Monday, July 12, 2010

After the Storm and After the Fire

This Friday, July 16th my most recent art show, "Before the Storm, After the Fire," at I.P. Coffee in Mangilao, will be coming down. In its place a new exhibit by artist and editor of the Marianas Variety Mar-Vic Cagurangan, called "Naked Truth" will be opening. So Friday night from 6-8 pm we'll be having an opening/closing party, where you can meet both artists, enjoy some good food and wine and also try to pick up some of my pieces before they get stored in the trunk of my car.

For this last show I divided my artwork up into different themes. When I paint things, even abstract imagery, they tend to follow a set of regular themes. So even though the artwork is abstract and open to interpretation, when I paint it and when I title it, I often end up coming back to the same sorts of themes: movies, song lyrics, puns, Guam history and so on. So when I was figuring out how to hang my show, I decided to divide them up into groups based on shared imagery or names. Then for each group I wrote up a sort of explanation for why these images were together or why I chose to paint images based on these ideas.

In hopes of enticing people to come out the exhibit and take a look, I'm pasting below the explanations for each of the different themes for my exhibit:


On Anime/Manga…

Most people don’t know this about me, but I have always dreamed of being a comic book writer. To this day I still dream of producing something which a decent number of people read regularly and follow, and eagerly anticipate what I will do next with the world and characters I have created.

Since my life path or my life skills didn’t take me in that direction, I compensate for my failed dreams by reading a lot of comics and manga. I am not an Otaku, but I am most certainly a geek.

Creating abstract art which is inspired by references to comics or manga, is a way of releasing my inner and outer geek. One of the more friendly definitions of what a geek is after all: someone who knows the things about a piece of art (or a mythology/universe) which normal people never take the time to learn, or never care to learn. Geek life is the sheer pleasure of knowing the story behind the story behind the story, (or para bai hu fama’geek nå’ya, the wheels within the wheels, within the wheels).

Sometimes when I create an abstract monotype and it turns out completely different than I expected, I will stare at it for a moment sifting through its details for something to strike me. The first impulses that I receive for naming a piece, always come from the geek center of my brain. These references are fan-service-inclined, they are inside jokes, they can be obscure things, which I chuckle about and marvel at how I know that, but which 99.9999 percent of the world has no idea about (or wouldn’t think is funny).

In preparation for displaying some artwork at the Otaku Recon, a anime and manga convention to be held May 2010 on Guam, I created a number of pieces inspired by certain characters or events from different manga, specifically from the world of Naruto.


On Movies…

When I was writing my masters thesis in Ethnic Studies at University of California, San Diego, my thesis committee brought up an interesting issue at my defense.

My style of academic writing and critical inquiry is heavily influenced by the work of the infamous Lacanian tentågo’ Slavoj Zizek. His writings have a very chaotic character as he moves sometimes seamlessly, sometimes in a very clunky manner between the highest and the lowest points of Western culture and philosophy. For instance, the deepest most textured, inner meanings of academic social theories can be best explained in Zizek’s work, through references to Alfred Hitchcock movies, Stephen King novels and the way that US Vice President Dan Quayle spelled the word “potato.”

My thesis dealt with the resistance amongst Chamorros to the idea of their island being “decolonized.” In order to explain my ideas, I resorted to a lot of “high” theorists, with very fancy sounding names and book titles. But scattered through each section were small little movie references. In order to explain dense theoretical concepts, I would refer to movies such as The Empire Strikes Back, Memento or Strange Days. At my defense, my thesis chair asked me, as well as the committee if the way I was using films required that I provide some sort of film analysis or literature review to validate talking about the things such as Renan’s necessary amnesia of the modern nation, through film Memento. The consensus eventually was that no (thankfully), I didn’t need to provide such background.

My explanation was that these films are not the texts in and of themselves that are being analyzed, but rather the narratives of these films provide the elements through which many of those difficult and very abstract theories can be better and more easily translated to others.

I feel that when I title some paintings after movies, I am achieving a similar result. Taking the mess on the paper or canvas, which is so abstract and which might scare off most people and giving it some sense through a common story or set of visual or narrative cues, which we might share from having watched the same film.


On Chamorro History…

The title of this show has a number of interesting potential meanings for it. The notion of waiting for a storm to arrive after having just survived a fire, truly reminds of the early 18th century in the Marianas Islands. By 1695, all open warfare between the Spanish colonizers and the Chamorro people had ceased, and Chamorros had been “reduced” from living across all the Marianas Islands, into just a handful of village Guam, Rota and for a short time, Saipan. The Spanish accounts naturally don’t give us much insight into what the feelings of Chamorros were like at that time. In my Guam History classes I try to have my students create stories about what it might have been like for those Chamorro families, torn between the new culture and religion being forced upon them, and loyalty to their traditional culture and ways. Did they see themselves in a sort of in-between and amorphous state, having just survived one catastrophe and cautiously awaiting another?

As an artist however I don’t try to capture the literal images of Chamorros struggling, or even create realistic snapshots of moments of Guam history. Instead, I enjoy the freedom abstract imagery can allow in capturing an intensity or a playfulness which fidelity to being readily recognizable can help you lose.

