By Dennis B. Gonzaga
Transactions of Time in a Space-Bound Art Form
In the Japanese contemplation of wabi-sabi, emphasis is given on the impermanence of things. A thing is beautiful because its existence is fleeting and because it flows freely with the passage of time.
Time usually is a difficult element to accommodate in any critique of the Visual Arts. The language of the Visual Arts is space. Its techniques, its disciplines, its stylistic themes, and its forms are typically manifested within the spatial bounds of length, height, and depth. Images are indelibly frozen within the confines of a canvas, a film, or a blueprint. They are immortalized in platforms of permanence where time has no claim.
This apparent incompatibility found resolution in the traditional ink wash paintings common in East Asian art. The austerity of colors and the swiftness of the strokes, combined with a refined understanding of how light interacts with surfaces and terrains, expresses a profound meditation on the natural flow of time.
The Impressionists were also able to close this apparent gap between the space-bound nature of the visual arts and the linear progression of time. By choosing subjects en plein air and by emphasizing the shifting qualities of ambient light, they introduced the idea of paintings as organic extensions of reality rather than just being arbitrarily embellished conjectures. The Impressionists resisted idealized and curated representations of the world. Instead, they became true witnesses to the raw and spontaneous unfolding of reality.
Impressionism itself drew inspiration from the literati paintings of East Asia, through the Japanese sumi-e and ukiyo-e. The delicateness of Japanese black ink washes and the unorthodox angles and “snapshot” techniques of woodblock art prints are evident in most Impressionist works.
Perez’s marketplace of visages
These creative postulations are apparent in Perez’s “Tindero” series. In addition, his use of watercolor—one of the hardest mediums to master—and his choice of subject adds layers of discourse to his current body of work.
The palpability and ubiquity of his subject matter is a source of both nostalgic delight and critical inquiry. He recreates his milieu, his homeland, through its unheralded gatekeepers: street vendors. Perez highlights the peripheries of our urban sensibilities. His series discards the monoliths and monuments that constantly loom over our perceptions and impressions. Instead, he pays tribute to the margins, to the mundane. Here lies the primary strength and quality of his “Tindero” series. His subtle palette and brushstrokes are appropriate in that they do not overpower the deeper elements of his discourse. Perez exercises a deft restraint in choosing which visual elements to emphasize and which ones are to be relegated into compositional ambience.
A scrutiny of his preferred subjects also reveals an important point: Perez depicts ambulant vendors rather than stall-based traders. He renders an elderly taho vendor in a brief respite, sorbeteros whose ubiquitous presences are defined by the distinct shape of their carts, a cigarette vendor cradling his wooden box as if it were an infant, an old woman selling scapulars and rosary beads amidst a crowd of apathetic church-goers, and other similar images of informal merchants surviving along the cracks of the urban terrain. In a sense, Perez expresses movement and urgency. He is both sympathetic and blunt in his appropriation of his source material.
His characters are slightly off-center, suggesting passage and outcome. His washes reflect the vitality of impermanence and uncertainty. His utility of ambient light captures the precariousness of the human condition. He challenges the viewer to see past the imprimatur of propriety and pay closer attention to the grit and the grime that fuels the very heart of his city.
Perez’s renderings are never stationary. Even when they are depicted in their moments of respite, his vendors are always in the midst of activity. Perez relies on subtle disproportions and dynamic points of view to constantly remind us that the flow of time is a central theme in his works.
The currency of the craft
Similar to his subjects, Perez peddles his craftsmanship with a unique blend of kinesis and precision. He carefully plans his light source and moderates his brush strokes to suggest motion. He showcases control and comprehension of the medium.
He understands the nuances of watercolor. Instead of following contemporary trends that emphasize static photorealism, Perez allows his watercolor washes to flow freely. He carefully selects which elements require detail and precision and lets the rest of the medium settle into its natural state.
In “Induljencia”, Perez plays with asymmetries, contrasts, textures, and washes to showcase the flurry of a crowd. The elderly vendor is painted vividly. In contrast, the passing crowd is rendered in soft and muted washes. Aside from creating the illusion of depth, the composition highlights pace—the briskness of the crowd is a sharp contrast to the lethargy and disquiet of the vendor whose wares remain unsold. The palette also succeeds in conveying atmosphere. Watercolor typically expresses a cooler ambiance. But Perez is able to use the medium to convey a sense of humidity.
In “Mga Lobo ni Lolo”, Perez lets his watercolor flow freely. His palette and composition are limited, perhaps by design. His background is a cascading nebula serving only to enhance the detailed craftsmanship he commits to the central character. He lets the element of light fill in the rest of the compositional space. The same effect is evident in “Naghihintay, Pamaypay” and “Mr. Takatak.”
Although Perez works with a variety of pigments which include oil and acrylic, his creative statement and vision are more pronounced in watercolor. In terms of visual signature, he is able to showcase the refinement of traditional impressionistic plein air techniques combined with a reserved trace of neo-realism.
His “Tindero” series is a well-articulated body of work that not only reveals his identity and maturity as a visual artist, but also showcases his capacity as a cultural worker. He is both painter and social commentator. He has the potential to be an artist at the peripheries, capturing transient images of the marginal and the marginalized and bringing these to the consciousness of the privileged center.
Editor’s Note: Rommel Perez’ watercolor artwork featured in this review are on display at the Best of Bicol Showcase and DA’s ASPIRE Trade Fair and Exhibits of the ongoing 2017 Bicol Business Month at the SM City Naga Activity Center.