Javier Arce, Manuel Ocampo, Juan Carlos Quintana, Carlo Ricafort and Timo Roter
Vinyl on Vinyl (Manila, Philippines)
Upon hearing the title and artists of this group show, one would immediately think that Tropes of Expectation would emphasize that painting is not dead, and that the art form can ignore the usual (and oftentimes unbearable) pretty conventions, such as still life and depictions of romanticized scenes from a rural neighborhood. Being a spread of alternative or more exploratory paintings and (in the case of Arce) painting-inspired pieces, this exhibition actualized the anticipation of viewers. But as common sense would tell us, true artists are indifferent towards granting market expectations; thus, Tropes of Expectationisn’t just a parade of devices, styles and techniques that Arce, Ocampo, Quintana, Ricafort and Roter are known for. It also delves into the substitute and perhaps more astute meaning behind the phrase ‘tropes of expectation.’
Let’s have a quick look at the words ‘trope’ and ‘expectation.’ Trope, which refers to things that have been established or devices that are used over and over again, has a Greek origin, tropos, which means turn or direction. Expectation, on the other hand, developed from the Latin word expectare, which translates to look out for. Merge the two origins, and you’ll find that “tropes of expectation” could also refer to turns or changes in direction that one should look out for. Relate this idea to art, and you’ll find infinite interpretations for turns or directions. It could mean changes in style, subject matter, technique or material, etc.
Arce’s “Serie estrujados (GUERNICA – XL)”
In Tropes of Expectation though, the turn or direction seems to be associated with the inevitable that the artist and the work goes through. For instance, the biggest piece in the exhibit, Serie estrujados (GUERNICA – XL) by Arce, conveys that art, regardless of its subject matter and cultural significance, gradually loses its original value and eludes its creator’s message as it meets more and more consumers. A copy of Pablo Picasso’s famous anti-war piece, Arce’s work, which makes use of a felt-tip pen on indestructible (then wrinkled) paper, invites viewers to question the place of masterpieces. If Picasso’s Guernica is considered one of the most important political paintings, why is it that craftsmen insensitively produce it over and over again, while most consumers rate Guernica and its elements (such as the wounded horse, the head that represents everyman and the calm bull) as overused?
Partial exhibition view, featuring Ocampo’s oil paintings (central) and Quintana’s monoprints (peripheral)
If Arce’s piece speaks more about art, Ocampo’s provocative paintings tells us more about the artist. Mounted on the gallery’s compartment space that’s adjacent to Serie estrujados (GUERNICA – XL), these three monochromatic works by Ocampo appear to be a narrative of an artist’s career. The leftmost painting entitled Rastaquoerie, which most probably comes from rastaquouere (social intruder), reflects the beginnings of a gutsy artist. Though bursting with talent, an artist who breaks convention or public preference is more often than not seen as offensive and unworthy of praise. In Rastaquoerie, Ocampo fittingly places a naked figure near a skeleton. The former symbolizes the venturesome artist, whose career is immediately killed (embodied by the skeleton) by the outmoded market. Alimentation Generale (there’s a famous resto-bar in Paris with this name), the center painting, captures that turn in an artist’s career wherein the market catches up with him, revels and drools over his work. (Whether the artist is fuelled or enslaved by the market’s turncoatism is vague, but we all know artists are submerged in both.) The last painting, Penetrator, expresses that turn in which the market is fully comfortable with the artist. Though death is out of reach, there’s still unrest – new toxins in the form of negligent critics, unsolicited reproduction, celebrity artist syndrome and even personal boredom clouds and completely eradicates an artist’s progress.
This forlorn mood is carried over to Quintana’s pieces, which are situated on the walls perpendicular to Ocampo’s paintings. On the left wall are three monoprints featuring cartoonic figures that display waggish facial expressions. Though humorous, standing in front of these characters is not without torment; their eyes suggest that they’re mocking or keeping something from the viewer. Across these dubious characters is a wall featuring a different set of monoprints (this time, portraying rather vague matters). Merging somewhat familiar characters (you know you’ve seen it before but could hardly pinpoint specifics), pointless squiggles, occasional color smears and text, these 10 monoprints allows the viewer to see grains of an artist’s daily thoughts. For example, the monograph entitled There Are Sacrifices And Then There Are Sacrifices, which contains the words “I died for my art so you can live” accompanied by robot-like figure holding a cane and an image of a naive dog, for example, reminds the viewer of a number of factors that affect an artist, namely technology, followers (could be patrons, admirers or blind fools) and mortality.
Though Tropes of Expectation carries wistful truths, it isn’t all grim, as Roter and some of Ricafort’s pieces add a playful side to the exhibition. Devoid of thickly outlined geometric shapes, viewers witness a turn in Roter’s work. From offering indistinct matters, the artist now gives us vibrant cartoonish forms and skittish shapes. Roter’s Here Flies Soon The Holes Out of the Cheese, which has forms that resemble fiestabanderitas, a loose slinky and short arms that seem to be hugging a satisfied indeterminable being, for instance, conveys the ideas of attachment, foolhardiness and revelry. These concepts bring to mind that despite its instability and long haul, art has got elements of fun, satisfaction and infinite networking.
Speaking of networking, there is a partition (namely the surface area that seems to have been yoed with by a calm Cy Twombly) in this group show that seems to introduce the viewers to a handful of stereotypes, who are involved in an artist’s career.There is, of course, the central character or the artist, which is represented by Ricafort’s painting entitled Art Career. Here, one would find a wounded yet still standing upright figure, raising a sword and wearing big footwear, which suggests that an artist also has that struggle of filling in big shoes. And then, there are the characters that can either create a contributing or destructive turn in one’s career. Ricafort’s Cro Magnon Meets Bieber, a work that features the face of a big-headed blonde with a ruthless expression, embodies that person who’s got strong influence (cro-magnon is often associated with the muscular and powerful) yet has immature views about the art field. In addition, the said artist’s two pieces entitled Poodle-ness and Poodles2, which carries the disturbing grins and manipulative nature of a sadist, represent those, who due to their high financial capacity, tend to enslave artists. (Poodles, afterall, are often associated with snobs, constant grooming and high maintenance.)
Reading through the preceding paragraphs, which above anything else, appear to create fragments of fiction based on the art of Arce, Ocampo, Quintana, Ricafort and Roter, reveals that as the viewer progresses through the show, more and more connections are realized and revised. Thus, Tropes of Expectation, as previously asserted, doesn’t only meet people’s expectations; the show, through its blending and flipping curiously between the nebulous and the precise, invites viewers to see the inevitable turns that artists and art encounter.
Furthermore, it reveals the ultimate trope/convention and expectation in art. Artists take or follow all sorts of tropes and turns, which could make their work distasteful, fickle and undecipherable. Having such qualities is all right though, for what is primarily expected from an artist is that he/she initiates an interesting dialogue. Art, therefore, is allowed to challenge, drain, confuse or penetrate, but never bore the viewer. Fortunately for those of us who keep watch of the art world, there are still artists, such as the five featured in this exhibition, who comfortably and determinedly do just that.