Get lost in Paulo Vinluan’s work

Published September 21, 2020, 7:52 AM

by Terrence Repelente

The art of attracting attention

ARTIST AT WORK Paulo Vinluan

Paulo Vinluan’s life is built around art. Nestor, his father, and Liv, his sister, are both artists, as well as his late mother, who had practiced weaving and interior design. At an early age, Paulo was already exposed to the concept of art making and its world. Nestor, a respected figure in the Philippine art scene, would often make him and his siblings stand next to paintings as he photographed them before getting the works delivered to the gallery, Paulo recalls. “He [Nestor] says it was his way to also remember and document our growth as kids through the years.” As a child, the word pasyal (stroll) for Paulo did not only mean going to malls or dining out, it was also synonymous to art gallery and exhibition visits. 

He was his dad’s “buntot,” (tail) Paulo says, whether to buy art materials in Chinatown or to be at Nestor’s side at gallery openings. But when he grew a bit older, Paulo eventually stopped being the kid who was always tagging along his father at shows and art events. While he has never stopped following the path laid out by his father, Paulo, a product of the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts (2003) and the Pratt Institute in New York (2009), has since made a name for himself as an artist. 

ROLLING STONE Object for Sisyphus VII ( I ), Acrylic on gessoed solid Maple wood sphere, 2020

In his works, Paulo, who has a huge interest in animation as an art form, mainly attempts to address a very crucial and contemporary issue faced by everyone today in our fast-paced, digital, and image-saturated world. “We now have such a visual culture that it’s harder to hold a viewer’s attention,” Paulo says. Unlike in the past, “we now want to move on to the next image right away.” 

That is why instead of introducing new concepts, his goal has always been to hold people’s attention, make time slower for them. “I want people to get a sense of being lost in the work,” he says. “I think it’s important to hold that gaze, and direct that gaze toward whatever thought or emotion the viewer is having.” 

Moreover, Paulo intends to start some sort of exchange, not just passive visual consumption, between his works and his audience. “I may not know what the viewer thinks but it’s enough for me to be aware that my work makes them think of or feel something,” he says. “A collector friend of mine once told me how he would come home from work and sit in front of my painting with a glass of wine. That really made me happy.”

But instead of settling for shallow tricks in order to grab and hold a viewer’s attention, Paulo digs deep into the human psyche. He does so by taking bits of his personal experiences, incorporating them into his process, and then giving them an entirely new life and meaning as an artwork. 

Stories and narratives are intrinsic in his works, which are mostly diaristic. He believes, however, that it is impossible to impose an idea, a story or give a final definition to a work. “Once you share it to the world it takes a life of its own, which is also a way for it to connect to others,” he argues. “It will never have an absolute meaning in the same way my memories aren’t everybody else’s. That is why I always like my works to have a sense of ambiguity. Spelling it out would not be interesting.”

What Paulo seems to repeatedly achieve through his art is the seamless presentation of the human condition using his own and other people’s experiences, familiar objects, and histories in the most ambiguous but relatable, attention-freezing way possible, almost as if he was sentenced by the gods to do so.

A perfect example of this is his ongoing series of works Object for Sisyphus, two of which were included in his most recent exhibition at the Finale Art File, “Recent Works.” The works, both acrylic on gessoed solid maple wood sphere, were based on the story of Sisyphus, a figure in Greek mythology who was doomed by the gods to eternally repeat the task of rolling a giant boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down each time he came close to the top.

VISCIOUS CIRCLE Object for Sisyphus VII ( II ), Acrylic on gessoed solid Maple wood sphere, 2020

For Paulo, the story and concept behind the work is very personal. “In 2013, I made an animation called Block, which was inspired by the myth of Sisyphus,” he says. “At the time I was feeling the strains of moving between Manila and the US, having to navigate two time zones, and balancing a full-time job, all while also painting. It was the back and forth movement that got me interested in Sisyphus. I felt that I was the boulder being hauled up and down.”Eventually, the concept for Block transformed into a different form. “One of my favorite permanent exhibitions at the Met in New York is the collection of Greek pottery. Historically scholars considered these objects as precursors to animation,” he says. “So, I thought, what if I painted on a spherical surface instead of flat, which even made me closer to the idea of Sisyphus and have the work engage in the history of animation.”

For the audience, however, Paulo’s work—or even the story of Sisyphus itself—could mean something entirely unique. It might especially resonate with individuals who feel like they are endlessly repeating a futile task or a cyclical routine such as living through months of home quarantine, working every day under the brutal conditions of capitalism, or, as Albert Camus might put it, engaging in the futile search for meaning in an indifferent, utterly meaningless universe. 

But Paulo does not really want to be all philosophical. “Just K.I.S.S., keep it simple, stupid,” he says. In the end, what he seems to repeatedly achieve through his art is the seamless presentation of the human condition using his own and other people’s experiences, familiar objects, and histories in the most ambiguous but relatable, attention-freezing way possible, almost as if he was sentenced by the gods to do so.