ARTIST AT WORK: The recent works of Isidro and Lebajo
What does it mean to be iconic? In the field of visual arts, some might say it means having a prolific career that spans over 50 years, having numerous awards and recognitions under your belt, being known for a distinct style, mounting hundreds of solo and group exhibitions, and leaving an indelible influence on generations of artists. Both Raul Isidro and Raul Lebajo, born in 1943 and 1941, respectively, fit these criteria.
Spearheaded by the DF Art Agency and in collaboration with Leon Gallery International, the two icons join forces in an ongoing show aptly titled, well, “Iconic.” For those who are familiar with the late Modernist period in the Philippine contemporary art scene, having these couple of third-wave modernists together in a show is seen as equivalent to Greek gods coming down from Mount Olympus. The exhibition, which, according to Lebajo, is a celebration of their more than half a century of artistic pursuit, presents both artists’ recent works, showing everyone that they are not quite done yet, making their presence felt.
Aside from their first names, the two artists, who are both Visayan, have a great deal in common, such as having nature as the central subjects and common themes of their works or both being perceived by many as master abstractionists. Their styles, however, are vastly different from each other. And the works that are part of the exhibition clearly show this distinction between the two.
For those who are familiar with the late Modernist period in the Philippine contemporary art scene, having these couple of third-wave modernists together in a show is seen as equivalent to Greek gods coming down from Mount Olympus.
In his works, Isidro seamlessly combines technique with a naturalist sensibility. The appeal of his works comes from his ability to make us see, feel, and visualize bodies and elements of nature—such as rocks, flowers, rivers, and fire—using a sort of abstract visual language. It depends, however, on how you define “abstract.” A friend of mine pointed out that Isidro’s art blurs the line between abstract and figurative, or disregards the dichotomy altogether, as most of his subjects are not really that independent from the world’s visual references, but largely depends on deconstructing earthly figurations in order to achieve its intended effect. Floating Rocks, for example, is a solid and figurative depiction of, well, rocks. But, as Isidro once told me in an interview, “a rock is only ordinary if you perceive it as it is.” This point of view marks the signature charm that his serene works possess, which, according to him, may be rooted from his childhood as a promdi (province boy), who grew up in Samar, seeing nothing but rocks and the sea.
Like Isidro, Lebajo draws largely from earthly and natural references that surround him. For his works that are part of the ongoing exhibition, the ideas come from a wellspring of imagination, “from what I see from my surroundings, and from simple to the most extraordinary things I can draw inspiration from.” But in contrast to Isidro’s works that evoke feelings of stillness and tranquility, his art, which is often described as highly imaginative and mindblowing, takes you on an ethereal trip, like a psychedelic, hallucinogenic experience.
Moreover, Lebajo’s art is often characterized by a distorted or otherworldly sense of perspective, such is shown in the work Ladybug. The late art critic Alice Guillermo, who authored Enter His World, a coffee table book on Lebajo’s artistic career, said it best: “Raul Lebajo is a true artist of nature, but this does not mean that he does traditional landscapes and still life paintings of flowers. He does not paint valleys of earth, trees, and sky as though they stretched out before him, or does he paint flowers bunched together in a vase for his personal delectation. Not for him is linear perspective, for, in fact, he plays with perspective, and his views are often warped, telescoped, spiraling, and spinning into multiple worlds.”
Lebajo credits this to his inclination to surrealism. In fact, he is recognized as the pioneer of a particular type of surrealism called environmental surrealism. “Over the years,” he says. “I have perfected reuniting the conscious and unconscious realms of experience so that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the normal and coherent world, as represented in my artworks.”
“Iconic” runs until Nov. 5 at the León Gallery International in Makati; www.df-artagency.com