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Flower power

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 27, 2023 5:00 am

Two recent exhibits hark to horticulture, examining the message of flowers in very different ways: Joseph Tecson’s “Qautervois” and Regina Arambulo-McAndrew’s “Invisible.”

Invisible touch

Her blooms seem to be experiencing a kind of religious ecstasy, unfolding towards an apotheosis—or maybe an ending.

For her new show at Altro Mondo, “Invisible,” Regina Arambulo-McAndrew paints large roses, peonies and multilayered flowers sourced from Baroque-era paintings (even the titles, like “Adora,” come from obscure paintings rich in light and shadow).

Based in Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband and (now grown) son, the title for this show came from observing the transitional phase of older women. “Online, I realized there was a thing called ‘Invisible Woman Syndrome’ where, when you start getting close to 50, you actually become invisible, and they say it's because you’re no longer a mom, you can’t have kids. It’s like you no longer have utility.”

But what comes through on the canvas is transformation: a kind of inner spirit emerging that can easily be viewed as a positive force.

For each image, there’s a source painting—specifically religious portraits, so “there’s always this light from above.” The macro views and dramatic lighting add tension, a narrative to each blossom. “I researched the colors they used, the pallete of each, and swatched those colors from each painting.”

Regina Arambulo-McAndrew with “Adora”

Arambulo-McAndrew studied graphic design at Parsons in LA and Paris, but before that, at UP, she “got discouraged, because they told me my work was ‘too Westernized.’” A friend said maybe she should paint Filipino flowers for this local show, “but I needed multilayered flowers,” so she chose roses, peonies, some bright and expansive, some faded with pale hues. “They had to be layered. They’re a bit more expressive; you can do more with shadows and dark, and light coming in.”

Rebel” (oil on canvas)

Her favorite image (“Adora”) is actually a reflection on her mother, who passed away in recent years. “We were not close at all,” she says, even after moving early on to the US with her brothers. “For years we didn’t communicate, but after she passed away, I started learning about her life.” She realized her mother wanted a career, had an inner life. “It's like a different person from what I’d known.”

The images—some soft and muted, others bursting with light—are “a meditation on aging and the loss of relevance imposed by society on women of a certain age.” They shine a light on something about to be born, entering a late period of new growth.

“Invisible” is on view until Dec. 2 at Altro Mon- do Creative Space, 1159 Chino Roces Ave., Makati.

During that time, it was the pandemic, I had all this time to check out nature. I wanted to represent what my dad did: he works so hard as a gardener, parang Monet’s garden, like a tribute to Dad.

No quarter

In “Quatervois,” Joseph Tecson’s flowers are built up from thick impasto slabs, reflecting bright, almost hyperreal colors. They’re drawn directly from a stay at his father’s flower farm in Tanay during lockdown, and they’re a far cry from the black-and-white violence-driven images he’s known for. But there’s still “angst” here, he says, even in the blossoms. There’s nothing tranquil about them.

“I don’t want to make perfect flowers. I think how I paint really is a little violent,” says Tecson over lunch at Galleria Nicolas, Greenbelt 3, where his show runs until Dec. 2. He looks around at the bright canvases, a touch of Van Gogh in the thick, rampant strokes, and says they reflect the same style he used rendering fierce barking dogs and cars on fire in earlier monochromatic works. “I mean, the strokes here (in the flowers) were medyo violent, so you can see it's like I don't want to make it beautiful.”

He also felt a need to progress into color, which was daunting. “I had to learn how to paint talaga with color. I always thought in black and white.”

Artist Joseph Tecson at Galleria Nicolas

Tecson learned to paint while incarcerated from 2008 to 2012 (for the high-profile “Alabang Boys” drug case). He was later acquitted. During that time, he painted some 120 portraits of fellow inmates, using cameras borrowed from guards to take pictures. Some of those were featured in his first solo show in 2008 at Mag:Net Gallery Katipunan in Quezon City titled “Inmates”; other shows followed at Art Underground, and in 2014 he mounted “Inmates + Outmates” at WhiteSpaceBlackBox in Switzerland, with inmate portraits paired alongside high society subjects.

You could say that painting saved him. “When I went there, I had nothing to do eh. Parang, I needed something talaga to make me feel better when I was there.”

A production design major before his incarceration, he cites German artist Gerhard Richter as an influence, “someone who could have so many distinct styles,” along with avatars of visceral energy like Francis Bacon. His earlier monochromatic visages of angry apes, guns and attack helicopters exist alongside formal portraits, drawing rooms and early still lifes—but all are etched onto canvas with an urgency that makes you question his subjects drawn from media images and real life.

“Red Passion” (oil on acrylic)

His father’s flower farm pushed him towards color and nature. “During that time, it was the pandemic, I had all this time to check out nature. I wanted to represent what my dad did: he works so hard as a gardener, parang Monet’s garden, like a tribute to Dad.”

The flowers are a respite, in a way. “I started by copying from photos of his garden. But I’m not really a realist, so I tried to make them as abstract as possible.” Later, in his Fairview studio, he tried working the images in black and white, but the push towards color was strong; the impasto layers a new expansion of his technique.

I ask if pure abstraction is in his future. Tecson says it’s possible. For now, his next series will focus on something that’s dead opposite to flowers discovered in his father’s garden: images of “the war going on.” Asked which war, he doesn’t specify. But they will probably be monochromatic.

“Quatervois” runs until Dec. 4 at Galleria Nicolas, 3F, Greenbelt 5, Legazpi Street, Makati City.