“I am essentially a painter of the kind of still life composition that communicates a sense of tranquility and privacy, moods which I have always valued.” Thus declared the Italian artist Giorgio Morandi. With utter obsessive simplicity, Morandi’s art consisted of nothing else but bottles, bowls, vases, jars, pitchers, jugs, and boxes. But what made the world take notice was the way he perceived these seemingly insignificant and unremarkable objects, conveying a haunting universality.
The same sense of simplicity and tranquility emanates from the solo exhibition of Isagani S. Fuentes, on view at the Renaissance Gallery.
Titled “Lilok at Luwad,” the subject refers to a piece of sculptural carving, and to clay, which are the essential materials of the objects which Fuentes depicts. Ancient Philippine pottery and old tribal sculptures, which are three-dimensional artifacts, are given a vivid conversion into the two-dimensional realm of painting. The objects are nestled within a grid pattern, presented as in a display cabinet, evoking their unearthed histories, in the matrix of timelessness.
In what way did the artist achieve his own individual vision of these objects, vessels for liquid and libation? Fuentes is himself possessed of a minimalist sensibility, an approach to art-making that values the poetry of simplified forms and sparse coloration. The physicality of the objects is one of voluptuousness in the sheer seductiveness of their shape and volume. Their symmetrical outline is precisely delineated.
Against the pitch darkness of a black background, the elegant shapes of the vessels starkly emerge, like an apparition from the past.
While Morandi assembles his objects above an ordinary household table, Fuentes prefers to present the objects singly and in isolation. And while Morandi’s bottles and pitchers may suggest their domestic use, Fuentes banishes any nuance of their origin by presenting them in a neutral space. Inevitably, however, the mind will imagine them inside a display cabinet, a closet, a shelf, or a sideboard.
When a number of these vessels are lined up within a grid, the stillness of the object attains a certain rhythmic grace, with hints of a museum exhibition, in consequence historically textualizing the objects, referring to the cultures that have produced these exquisite artifacts.
Likewise, the Cordilleran rice gods known as “bulul” bring to mind the unique culture of the Ifugao peoples of Northern Luzon.
With their stripped-down, streamlined look, these vessels that have stood time and nature, their original coloration - mainly in shades of browns and greens – has been enriched by the patina now encrusted all over their surface. Patina is the green or brown film of the surface of a vessel, produced by oxidation over a long period. They now have an enticing tactile quality, which may tempt some viewers to touch the artworks.
In Isagani S Fuentes’s “Lilok at Luwad,” one can sense the past persisting into the present.