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An elegy between exhibits at Oar

By JUANIYO ARCELLANA, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 27, 2023 5:00 am

On a Tuesday afternoon, painter Benjie Lontoc took down most of his works after more than a yearlong exhibit titled “Inksistenialismo” at Oarhouse, the community bar on Jorge Bocobo corner Malvar in Malate, leaving only a handful for gifts to friends or for safekeeping, including large works in pen and ink, “One Sunny Evening” and “Fallen Angel from a Faraway Sky.” Lontoc does with pen and ink what the former 13 Artists awardee RM de Leon does with graphite: explore the boundaries of the canvas with his chosen medium.

Across town in Quezon City Lontoc was part of a group show at Kaida Contemporary Gallery with Tence Ruiz, Pinggot Zulueta, and Pete Jimenez, “Perforated Outsiders,” which wraps up before the end of November. This is particularly significant for Ruiz since this is his first since his 50-year retrospective at the Ateneo art gallery or Arete middle of this year, featuring four large-scale works characterized by trademark avant-garde political statements, nearly garish color shadings full of subtleties and historical context. One might say that the works of Tence are almost unrecognizable from his beginnings as an editorial cartoonist, but that is only in terms of delivery because political correctness remains intact, if not up-front and personal.

Images from Ben Razon’s exhibit “Montreux et Geneve” at Oarhouse, Malate for a week.

Not so with Lontoc whose later works remain faithful to pen and ink among other experiments in stencil and woodcut, most evident in his fledgling days at the defunct renegade Midweek magazine, where he did illustrations for the fiction/poetry section just as Tence had done before him in the same post-EDSA revolt magazine. His long-running exhibit at Oar, except for a couple of works that will hold the fort along with some paintings by his late bosom buddy Dante Perez, gives way in the last week of November to early December to the owner Ben Razon’s rare photo exhibit of his journey last summer in Montreux, the jazz mecca in Switzerland suffused with a quality of light worth the 31 years since his last exhibit, also at the Oar at its old location, when he wasn’t yet the owner but a relative greenhorn in the newspaper beat learning the tricks of the camera.

“Montreux et Geneve, une elegie” runs for only a week so it is best to catch it while you can, the chimera that’s here then gone in the blink of an eye.

Razon sent a poster of the exhibit along with a quote from filmmaker Costa-Gavras: “The purpose of art is not to entertain but to disturb.” But what if one is entertained by being disturbed, does that not hit two birds with one rolling stone? I almost texted him back.

At hindi lang kasi necessarily ‘malakas’ o ‘maganda’ yung mga photographs. I wanted to make the main point of seeing a piece of work in literal tangible FORM – eye to eye and right in front of you.

Also this one by Pier Paolo Pasolini: “An artist, if he’s unselfish and passionate, is always a living protest: against conformism, against what is official, public or national, what everyone else feels comfortable with, so the moment he opens his mouth an artist is engaged because opening his mouth is always scandalous.”

Well, just so you know what to expect at “Montreux et Geneve.” Wait, he’s just sent images through the wire, a lamppost in broad daylight as well its shadow among others in a row of apartments, a man and a woman walking in opposite directions on a cobblestone street with a café awning at right, Lake Geneva with a possibly iconic sculpture at foreground while boats idle in the distance balancing the limpid light on deck, the image seen on the poster itself that could be emblem of the jazz festival or Montreux, even every band that played in its annual summer festival that sought to change the face of music and how we hear it. 

Here's the photographer again, whose exhibits are rarer than a blue moon: “Ang magiging kakaiba lang ay totoong may diperensya sa dating ng actuwal na mismong frame na isasabit ko—as opposed to the visual file na makikita mo sa screen pag send ko sa iyo.

“Ang laki pala ng diperensya doon. It’s a commentary on how today’s digital social media have all been affected to just look at art or photography on a glass screen as opposed to VIEWING a literal actual enlargement of a photograph in an exhibit presentation.

“At hindi lang kasi necessarily ‘malakas’ o ‘maganda’ yung mga photographs. I wanted to make the main point of seeing a piece of work in literal tangible FORM—eye to eye and right in front of you.”

Up next at the community bar on Bocobo is Komunidad, featuring more than 20 diverse artists living and/or undead, curated by Achacruz, running well into January of 2024 and another year of surprises and epiphanies.