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Maxine Syjuco on the secrets of spill seduction

By JUANIYO ARCELLANA, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 23, 2023 5:00 am

I come across her work almost every day as her painting hangs in the library opposite one of her dad’s lightboxes: one with a piano in a sitting room and a semblance of wings, color somewhat subdued. She says she’s been something of a recluse the past three years, but time spent looking after her folks and painting “to decompress” surely is well spent.

Word has it that there’s a show of hers soon in an Ayala mall by the bay, and judging by the short video on The Secrets of Spill Seduction, the colors and hues seem more vivid and pronounced, as if the painter were naturally compensating for a cloistered life, however temporary. Well, there’s a voice that speaks in those pigments and oils, and if music could talk, maybe it’s best to listen to one of her canvases.

Maxine Syjuco: The artist is a seductive beauty
Notes on the paintings
Pandora’s Box

What is this wreck of pianos and severed shrunken dog’s head chasing shapely legs culled from some lost wet dream? There was a dove escaping through the eaves as if a banishment, and a tantalizing detail on the upper right—was it a piece of wood or another mythic being about to emerge from a shipwreck of dreams? The dove might be bearing a message, for one to keep still while a river runs through.

Remembrance of Things Past

Her recreation of Proust made me do a double take on the use of white paint, how it serves a dual purpose of base or background while also useful as a means to obliterate misbegotten things or objects. This painting within a painting has something distinctly Filipino about it, as if the painter were reconfiguring her childhood—no doubt a happy one, but not without its necessary nightmares and perversions from the summer of lost time. 

Remembrance of Things Past
Revenge of the Unicorn Hitmen

Surely an orgy is somewhere present, but not just any old orgy. For one, the floating body of a woman is an image straight out of Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, a kind of homage to the subconscious which one never tires of viewing however incomprehensible. While the unicorns, transplanted from a Pinoy gangbang film woe to the damsel in distress, make you want to hang on for dear life on the sudden balustrade at upper left.

Secrets of Spill Seduction

Title painting is a voyeur’s tease and delight, and makes one wonder: What would be the best time of day to view it? The triptych of paintings behind the sexy albeit faceless subject reminds one of the Saudi carpets in the ’80s, which OFWs would bring home to their families as pasalubong. On which the relatives would make love and spill seed while remembering their kin abroad. Come to think of it, this series would make a good subject for carpets though would likely be banned in the kingdom of evening light and crushed violets fermenting like wine.

A national artist once said that in order to mature as a writer one must get as far away from home as possible.

Rise of the Dream Dwellers 1 & 2

There’s a lone black crow standing guard over a pair of wilted hanged roses, an assemblage of wings as if an archangel lost his way, while the dominant spilled color is black for a change. Swipe left then unicorns come on again, how they resemble freakish goats, while a clown in a top hat evaporates in smoke. Could be influenced by the painter’s childhood reading of gothic graphic novellas, in fact tipping the hat to this oft-misunderstood genre of literature. 

Examination at the Womb Door

Maybe it’s best if you leave all preconceived notions of post-feminism at the (womb) door, with the three faceless leggy ladies revolving like clockwork around yet another painting within a painting, which depicts a plethora of yellow roses, while standing sentry on either side are dresses suspended in mid-air, bereft of their wearers. One of the painter’s brighter works color-wise, yet bearing a sense of quiet foreboding of gaslighters and narcissists.

Examination at the Womb Door
Triptych for Series Spill Seduction

How to end but through a pas a deux of legs and seas, paintings and birds? All orations and prayers come in threes, including this triptych serial of the recurring image. A national artist once said that in order to mature as a writer, one must get as far away from home as possible. The inverse may also be true for painters: one can become a recluse and turn oneself inside out to get to the root of things, the essential not necessarily primary colors, because anti-color of the subconscious flight.

(Postscript: Better, however, to view the actual paintings up close and personal. Also, a future project could be a self-deconstruction to render this same series in graphite or pen and ink, but that’s really for the artist to decide which way to go with the syllables of light.)