft and art are one in his geometric-planar, curvilinear-rectilinear, color-as-shape, shape-as-color works.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

At Last! An Oral History of Philippine Art. By Eric Torres, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, October 28, 1990


Since its launch a year ago, Cid Reyes's Conversations On Philippine Art (Cultural Center of the Philippines, 196 pp.) has been selling so well that a second printing is inevitable. Not bad for a Filipino nonfiction work which isn't a cookbook. But such are the vagaries of the print media that so far, despite the book's growing success d'estime. it has gotten exactly one review (favorable) from Miguel A. Bernard, S.J.

Is Reyes's book perhaps too erudite, too technical for the layman that it should receive the cold shoulder from the press? Not at all. Anyone with slightest interest in Philippine art and culture should find it not only richly informative but entertaining as well.

Conversations is the story of Philippine art as perceived and told by 24 artists, a handful of critics and one art dealer who one way or another, according to Reyes, have made this side of the Pacific Rim the hyperactive art scene it is today. Reyes had thought of capturing on tape what artists think of their own art and its milieu long before that documentary genre known as oral history became fashionable. Serving as his model was the Paris Review interviews of the writers in which the interviewer fields questions calculated to draw answers from his subjects in a thoroughly involving, informal manner. Oral history is absorbing reading only if the interviewer is familiar with the turf of his quarry.

As oral historian, Reyes knows his field (visual arts ) and its relations (literature, history, music, etc.) well enough to asks the sort of question that stimulates a pertinent, substantial reaction -- not that he always gets it in every case. He exudes such expertise and enthusiasm about the points he raise that the result is often more a dialogue between equals than a question-and-answer routine with its attendant blandness and lack of direction. With this book, interviewing is a finely tuned art. I'll go further: it has come of age at last in this country, a model for others, especially journalists, to emulate.

SIXTEEN YEARS in the making, Conversations includes most of the seminal figures of Philippine modernism alive at the time the author embarked on his taping project. The complete list of interviewees comprises Victorio Edades, Diosdado Lorenzo, Vicente Manansala, Hernando Ocampo, Nena Saguil, Cesar Legaspi, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Fernando Zobel, Arturo Luz, Mauro Malang Santos, Juvenal Sanso, Napoleon Abueva, Jose Joya, Ang KiuKok, Lee Aguinaldo, Chabet, David Cortez Medalla, Ben Cabrera, Rodolfo Samonte, Raymundo Albano, Ofelia Gelvezon-Tequi, Angelito Antonio, Norma Belleza, Eduardo Castrillo. The critics (most of whom are also visual/literary artists in their own right): Purita Kalaw-Ledesma, Leonidas Benesa, Alfredo Roces, Manuel Duldulao, Rodolfo Paras-Perez, Emmanuel (Eric) Torres. The lone art dealer is Tessie Luz, representing "art from the point of view of marketing."

What's bound to surprise the reader -- something he doesn't usually expect from visual artists -- is the generally high degree of verbal articulateness and perspicacity in discussions on art, artmaking, and much else, I value highly the interviews of, among others, Medalla, Arturo Luz, Zobel, Ocampo, Benesa, Samonte, Gelveson-Tequi, for intellectual content and eloquence. Only a handful are disappointing, but no less fascinating for what they reveal about the artist's personality. Ang's responses are laconic, while Castrillo's, which with his quaint way with the English language and one juicy malapropism, are effusive -- one remains an inscrutable persona, the other a jolly ham. For rambunctious exuberance nothing beats Manansala, who lets it all hang out in the vernacular and English declaring, "I am not an intellectual. I am a peasant."

About half of Reyes's subjects were inteviewed in the summer of '73 before he left for Rome on an Italian government scholarship, taking the tapes with him to transcribe and edit. While in Europe he interviewed Zobel and such notable expatrait as Medalla, Saguil, Gelvezon-Tequi, Cabrera. Upon his return to Manila in'78, the suitcase which contained the edited transcripts was snatched by a thief at the Manila International Airport. Providentially the tapes were in another luggage, so transcribing had to start all over again.As soon as the task was done, I was asked by Reyes to help out in editing the voluminous second set of transcripts which comprise, roughly two-thirds of the book. And this I did as I was then on Sabbatical leave.

