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.