The images which are inspired by or named for fragments of Guam History are unlikely to ever be used as illustrations for history books. But I still fill that these sorts of attempts at capturing some piece of Guam history are still important. After all, Guam History was for centuries a one-sided venture in which Chamorros were almost completely silent. And to paraphrase an author whose name I can’t remember right now, it is up to our creativity to fill in those shortcomings of history. It is up to the artists to ensure that the violent silence imposed on a people, is not accepted as the truth of their history or being.


On Stupid Jokes…

One thing I cannot resist when titling my abstract paintings is to give them really stupid names based on silly attempts at puns or wordplay.

One of the ways in which this usually happens, is a particular color will stick out in a newly created painting, and I will struggle to find some noted popular phrase, saying, title of some media, even a historic event or a historic figure, the name of which or whom bears some similarity to an element in the painting.

I think that in other contexts, these types of silly word games are a pox upon communication.

It is different however, when you are using puns to bring a silly sense to the chaos of an abstract work of art. In that case, the use of puns is a venerable and honorable tradition. It can lend an aura of legitimacy to something which is otherwise a ridiculous arrangement of splattered or smeared paint.

The one exception in this show is the piece “Purple Rain…bow” whose name comes from the infamous movie starring the Artist Currently Known as Prince, Prince. If Prince is dead I’m certain he’s rolling over his grave knowing that such a stupid attempt at humor was made at the expense of his classic film. If he’s not dead, then I’m certain after hearing about such a stupid title for a painting, he is dead now.


On Class Paintings…

I often tell students who have me as a professor, that there are only two certainties in the classes they take with me. First, they will not leave my classroom any dumber at the semester’s end, as when they first sat down at the semester’s start. There is a good chance they will leave smarter, but I can really only guarantee that they won’t leave any more stupid than when they arrived.

Second: that as a sort of compensation or restitution for the time they spent with me, at the semester’s end I send to those who want it, one painting which for me represents the spirit of what kind of class they were. For my class which averaged 30% of students sleeping just about every class, I created the painting “Sleeping in Class.” For another, an interesting piece called “Schizo-Niyok” which was for a class which was paradoxically a pleasure to teach, but also constantly frustrating. As I told the students, I saw them as having strong (writing roots), and desiring to grow and learn more, but they were nonetheless an insane class.

They don’t each receive a different painting, but rather as a class, receive a mass email with a JPG file attached. That file is a high quality scan of their painting. In my email to each class I tell a little bit about what inspired the piece as well as what they can do with it. For instance, they could simply delete it. They could post is on their Facebook or Myspace. They could print it out and frame it. Crop it or Photoshop it. And finally, my personal favorite, they could erase my signature and just pretend that they painted it.


On Landscapes and Seascapes…

In 1998 when I first started as an artist in Guam, I hated landscapes.

Every time I would pay for a table at a bazaar or a fair, to sell my work, I would constantly be asked the same thing. “Do you have anything…you know, pretty? Or nice looking?” When I would ask, heartbroken, what they meant by “nice-looking,” the response was usually, “You know, something like a nice landscape, coconuts trees, the ocean, sandy beaches.”

Pretty landscapes represented so much I didn’t like about art and the perceptions that people had about what art was supposed to be. Those who sought simple landscapes from me, were telling me that to them art was something which wasn’t supposed to challenge them or anyway else. Instead, art was wall paper, primarily decorative, something to complement life, but never seen as some manifestation of the complexity of life.

Somewhere in the past 12 years, I actually started enjoying painting landscapes, in particular sunsets. The compositions were always simple, a mere line dividing the ocean from the sky, or the land from the sky, and then it was up to me what the colors of each would be. I have no idea what changed in me. I don’t think my landscapes are in anyway “pretty.” And this is supported by the fact that just because I started painting simple landscapes, it didn’t translate into me selling more. Perhaps I enjoy painting them no because I can feel at least someway vindicated in the distorted or overly simplistic way in which I go about them.



Drea said...

:( I'm so sad. I don't get off until 7 on that night.

Mina Lulok said...

Hafa adai Miget.

I emailed you after the Insular Empire screening, but I think I had the wrong email and I figured this was the second best, if more public, way to contact you. Anyway, just wanted to apologize for not being able to speak with you afterwards, as I was spirited away by my parents.

Email me so we can catch up. Glimpses of each other's names on plastic boxes can only hold for so long , hah.

Michael Lujan Bevacqua said...

Hafa Adai Marianna, I hope the email I have for you is still the same, I'll try it out. But if you don't hear from me, email me at

Eve said...

Although I've been to IP Coffee and seen your exhibit a number of times, reading your post still provided me with a deeper understanding of your work (and how your geeky mind works). Geek is the new cool.

Have you thought about starting a blog designated just for your comics? I'd love to read some of what you have. At least you're working on your dream through a different vessel...the internet. ^_^

I also can't wait to pick up my piece and try to make it Friday night!


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