Meanwhile Reyes continued to interview some more artists for a more comprehensive oral history and a more sizeable book. This final set of transcripts -- which I never saw till after the book was published -- took five years. Because of his responsibilities as a yuppie executive of Ace, Saatchi & Saatchi, work on the book slowed down, grinding to a halt for long stretches at a time.

After the final interviews were transcribed and edited, looking for a publisher took another five years (as Reyes says in his busy preface, "one thing did not lead to another"), during which time I would nag him to get on with its publication, especially since an alarming number of his subjects were dying one after another (Edades, Lorenzo, Ocampo, Manansala, Albano, Benesa, Zobel) while his oral history was yellowing just sitting on a shelf. Eventually the Cultural Center of the Philippines heard about Reyes's labor of love and publication soon followed -- and with unseemly haste.

The HASTE shows all over the book. The prefatory note on the interviewees, for instance could have been more consistently organized. A number of the photo or pen-and-ink portraits of the interviewees are poorly selected or mediocre in quality. In some early copies of the book, Diosdado Lorenzo is represented by somebody else's picture! (This mishap has been corrected in later copies.)

If there is a Worst Proof-Reading Prize of the Year, this book with it's numerous typos and missing words and lines, deserves it. My interview doesn't suffer in this regard as much as the others, but a line from the prefatory note, "Torres reviewed and updated the transcribed interview in 1988," is incorrect. The 1972 interview was "reviewed" in 1978, not 1988 -- and "updating" is the wrong word. What the CCP editor should have written -- or the author failed to recall! -- was that a second interview was made and incorporated into the first. Why? Because Reyes felt a need to asks me more questions on critics and criticism which he failed to do in the earlier tapes. I cheerfully obliged, which explains why my contribution is one of the longest in the book, after Medalla's and Roces's!

Equally vexing is that over 130 artworks reproduced in the book do not indicate the collections they belong to. The lack of such documentation, typical of domestic art publications -- a reason why research hereabouts is an ordeal -- must not be allowed to pass unnoticed. Such negative comments as I've made are urgent especially since this book is now being used in academe! No one is more aware of all the editorial and printing snafus in this book than the author himself, who intends to correct them in a forthcoming second, revised edition -- as soon as he is done with his current project (now this is hard to believe), a book on Philippine culinary arts -- a cookbook!

It is the good fortune of Conversations that in spite of its belated publication, warts and all, the interviews themselves sounds as fresh as ever. They have become even more cherisable with the passage of time -- "like vintage wine," to borrow Benesa's felicitous phrase in the books introduction written as long ago as 1983, a year before his, Benesa's, death.

A big plus going for the book is that the "conversations" are more than straight, sensible exchanges on theme and form, art isms and stages in an artist's development. They are also intimate glimpses into the cultural, sociological and economic milieu of Philippine art as well as its global context. The conversations are lit up with verbal and mental surprises: witty repartees, amusing anecdotes, plain-folks psychology, disclosures of local color and family history. Quotable lines, passages, are plentiful. For certain readers, a color marker will often be pressed into service. I have underscored this statement from Legaspi: "I am not a perfectionist: to be one you must know what perfection is, and I don't." And this one from Zobel: "Style is simply one's easiest way of doing certain things. I pity the painter concious of his style. It is likely to turn into his subject matter, and I for one can think of nothing more boring." A good number of the interviewed keep the discussion crackling on a sensible a sensible, casually intelligent plane. A few indulge in ego-tripping and gossip, occasionally lapsing into bitchiness.

No less notable is the author's success in getting his subjects heard in their individual voices in the language most comfortable to them, generally English of course, but English laced with Filipino of Taglish. (These few interviews conducted in the Filpino are summarized in an appendix.) Readers will have a field day getting to know some, unfamiliar minority views on the local art scene -- and psyching the characters of each interviewee, who often has no time to put on a mask or duck a leading (or prying) question.

