EDMAR COLMO: FACES/PHASES EUGENE CUBILLO: ENCOUNTERS
“There will be time, there will be time
To meet the faces that you meet.”
T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Back to back, like the Janus face, one looking to the past and the other to the future, or vice-versa, are the simultaneous solo shows at Galerie Anna of Edmar Colmo and Eugene Cubillo, titled, respectively, “Faces/Phases” and “Encounters.” Thus a tension has been set for a face-off, for indeed both their works have taken over the human visage, have torn off the masks of trauma and hypocrisy, and laid bare for all to see, in the words of the poet T. S. Eliot, “the hundred indecisions, visions, and revisions” of a life wasted in regret and fear, doubts and anxieties.
One cannot view the works of Colmo without being reminded of the portraits of the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldi (1527-1593), whose faces - every feature of it, from eyes, ears, nose, and lips, to neck and hair - are made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flower, fish, and books. He was regarded by his contemporaries as either a deranged man or a genius, but still today, over five centuries hence, Arcimboldi’s style is still a source of great fascination, indeed an inspiration for parody and homage. To the credit of Colmo, however, he has transcended the style, and in place of fruits and fish, he has etched and limned on the human visage a multitude of ghostly faces, transforming the face into a vessel of memories of personages that continue to haunt the portrait.
A number of portraits are religious in orientation, with Jesus, Santa Maria, and Rose of Mary, as objects of veneration. All the faces have been lined with narrow bands, like passing shadows that attempt to hide the mystery and enigma beyond the human features. Colmo displays a deftly lyrical flamboyance, revelling in a profusion of curling arabesques, tiny buds of flowers, swirling lines, and lacey traceries, like ornamental cut-out pieces of delicate table doilies. The exception to this is the portrait of the Christ, “Hesus,” which seems to have been whisked with splatters of dark pigments, perhaps alluding to the flagellation and the crucifixion. The same kind of treatment is rendered on the other two male figures, the portraits in “Gumon” and “Hardin ng Isipan.”
In contrast, a more contemporary tone is struck by Eugene Cubillo in his urban contemporary assault on the psyche, thus the title “Encounters,” where the human visage dissolves in mist, or glimpsed as if in a dream or apparition. The concerns and anxieties written on these faces are more harsh, more psychologically charged, and steeped in existential despair and foreboding with unnamed fears. The works are marked with irony, as compare the insolent “Smiley” paintings, where a smile contains more secrets and veiled sarcasm in the muscles of the face, with the lip service attitude manifested in “Bukang Bibig” and the fraught expression of the unemployed in “Looking for a Job.”
Undoubtedly, the most haunting work by Cubillo is titled “Still Alive,” which alludes to the “desaparecidos” (the disappeared; or the “salvaged,” to use the expression prevalent in our media). In this work, an entire line-up of ID or passport photos conveys a horrifying message: the lost and wasted lives of people who were martyred for a cause or ideology. The faces of these nameless ones, who were photographed, as the saying goes, “in happier times,” send shivers down the spine, as we, the gallery audience, encounter them, who could easily have been our fathers, brothers, and sisters. Alas, taken aback, and much too soon, we have had no time to prepare to meet these faces that we meet.
These two artists, Edmar Colmo and Eugene Cubillo, who collaborated on a single, similar theme, have shared their own individual revelations that light up the darkness of the human face.