“My soul is full of longing for the secrets of the sea, and the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“How to represent the wind? How to paint emptiness? And the light, its brightness, its purity? I did not want to reproduce but to juxtapose forms, to assemble them in order to find in them the whispering wind over still water.” -Zao Wou-Ki
Ideals are like the stars: we never reach them, but like the mariners of the sea, we chart our course by them. Self-taught artist Joar Songcuya continues his saga at sea with his exciting new works presented by Altro Mondo Creative Space and wonderfully curated by Ricky Francisco. The current aesthetic dialogue of the artist with his increasing followers is an extension of Joar Songcuya’s first solo exhibit, entitled “The History of Water” successfully mounted last year in the same art gallery and curated by Charlie Samuya Veric. His talent did not escape the discriminating eye of art writer and critic Patrick Flores when his works were included in the recently concluded Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference (Viva Excon) Exhibit in Bacolod presenting the “Atlantiko, Pasipiko, Artiko” series. The exhibit elicited much attention and interest from art collectors and aficionados alike.
His new works are immersed in the crucible of modernism while also drawing on traditional and classical motifs to create his singular visual image. The works are modern versions of the aesthetic influences of William Turner, Van Gogh, Sisley and certainly not to a lesser degree, with that of the Greek, Iannis Tsarouchis, minus the latter’s erotic fantasies. Obliquely, his subjects, Filipino seamen at work in large ships often appear in allegories. They express anxiety, longing as well as desire. Evidently, the works in review demonstrate a creative mind at work always looking for existential profundity. He aimed for truth, not just something pleasant, acceptable, entertaining or even macabre. That suffices to give his work a compelling edge over new artists of his generation for its candidness and social relevance.
Songcuya’s strength is in the way he has convincingly formulated a unique artistic language. His works establish their own symbolic universe, mixing personal memory, loss and desire, pointing to the negotiation and transgression of limits between art and the everyday experiences at sea that were central to his work and his aesthetic philosophy emphasis was placed on the profoundly spiritual qualities of his painting as well as the artist’s ability to reveal the inner harmony of his compositions. The beauty of his swirling brushstrokes and his subtle, tender colours have become a pleasant visual massage to the senses. They are authentic, confident, simultaneously delicate and bold.
Much like Zao Wouki, his subtle colours are light and fire that could express a sense of space. Not so obsessed with form, his almost abstract brushstrokes are full of depth, projecting a vital organic quality. It is quite evident that his exploration with abstraction, just like other great artists before him, seems to be inspired by prehistoric art. Interestingly, his new works have become more reassured and are no longer confined to preconceived ideas. The works took on new energy, evolving to incorporate sweeping and dynamic brushstrokes and greater use of moderate impasto. He continues to experiment with colour, light, space, and movement.
His confident transition is clearly demonstrated in “The Sea is Not A Quiet Place”, In this electrifying piece, an intense combination of white and pink clouds is set against turbulent waves of black and blue at the foreground like a burst of light and darkness spreading downwards into a dark, unfathomable space at the bottom of the ocean. Yet the masterpiece also reflects the descriptive brushwork found in traditional painting resonating Turner. Songcuya alludes to a natural turbulent seascape in this painting. As if from a cave-like space or between onrushing waves, we see a ray of light. Songcuya avers that the water world possesses such a language so strange and foreign that one could only decipher it by the growling sound and erratic movement of the water. The impressionable currents are the sea’s voice. It took a long time for this professional marine engineer to finally connect and understand what they convey or conjure. In these transitional moments, Songcuya evokes the power of primeval forces with life, fire, blood and passion – the energetic forces regarded as fundamental elements of both nature and humanity.
“Port of Call: Africa”, a 48 x 72 oil on canvas composition mirrors the artist’s indelible experience with the world’s greatest ports. It marked his sailing years where he learned real hard work, patience, sympathy and sacrifice. This experience likewise was shared by many Filipino sailors peopling merchant and cargo ships, tankers, and even giant luxury liners. This portrait of anchored ships, somewhat reverberates a much needed respite from the ever present danger at sea. In my opinion, there is no less picturesqueness in this seemingly industrial landscape. The composition presents a wide variety of shapes, rhythms, complex structures, and a lot of colours executed using high quality materials with different brushes and a palette knife to achieve this complex colourful texture. Its narrative is just as admirable.
In “Dancing Waves”, Songcuya keenly observes these whirling waves rolling like some graceful dancers at twilight. The sea sways its hips seducing a looker. The sea is tamer to anyone who invades that territory like a siren luring a drifter. As artist, he was driven by his desire to see, his tremendous love for light and what it could do; but in his life he was too much driven by his desire to hide, to be in the dark. The way light and dark are in his work is breathtaking; the way these opposites quarrel in his life is monumentally painful and sad.
One sees something like heaven, with that angel whiteness and breadth of blue, light sky in “Tidal Apparition” and “Hear the Sea Sing” But unseen in the foreground are imaginary subliminal “dingy oddments,” that predominate the inner life of Pinoy seafarers. And that is the “pain,” that this poet artist constantly writes about. The great message of all those magnificent paintings is—light and litter are in the same world. It is a message that means a great deal to Songcuya and it affirms Eli Siegel’s Aesthetic Realism principle: “In reality opposites are one; art shows this”.
In this new exhibit, Joar displays an apparent welcome evolution in his painting style and that, in his very young career. Though he still stays true to the genre of land and seascape, his career is progressing quite maturely as he begins to pay less attention to the details of objects and seascape and more attention to the effects of light and color. He remains increasingly fascinated with natural and atmospheric elements. He has likewise staged some distinctive dramatis personae in his creations, where sailors, in their varied tasks on deck, are paid tribute to in their thankless life at sea.
One of the finest paintings in this series is the incandescent “Caught Between the Devil and The Sea”. The tricolor red, white and blue of this extraordinary œuvre owe as much to the romanticism of Delacroix as to Paul Klee. The vertical colourfields are shot through with fragments of red (the character of “fire” is among the few that are decipherable) misshapen ripostes to his subconscious tradition of casual, confident, calligraphic brush movements that place Songcuya’s mature aesthetic spirit on the same expressive predilection as de Kooning, one of Abstract Expressionism’s most vibrant rebels.
If viewed as a singing contest, Songcuya manages to capture centre stage in this third solo exhibit, letting lose two soaring arias with cobalt blue blaring fortissimo the immense 48 x72 inches paintings, “Port of Call: Africa” and “The Sea is not a Quiet Place”. Both pieces soar free of the constraints of stifling, predictable tradition. All other pieces that accompany these chefs d’œuvres, offer just as much visual magnetism to the audience. The assembly of works also presents a significant lesson of well controlled, mixed blue tones of this young master. Joar’s billowing liquid blue at the core of his two monumental pièces de résistance calls to mind the great watercolour and ink abstractions of that renegade Chinese Modernist, Zhang Da-Quian.
The artist’s vibrantly evolving paintings already faintly avoid representation of forms from nature, expressing instead the Abstract feeling of the colours, reflections, energy, and harmony of land, sea, earth, and sky. “The Sea is not a Quiet Place” is a magnificent art exhibit to start an exciting year right. It should not to be missed. It certainly is worth a détour. The show opens on January 8th and will run until February 5, 2022.
— Remigio I. David, Artistic Director