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In the Land of Dragons and Bamboo Gods

  • Start

    27 August 2010
  • End

    12 September 2010
  • Artist

  • Gallery

    Altro Mondo • Arte Contemporanea, 3rd Level Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati City

A Weaver of Timeless Realms

Felipe M. de Leon, Jr.

To behold Mario de Rivera’s art is to be in the presence of faith made visible. But it is faith that transcends any one religion. It is one inspired by the timeless mysteries of the creative act itself.

Traversing cultures, from ancient times to the present, the artist delights us with sensuous yet subtle, strong yet sensitive archetypes of humanity – from the indigenous to the urbane, from the intuitive to the learned.

Being a well-traveled artist with a truly cosmopolitan zest, de Rivera must have marveled at the exquisite beauty and splendor of human creativity and specimens of humanity that he met in various cultures: the noble Southeast Asian lumad, the refined courtesan, the lovely Filipina in baro’t saya, the Chinese concubine, the women of Kamasutra, the proud conquistador, or the elegant morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) musician of Mongolia, as in “Prelude to a Te Deum No. 3.”

Together with this, his fascination with exuberant arabesque, floral and leaf, and textile weaving patterns and the intricate, breathtaking design of Turkish, Mugal, Gothis architecture – which permeate his works – make us realize that here is an artist who celebrates the divine mystery and majesty of the human creative act itself.

Perhaps this is the reason why de Rivera jusxtaposes religious icons with human archetypes of timeless beauty. The creative act – as it manifest in various cultures as well as in his peron – inspires in him a sacred feeling that is akin to mystical experience. He live the life of a devotee to human creativity. Veritably, this is what Rabindranate Tagore has called, “the religion of the artist.”

Accrodingly, the images in de Rivera’s paintings appear to be suspended in non-linear time, in the seemingly eternal present that we inhabit whenever we are in the euphoria of artistic, creative inspiration. Thus, his spaces are typically planar – an ideal template for the juxtaposition of phenomena that occur in no particular time, beyond the three-dimensional time-space continuum.

The omniscient viewpoint that the artist has always adopted – on that bridges culture across time and space – can only be realized through the overlapping layers of planar perspective.

It is likewise the perfect backdrop for the essential character of each gracefully poised human archetype that the artist celebrates in iridescent, jewel-like yet muted colors. For his forms and figures are often veiled, half-hidden in a translucent layer, gossamer or sinamay-like fabric and suffused with a soft, misty light, as in his work “Carol of the Birds.”

Openness to the wider world of cultures demands intellectual curiosity, an adventurous mind, which the artist possesses in high degree. This is very evident in the plethora of signs and symbols, ornaments and images derived from multi-cultural sources that so fill his canvas, giving many of his works a maximalist exuberance, as in “Panquenques de Plata.”

His fascination for symbols of flight also seems to attest to his inquisitive attitude, signifying a strong interest in exploring various realms of experience, whether in physical space or the world of ideas. Thus, we find birds in flight, butterflies, dragonflies, winged cloud, winged angels – all of airy lightness – suspended and moving about a dreamy, rarefied, ethereal atmosphere in most of his works.

No matter how intense this holy curiosity about life is, however, other forces hold his wandering mind in place. One is the artistic prerogative and genius in selecting only those experiences that make us feel more intensely alive. As art historian Bernard Berenson once remarked, ‘All art is life-enhancing.’ And it is the artist’s obligation to make it so.

Hence, de Rivera only selects from our own indigenous and other cultures those images that are the epitome of artistic integrity, refined sensibility, soulfulness and vitality. He avoids the inauthentic, the ‘soulless,’ the commodified – this being the farthest from being able to evoke the sense of mystery that we experience when we behold archetypal works of art throughout the ages.

It is in this sense that the images in his works are iconic. For a true icon is the product of a creative act inspired by religious faith, which can be evoked by the teachings and rituals of revealed religions or generated by the process of artistic creation itself. In the icon we experience the presence of divine mystery.

The other restraining force against the possible surfeit of multicultural images, maximalist spontaneity and near-impasto lushness in de Rivera’s work is a palpable textural pattering that has become a hallmark of his style. This is the rather painstaking technique of enclosing his forms and images in soft, gentle but rhythmic webs of white strands as well as gliding many of them in lace-like, arabesque patterns that almost look like the sweet icings which border a cake.

The feeling that this ‘packaging’ gives is one that is nurturing, as if reminding oneself that you can only go so far but in a most caring and gentle, subtle manner. Together with the earlier mentioned subduing of his forms with gossamer layer of ‘sinamay-like’ fabric and usual framing of his images within triptych or grid like structure – the quality of poetic, lyrical self-containment in de Rivera’s art is complete.

Mario de Rivera is one artist who does not rest on his laurels. He has already won much international recognition and prestigious awards for his distinctive accomplishments but his literary and cultural zeal, which is unusual among visual artists, drives him ever forward. He continues to widen his vision of life that combines innocenece and simplicity with subtlety and sophistication, the spontaneous and natural with learning and erudition. Encountering the universal, life-sustaining symbols and images in diverse culture, he transforms and gives them new meaning and vitality.

A Filipino thinker once said: “the first Filipino must have been a weaver who lived near the river.” The weaver here being a symbol of community and the river, a life-giving force. Likewise, Mario de Rivera, shaman-like, brings us closer to the life-giving force of the river of life by weaving together in his art its most potent, vibrant archetypes.