Exhibition space: Silverlens, Makati City, Philippines
Two Things is a continuing series of paintings. As the title would suggest, it is always an image of two objects, plainly staged on a plain white corner of my studio. The paintings are not very large; they are close to the scale of the original objects. All are painted from life, not photographs. In the paintings, I detect influences from some of my favorite artists: Irving Penn, Giorgio Morandi, Lucian Freud, Vincent van Gogh.
The still life is easily dismissible as a basic art, a beginner’s subject in today’s art world less interested in verisimilitude and more into installation, new media and experiential works. Yet there is something to be said about the power of the still life— it is not always as simple as it seems, and throughout history the still life has been a trove of insight into the personalities and societies that created them.
I started this series as a strategic way of dealing with burnout; I wanted to be able to paint without thinking too much about the subject. (When I paint, I tend to give my mind a break, focusing only on observation, on rendering.) At the same time, I wanted to have a vehicle to read my subconscious. If the personal is political, and if all decision-making and pleasure is necessarily ideological, then perhaps I would learn more about my worldview by capturing and studying what catches my eye, the seemingly “random” pairings that, when analyzed, are probably not so random after all. Again, I am interested in dialectical relationships gleaned from what is visible.
The objects I select are taken from my everyday life. Seasonal fruit on our table, old toys, different vessels from around the house, clothes, books, things about to be discarded. As a child I loved to read, and among my favorites were the Eyewitness guides on various world cultures, Aztec, Viking, Ancient Greece, etc, different aspects of each culture explained by way of the most quotidian of artifacts: wine jars, an old broom, remains of a last meal, ceremonial ornaments and sculpture, tools, clothes. In the same way, this series is akin to contemporary archaeology, loosely centered around my life. It is both personal journal and social document. ∎
Essay by Lisa Ito
Ordinary, mundane things can convey meanings beyond their nondescript functions, a quiet beauty beneath their surfaces. Aesthetic pleasure and symbolic tension can be drawn out through chance configurations, from a fitting randomness.
The possibilities inherent in such incidental pairings are explored in this first solo exhibition by graphic designer Karl Castro, on view until February 8 at the 20 Square space of Silverlens gallery. Entitled Two Things, the exhibit is a collection of still life acrylic paintings arranged in unlikely pairs and surprising binaries, combining both the artisanal and artifactual.
The works in Two Things are small and portable images of everyday objects juxtaposed against each other and set against spartan and scrubbed walls. Their size and subject matter both work to create a sense of familiarity and comfort, in stark contrast to the imposing scale, grandness and immobility often exuded by larger than life canvases. These are far from being portraits of the wantonly abject, degraded and torn; instead, they are accidental visions of things left behind, picked up along the way. Portrayed in muted tones and exhibiting a momentary stillness, the paintings give off a sense of fluid repose, like that of sunlight streaming through water.
Castro’s formal foray into painting marks a turn in his output as a visual artist. Mainly working as a graphic and book designer over the past years, he recently rekindled a fascination with painting, producing this series of works since August 2012. Castro finds that painting—from the physical and spontaneous act of wielding the brush to letting loose coincidental choices and random musings—is a cathartic experience that deviates from the precise deliberation and purposiveness needed to visualize and execute graphic design projects. This first exhibition is his foray into the painter’s ways of seeing.
The visual motifs running through Two Things reflects Castro’s fascination with the process and politics of surfacing. The paintings all represent random pairs of objects: things that he has directly encountered from his immediate surroundings and which have, without fuss or fanfare, inserted themselves into the fabric of everyday life. Castro creates a visual diary here: vignettes of the ordinary, revisited. One chances upon a range of unlikely combinations: from musty discards to religious icons; from half-empty bottles to throwaway toys; from spent light bulbs to seasonal fruit and foodstuffs taken from the dinner table. All are personal and sundry trifles facing quiet collapse: things on the edge of being stored away or discarded.
The last stages of clearing away and discarding things are always the surprising moments: one will never really know what one will end up with, or how a thing has gotten there. These are the accidents that the works in Two Things are able to convey: transient configurations of form arising from chance encounters.
Castro further delves into the act of surfacing by randomly combining these different things into peculiar pairings, teasing out previously hidden connections between both in the process. Such juxtapositions seem strange at first but beckon for more introspection and questioning.What, for instance, do a jawbone and a green apple, a plastic sprayer and a glass shard, a bottle of rugby and a bald icon of the Christ child have in common? What allusions can such combinations convey? Numerous stories and connected narratives can arise from seemingly simple images.
In the end, the exhibition provides a window into what art can make possible. A dialectic tension between the visual and the subconscious arises: mere accidents become bearers of meaning while momentary dislocation births instances where it is possible to question and find one’s bearings again. In this way, Two Things poses questions to—and elicits answers from—the inquisitive mind. ∎
Photos courtesy of Silverlens