AS A PRIMARY document on Philippine modern art, Conversations is indispensable to both specialist and the general reader. The book starts off with most salient modernist, Edades. It is one of the revelations of this book that his long-standing position as "Father of Philippine Modern Art" is questioned by Roces and Ocampo. On one hand, Roces debunks as "myth" the common assumption it was Edades's paintings that introduced modernism in the country: before Edades's controversial first one-man show of 1928. Roces points out, someone else was already painting in a Post-Impressionist idiom even more advanced than Edades's -- Juan Arellano. Roces is right of course, and his opinion reflects a growing critical consensus against the Edades-as-father "myth." On the other hand, Ocampo maintains that Edades deserves the title, not as a painter (Ocampo calls his art "not necessarily the best modern") but as the most visible art critic championing the cause of modernism in the 30's and 40's.

Edades opinion of the art of Fernando Amorsolo ("like a girl's silk dress... sweet and charming") and his resume of his serial debate with Guillermo Tolentino (O rarity, an intellectual debate in print!) are one reason for buying the book. Reference to the late debate of the '40s has Edades quoting form his articles published at the time in defence of modernist "distortion." One only wishes Reyes had started on his project earlier when Amorsolo and Tolentino were still around so their hindsight on that debate could also be published for wider circulation. Another issue that runs through like a leitmotif in more that a third of the interviews is "Filipinism." What Manansala, Ocampo, Zobel, Roces, Benesa, Medalla, Albano have to say on this issue is another reason for buying the book.

A wide, wide range of in-exhaustively interesting issues is tackled. The Filipino artist as internationalist and the hazards of internationalism are discussed by Medalla, Benesa, Sanso, Joya, Paras-Perez, Gelveson-Tequi with the authority of first-hand experience. For beginning artists and connoisseurs, the "influences" on an artist's work will always remain a central issue: Arturo Luz, Zobel, Cabrera, Benesa address this with distinctive perception and candor. The accounting and banking appetites of readers are well served with views of the artist as socio-economic animal: Ledesma reminiscing on prewar days when one who took up painting risked being called a hampaslupa and a girl marrying one a fool: Aguinaldo selling exactly one painting in his first show (to Zobel)" Lorenzo making his first sale of three paintings to the illustrious Fabian de la Rosa for six pesos (!); Tessie Luz recalling the prices at a Joya show (P300-500) way back then.

For all kinds of artists, hearing their fellow practitioners talk shop on the technical details of their craft in Conversations is a bonus: Magsaysay-Ho on why she rejects an Amorsoloesque gray ground and how she applies pigments (thick/thin/thick)on canvas; Zobel on his Zen abstracts using brush and hypodermic syringe; Joya on the uses of ubok; Legaspi on the "stippling, " Manansala on why black-and-white works are superior to colorful ones; Samonte on how to make his kind of cast-paper relief.

Best of all (one wishes there were more) are reflections on the line that divides authentic art expression and commercialized art, artistic integrity and compromise: here Lorenzo, Legaspi, Ocampo, Medalla, Sanso, Roces provide their own valuable perceptions. All kinds of readers should find the Reyes book a mine of information on how a group of artists got started and coped with individual difficulties, what ideas preoccupy them, why they paint the way they do. Some disclosures -- those of Ocampo, Saguil, Legaspi, Medalla, Samonte -- are profiles in artistic integrity.

If there were one other quality shining through the best and the brightest, it is this: a probing intelligence, honed by years of observation, self-discipline and study (much reading and reflection) for the greater glory of their craft. Integrity, intelligence: both are made to bear on their art, ultimately raising it from the level of mere skill or technical prowess and saving it from becoming a mere commodity in the marketplace. At a time when the national sociopolitical scene appears to be a dismal muddle, Reyes's oral history qualifies as inspirational literature.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Samonte's Colorscapes at Bleue. By Leonidas Benesa, Philippine Daily Express, Oct. 27, 1978.


