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.