Twisting my Melons

It's often repeated that we, Filipinos, usually adapt to survive. For most of 2020, everyone had to figure out how to deal with all the disruptions and problems that the covid crisis brought to the fore.


There was the ayuda, the jumanji, and the mañanita. With each passing month, it seems like situation here finds new ways to disarm us. 


But I think there's something very positive in that, despite all that happened, we look at all the things confusing us and find some way to make it funnier, into something we can enjoy and joke with each other.


The show is a storytelling of the different ways we've learned to channel our energies, of how we can find the comedic within the tragic, of how we route current events into a different dimension of 'hah, anong nangyari?'.


In the House! (Art... Work from Home)

Joey de Leon, more known as a comedian and a mainstay host of the longest variety show in the Philippines, Eat Bulaga!, displays his mettle in the field of visual arts in his solo exhibition, In the House (Art...Work From Home). As early as the 1980s, de Leon has already been showing his works and collaborating with visual artists, some of whom would eventually become masters and National Artists. This current presentation at Finale Art File reunites de Leon with his first love and joy: of making marks and applying colors on canvas.


These paintings of varying sizes were accomplished during quarantine, which is still in placenationally. With the time and space to sit down and paint, de Leon’s initial forays were attempts to make sense of the current reality of the pandemic. For instance, in “No Mas Face!,” de Leon explores and makes fun of the ubiquity of face masks, with “face” transformed into the visual pun of “peace” and “fish.” Taking into account that “mas” is the Spanish word for “more,” the title means, “no more face,” which directly alludes to how the masks have totally obliterated the face of wearer.


Words, both as titles and typographical presence in the paintings, are important elements in the works of de Leon. In some cases, the words lead to paintings, as de Leon gives puns, idiomatic expressions, and Biblical verses a visual interpretation. For instance, in “Uni-corn,” the horn of the mythical creature is transformed into maize. In “And Blessed is the Fruit,” a still life turns into a devotional painting, with the fruits forming the shape of a man in contemplative prayer, his avocadoseed-eyes trained on a full moon.


What is sustained as some kind of a theme in this exhibition is how numbers are arranged into scenes of Biblical import such as the Nativity and Crucifixion, putting a new twist on numbers as being “figures.” Working with numbers, de Leon states, gives him the constraint in order to imaginatively come up with his cryptic compositions. The order the universe as expressed by numbers and the magic of divinity through the religious themes fuse in these works.


The lockdown, in providing de Leon the space to touch brush on canvas, has become an opportunity for the artist to explore the flexibility of the acrylic medium as well as new themes. That these works are animated by a sense of play and exuberance is evident, injecting a sense of levity to a form of art notable for its high seriousness. The paintings of de Leon, in their refusal to play by the rules and subscribe to conventional tropes, are inflected with a crackling energy, redolent with visual puns, surprising juxtapositions, and the transformation of numbers as image. 


-Carlomar Arcangel Daoana