Color as interior landscape and as shape (scape and shape are etymologically related) appears to be the theme of graphic artist Rodolfo Samonte's exhibition of 61 drawings and paintings (Galerie Bleue, until Oct 31) which include sketches and studies done in 1973 and 1974.

Known for his severely geometric abstractions in the field of the silkscreen, Samonte teases the onlooker this time with intimations of images of highly interiorized landscapes suggestive of green fields, blue skies, grey mountains, and mists. And indeed these recent works go by titles like Green Fields, Sky Casements, Horizons, Luminescences.

The imagistic abstractions, however are merely components of a grander design of algebraic order. This is readily evident while we step back from a work and confront its totality. Then what we are looking for are color-shapes or colorscapes.

The planar structuring may be clearly seen in a few works from the Rectilinear and Curvilinear series which have, so to speak, strayed into the show from past exhibits. The said works display the same sharp-edged and clean lines and fascination with elegant shape (another well-known Samonte series was called "Shapings") which mark his serigraphs.

There was a time in the recent past when Samonte went completely colorless even, in favor of structure and design. That was when he was doing cast paper works whose relief qualities encouraged the interplay of light and shadow. There are no examples of this in the current show.
Instead what we have in addition to the new works are some line drawings in pentel called the Baguio Series done in 1973. The small works uncomfortably recall the drawings of Jose Joya, particularly his Lunette series and the serial works of Chabet Rodriguez.

Some 1974 studies and sketches are also included. Three of these have cutouts of pasted on the surface. Although the rendering of the crayon is rather rough, the five pieces are very Samonte in the sense that they remind us of no other artist's works except his own.

Another puzzling inclusion is the Diagonal Series, a set of six drawings in graphite which he calls "The Anatomy of Shape." The artist is suppose to show what he can do with lines and tones arising from the crosshatchings and gesturings, etc., as the shape of the massed line moves diagonally across the white surface.

Instead the Diagonals recall an environmental drawing he did for the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) special exhibitions which was more successful. The CCP work occupied the wall of a corner, and we presume it was either erased or dismantled after the show.

All these attempts at papercasting and at serial art could be attributed to the fact that Samonte is one of the most travelled young artists of his generation here. For example, although this is old-hat to the Japanese, there is a great to-do these days about papermaking among artists in the United States.

The flaws of the current show as a total display notwithstanding, Samonte remains at the forefront with the country's top abstractionists. His multilevel Colorscapes with the glacially remote and clean lines and planes are additional proof.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

SAMONTE OLD AND NEW by Leonidas Benesa, (Philippines) Daily Express, June 3, 1977


