tuesday, 14 feb 2012
THE effusive colors on the canvases of Nunilon Bancaso’s works are deceiving. The use of what seems like a limitless fondness for all the possible palettes in the world appears to tell us of an artistry that is facile, if not charming.
A modifier that stresses how a piece of art can charm is, however, dangerous; the description can diminish the power of whatever message the artist wants to convey. It is not that art should always fit itself with the armor of gravitas but the works of Bancaso have all that—a majesty and a hugeness that grab your way of seeing onto a way of believing.
In a brief conversation with the artist, I found out that he does not have any formal training as a painter, unless one calls the art education in his high school a kind of training. His interest in arts has been sustained in the seminary where he interacts with seminarians. Because if there is one secret—or agenda—in his art, it is that this painter happens to be a priest.
I must confess I was a bit wary of writing about Bancaso’s art because I do not want religion as a filter in my liking or not liking it. In his earlier exhibit, entitled Dulay (literally, “jar” or “pottery” in the Bikol language), there was an almost in-your-face relationship between his paintings and the ancient Christian metaphor about us being pots in the hands of the Great Potter. Would I have been able to appreciate the paintings had I not known about the biblical allusions? It must have been difficult for me to appreciate the works then because as I think of that exhibit, I could barely recall the works, although it was clear in my mind that Bancaso played around and succeeded in his experimentation with textures.
|the lost sheep|
A mystical leap happens in the works of Bancaso that are being exhibited right now in Naga City. The Christian/Catholic messaging is still present, with some works labeled as depiction of selected parables, stories meant to relay discourses on what is good and what is bad. There is one difference though: the images that bear these stories have been abstracted to the point of cosmic mystery. It is as if one is at the ledge of a privileged perspective scanning the universe for the birthing of forms and figures that will ultimately stand for the fundamental mysteries of life. The pieces themselves are not large by any gallery standard, most of them are medium-sized at 30"x40". Instead of being limiting, the frames call our attention to the content and composition that are within the frames but are blessed with the surpluses of an epic retelling.
|the ten bridesmaids|
One work is called The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, a story of 10 women awaiting the arrival of the groom. Five of the women, the wise ones, brought with them sufficient oil while another five did not. The story has been discussed as a story on the appropriate readiness for the coming of the Bridegroom, who is Christ. In Bancaso’s hand, the tale is told by way of a diptych, created by demarcating the frame with two color fields: on the left, a bright field of egg yolk and pleasant russet and vermillion; on the right, mouse-grays and ink. Common to the two fields are the constant presence of five circles and the literalness of the bright hues for good thinking and the darker colors for the confused and dimwittedness of the other virgins.
|the mustard seed|
What if the viewers do not know anything about the parables? I expected the painter to tell me they should but he gave me two proposals. One is that they could “enjoy” the painting by trying to find in the recognizable figures the elements of the story embedded in the great parables. The other option is for the viewers to change the title.
I am not sure if the artist was humoring me but, as I moved from one painting to another—from one parable to another—I began to see the titles as an unsparing and trenchant guide or even indices to an experience about one’s religion. If I am a pilgrim, the parables could stand as a map that is both cartographic leads to lessons about the depths of one’s faith and grids to recondite passages. But “humored” already by the artist, I could also ignore the titles and partake in the feast of colors and be swept in the swirl and grandeur of this universe.
Some titles triumph. The piece on The Parable of the Dragnet is an engaging chaos of greens and blues with white lines supremely running as ruled by destiny. A tiny red speck hints of a birth of a star or the dying of one. If this parable is about heaven being cast across humanity as a net, then the title elucidates the Biblical reminder even as the images are about a cosmos being managed by a divine intelligence. Two lessons in one.
|the prodigal son|
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is an unabashed depiction of the three personalities involved in the story: the son who stayed, the son who strayed, and the father who forgave. All represented by three circles marked by red, purple and blue-green. The wide swath of colors though might as well be the cosmic proportion of the lessons about forgiveness and time passing through everyone’s thread of fate.
In this young priest’s homily, the stories are big and encompassing as murals etched in the heavens. That Nunilon Bancaso admits he has no formal lessons in art, it would preposterous to mention influences here, and assume some lineage to other schools of art. For reference though, I see in Bancaso the intense coloration of the Russian abstract artists. The geometric obsession prevails, with circles and lines recognizable amid dashes of primary colors, the great red, green and blue. That is not, however, the source of appeal for his works. In Bancaso’s works, you get this feeling you are always looking up, or gazing beyond the horizon. It is a positioning that makes the way to transcendence easier. Which is really the direction of all parables.
The exhibit is on view at the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary in Naga City after having been moved from the Café des Artes, an art haven managed by Bernadette “Bidibidi” De Los Santos, in the small town of Baao, Camarines Sur. The place represents a major stirring of art activities in the region. Photographs of the art pieces are courtesy of the artist and the Café des Artes.