Seventy-four works - including 11 experimental reliefs cast in reconstituted paper - comprise Rodolfo Samonte's first show (Luz Gallery, until June 28) after extensive travels during 1975 and 1976 which took him to Japan, the United States, Canada, South America and Europe.
The show also includes six acrylic paintings, two of them on wood in monochromatic whites and high relief. The majority of the works, however, are the silk screen or screenprint abstractions of line, color and tone whose delicate and craftsmanlike qualites have made Samonte a highly respected artist in this country.
It will be remembered that Samonte's approach to serigraphy entailed the application of several layers - often as many as 20 to 30 - of paint. Because the shapes and patterns in the old works were in the hard-edge idiom, the prints tended to take on sculptural qualities, so that it should come as no surprise that he has now come up with reliefs in wood and in paper.
The wood reliefs, entitled White Modular and Fourth White Painting recall Arturo Luz's monochrome-white and geometically severe abstractions of the past. Probably because of his exposure to Japanese printmakers in Japan, Samonte now makes his own paper (the National Artist Teizuke Fuzikawa makes his paper from persimmon juice), rather reconstitute it from paper mash (paper mache) to which he adds his own ingredients like bleached cabbage leaves and so on, and with which material he now casts his curvilinear shapes.
It was Manuel Rodriguez of course, the father of Philippine printmaking, who started making his own paper for printmaking purposes in the early 60's. But it is Samonte who has now brought this technique onto the level of painting and sculpture as well, as these (the Paperwork series) are reliefs although placed under glass for protection against dust and the inquisitive finger.
The cast-paper reliefs are in monochromatic white and zinc-grey. But the planar areas are differentiated by constructs of curved shapes which produce their own interplay of light and dark depending on where the light comes from, as in the Continuation, Curved Shapes series. We might also mention the textural qualities of the material itself which is grained and veined in certain areas.
A somewhat more challenging set of work is Paperworks I, II & III. In monochromatic white the works are gridded with alternating protuberances and indentations occuring where the lines meet. To be sure, these are not completely innovative as they recall certain idioms in the minimalist and systemic-grid traditions. But it is interesting just the same to see what Samonte does in terms of his own development.
The Colorscapes series is a spill-over from last exhibits, and directly relates to his works included in the Philippine section of the 1974 ASEAN Mobile Exhibition shown in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Manila and Bangkok. It will be recalled that Samonte was the only printmaker among the group of eight painters who represented the Philippines at that historic exhibition of regional art, an indication of the high regard in which he is held in certain critical circles.
Also in the current show is a continuation of the Curvilinear series, seven of them, and the Colorscapes, nine of them. The latter have certain rough textures here and there created to offset the sense of craft the Samonte is capable of over-doing. But in Curvilinears he transcends the self-consciousness to produce elegant combinations of geometric form and understated feeling, which is one way of describing a classicistic way of art.
We miss however, the striated-color binaries called Shapings which were the main feature of the December, 1974 show at the Luz, and which as Nancy Rocamora, writing for the January, 1975 issue of Manila Paper, rightly surmised, stressed a polarization rather than an orchestration of painterly and graphic elements. Instead, Samonte offers us a new series called Curvations, in which the plurarity of the shapes and forms and colors, is superseded by a drastic simplification of same, and another group called Diagonals.
A solitary work Structures, dramatizes this move towards reduction: two slightly ovoid, cloudlike shapes, one white and the other off-pink, the first overhanging the other. The current show reveals a new flowering without prejudice to the old Samonte that we are familiar with.

Leonidas Benesa (1928 - 1984) was one of the Philippine's most respected writer and art critic. His works include What Is Philippine About the Philippine Arts , a collection of his articles written from 1975-1981, published by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in 2000.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Samonte at Luz: Investigation of Surface. By Cid Reyes, February 2, 1973




Recently exhibited at the Luz Gallery were 28 recent serigraphs by Rodolfo Samonte, one of the country's young and vital artists. The serigraphs are categorized into four series, namely: Monochromes, Polychromes, Colorscapes and Casements. I find, however, the distinction between the Polychromes and the Colorscapes unwarranted as there are no issues that distinguishes one from the other. These serigraphs echo the same concerns and stylistic explorations of his paintings which were exhibited at the same gallery late last summer.

Already Samonte has created a familiar vocabulary of of shapes: semi-circular patterns with scissored, scalloped and torn edges arranged hierachically in horizontal bands. It is a distinct image all his own, so that one can readily distinguish Samonte's prints from, say, an Olazon collagraph or an etching by Gelvezon.

Although Samonte has steered clear from previous hallucinatory titles like Arctic Tundra, Feast of Ashes and Wrath Fires, his serigraphs still evoke images of romantic vistas, terrains of disaster and other lyric spaces. This too-too romantic attitudinizing somehow undermines some of his best serigraphs by unduly focusing on the sensibility that wrought these works rather than on the physical planar activity of his designs.

Samonte's handling of silkscreen paint is undoubtedly "gestural," derivative of Abstract Expressionism's delirious affair of weaving wild thickets of pigment skein. There is, however, no anxiety in his manner of composing shapes. In fact, his permutations are calculatedly studied, held together by sequential bands.

Kayumanggi is a suite of eight serigraphs done in palish brown. More diminutive in scale that the Polychromes. They are a study in graphic discipline, conveying the cryptic primitivism of some lost islands finally emerging from the sea. In his Monochromegrey Series, the layers of paint are more spare hence less brittle. The textured ground is textured with quiet effervescence induced largely by the suble tonalities of a delicate ashen grey.

Casement No. 3 is an exception serigraph. Looking like an ambiguous arena of fossilized shapes, the tangled mutilations of shredded cut paper throttle each other to the brink of asphyxiation. Although this print is physically unassertive, its strength lies not in the almost baroque multiplicity of forms, but in the slow revelatory stages of their surfaces. The viewers get the impression of a disquieting rigidity that is surprisingly seductive.

Samonte activates his surfaces by allowing sluices and channels to define the boundaries of his grids. His inventiveness is even more evident in the illusory and real (physical) depth achieved by fusing these shapes into a cohesive welter: thick, frothy impastoes coagulating with each other. What emerges is a sensuous sculptural solidity -- a sense of sheer density as though the conflict between figure and ground is one of impermeability. Particularly compelling is the way the bas-relief molds are thrust into assuming spatial dimensionality.

This show is a more commanding show, more fully "realized" compared to many prints shows one sees nowadays. Samonte may yet become the most technically accomplished of our local graphic artists.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

SAMONTE'S PAINTED RELIEFS by Armando Manalo, Philippine Sunday Express, May 28, 1972



The first large-scale paintings by Rodolfo Samonte, now on exhibit at the Luz Gallery, represent an impressive step forward in the development of one of the finest graphic artists in the country. Strongly designed and impeccably crafted, the paintings are arresting studies in texture and the relation of shapes.
Samonte's latest works are in fact painted reliefs. He pours liquid plastic over pre-designed cardboard molds, and then sprays the whole surface in acrylic. To soften the hard edges of the relief and at the same time strengthen the relationships among the forms, he uses low-key color combinations in neutral tones for the most part, the colors are often breathtakingly lovely.

It is color which sets apart the best paintings in the Samonte exhibit -- the blue-and-gray Stone Harbor, Bone Vessels, Stone Frescoes, and the stunning purple-gray-light-purple Feast of Ashes. The one "construction" in the show Courtyard Frieze, is in monochromatic white; it has an architectural feel and it is stately and formal. The paradox is that despite the vivacity of the forms, the whole manages to achieve a dignity which is nearly hierarchical.
Samonte's leap into painting was probably inevitable. The direct ancestor of the new paintings is the series of four serigraphs first seen in group shows last year, and of which the best known is Crystal Casements. In this richly-textured print, the forms are lighter and more closely knit together, but there is no mistaking the similarity to the new paintings.

There is another sense in which the new paintings are related to graphics. They partake of the character of printed blocks, the same material Samonte uses for woodcuts. One could say the paintings are reversed prints and not be far off the point.
Having gained an enviable reputation in print-making, the thirty-year old Samonte has no plans at present of repeating his successes. "I have not done any woodcuts since 1969, and no serigraphs since 1970." Etching and lithography, however, which he first took up in 1969, continue to fascinate him, except that he thinks both involve harder work than painting.
The artist rents a three-room workshop in Santa Ana. It is sometimes shared by another young artist, Cid Reyes, an articulate boy who is a perfect foil for the shy Samonte. Quiet and soft-spoken, with a distinct trace of a Visayan accent, the painter can shift rather quickly into high gear once he starts talking about his work.

The workshop is the usual artist's mess. Paint drips are all over the floor, and one wall is completely papered over with old newspapers, like an untidy collage, and decorated with great slashes of paint -- the excess when the spray gun misses target. There are two iron ice-cream chairs, and an old crate serves as coffee table when there are guests, many of whom are prospective purchasers. The only other piece of furniture is a massive shelf which holds dozens upon dozens of half-filled paint cans.

In another room, Samonte keeps a complete set of his woodcuts, serigraphs and etchings, piled one on top of the other on a corner table. Under the same table, he stores all his woodblocks, odd and already moldy-looking as though on the point of decay.
"The woodcut was my first love," say Samonte, in a tone of voice which suggests that he will never get over the infatuation. "I think the best thing I ever did in woodcut was Peregrinations, which won second prize in the second PAP (Philippine Association of Printmakers) competion in 1969."

The odd thing about Peregrinations is that only one print was ever produced, "As hard as I tried," says the painter, "I never could get the blocks to register perfectly. I had planned on an edition of 25, but I was forced to withhold the rest."

The year Peregrinations won a second prize was Samonte's most successful. In the language of athletics, he scored a near-sweep, winning not only the second prize but also the first and fourth prizes. Success sometimes breeds surfeit, and in Samonte's case this was probably true. He resolved to drop the woodcut, after having produced some thirty pieces since he started exploiting the medium in 1964.

Mixed among the pints is a series of odd drawings which look for all the world like topographical maps. "Those are patterns," explains the painter. "You know, like a tailor's. I wouldn't remember where each block should go if I din not keep patterns. I sometimes use as many as 20 blocks in making a single woodcut, and that could cause a lot of confusion in the printing."

Samonte's love for the woodcut is entirely explicable. Not a few observers think that it is in the woodcut where has has made his unique contribution. Abstra
ct for the most part, and many in black-and-white, the woodcuts combine austere forms and textures of near-Baroque complexity and opulence. They are a high point in the development of the graphic art in the country.

By comparison, the new paintings are more easily accessible. Decorative like most abstract art, and visually seductive, they provide the kind of of instant experience that seldom requires extended thought, or causes deep emotional reverberations.
But to ask more of the painter at this stage is probably unfair. He has the craft and the imagination. In any case, the problem he has to face in the future is one that he has
confronted before in his woodcuts, and over which he has triumphed with conspicuous success.

The painter and the graphic artist is Manila-born, but spent ten years in Estancia, Iloilo. A pupil of Galo B. Ocampo and Cenon Rivera at the UST School of Fine Arts, Samonte studied painting. Before his one-man show at the Luz Gallery however, he had completed only one oil, which he had entered in a competition while still a stude
nt. It won a prize but he deserted the medium for the graphic arts anyway. For him printmaking became a reliable source of income. "If you are not an addict of the high life, you can live fairly well on the sales of prints. Graphics in this country is a young art, and the demand is steady. My most expensive print is priced at P500, which is reasonable. I feel I should not charge more. Over $500 is already the price of a painting. At that price people would probably prefer to purchase a canvas."

Samonte leads a somewhat strenuous life. A full-time junior executive at the ACE-Compton Advertising, where he is an assistant art director, he works on his paintings after hours and on weekends. Painting is not only his artistic occupation however. He owns two cameras and an enlarger, all of which he keeps in a bedroom, and is busy trying to develop a photographer's touch.

"I rented this workshop eight months ago in order to prepare for my one-man exhibit. But I have improvised a dark-room where I can putter around at night. But only at night. I can't use it in the daytime -- too light."

He spares himself some of the drudgery of painting by hiring an assistant, a luxury for most painters and certainly for one who, though already established, is a relative newcomer. "I have to save some of my energy," he explains, in obvious fear of being "burned-out" by excessive physical labor.

"My assistant sprays the paint and pours the plastic, but I am always around. He works according to my specifications. If I don't think a thing is right, we repeat."
The hiring of the assistant is in some ways a mark of confidence. Though voluble on his graphics, Samonte refuses to talk about his new paintings. But it is clear he is pleased by the reception of his one-man show. Eight of the 18 have been sold and more are bound to be purchased as the word spreads around.

It is not the sales, however, so much as the recognition in a highly competitive league that buoys up his spirit. In gaining popular and critical acceptance, he feels he has justified himself to himself. He can therefore face the next challenge -- the difficult and often trauma-producing show -- with renewed confidence in his growing powers.