Jericho Valjusto Vamenta: Residual Felicity
One is fortunate to have seen the first two solo exhibitions of Jericho Valjusto Vamenta, and the
experience allows one, as an observer, to track down the ways the artist engages his mind, sensibility
and techniques, according to the impelling needs of his chosen themes. There was a show where his
images focused on a Falling Man, which personified, obviously enough, man’s fall from grace. Or
wealth. Or, most seductively, power. Thus falling, it looked as if the figure were floating in space,
delivered from the laws of gravity, floating in space, in an existential vacuum.
One remembers, more affectingly, his images of women, for Vamenta has a marvelous way of
depicting women who seem otherworldly, and whose presence emerges in his imagination not in the
way we see them in actual reality, but in the stirring way that conflates romanticism and surrealism.
Ordinary scenes, with table still lifes, were presided over by these graces, elegant hostesses with their
spectral apparitions, heightening our suspicion that these figures were no more flesh and blood than the
cold, glacial vessels bearing wine, fruit and bread. Even in prosaic activities, like bicycling or waiting by
the window, his women look as if they were in an unremitting state of combustion, ready to vanish,
evaporate in an instant.
On view at the Galerie Anna is Vamenta’s third solo show, titled “Residual Felicity,” an
unexpected conflation of terms whose meanings remain teetering by turns at the edge of
incomprehension and illumination. In his “Artist’s Statement,” Vamenta distinctly makes mention of
Appropriation, which is “the taking over, into a work of art, of a real object, or even an existing work of
art.” Indeed, appropriation has proved itself to be controversial approach to artmaking, dredging as it
does issues of originality and ownership of visual ideas. To be sure, such public and universal images as
the Mona Lisa and Mickey Mouse, are so widely known, that barring copyright protection, the matter of
plagiarism is simply out of the question. Such images have become public property and part and parcel
of popular culture and consciousness.
By its very title alone, Vamenta’s “Madonna on the Rocks” is a homage to Da Vinci’s “Virgin of
the Rocks.” The intentional, or perhaps unwitting shift of prepositions, engenders a different reading of
Vamenta’s “take” on the Renaissance painting. “On the rocks,” is of course a phrase known to every
scotch drinker. Is Vamenta’s Madonna imbibing the wrong kind of spirit? The tantalizing thought is
irreverently irresistible. Furthermore, there seems nothing reverential in the way this Madonna has
been depicted, with her strangely kicking up her heels, her long black tresses whipped up by the winds.
Another work appropriated from an Old Master painting is titled “Madonna with Cat.” Why has
the feline creature replaced the Divine Infant in the Madonna’s affection? One then realizes that in the
surprising discontinuities between the original source and the appropriated result are to be found the
residuals of meanings, (residual being an almost formal word for left-over), that sparkle through the
artist’s sly and insidious manipulation of original images. Felicity, on the other, connotes joy, bliss,
Other works in the show, such as “Sleeptalk” and “Glare, Glaze, and Glasses” do not easily
disclose their original sources. It is more likely that Vamenta has purposely murked up their derivation,
drawn them from personal and intimate experiences, accessed only through his own subconscious and
memories. The two works make unnerving and candid references to intoxication, inebriation, the
incessant consumption of alcohol. In “Sleeptalk,” a drunken man lies sprawled on a bench of a nipa
cottage by the beach, a rudely awakening sight, while the alliteratively titled work is viewed from a
prismatically shifting facets of planes, approximating the effect of alcoholic haze upon the vision.
An oddly mystifying suite of works, in pen-and-ink on canvas, deploys a mannequin, disrobed
and with breasts bared, possibly used as metaphor for Woman, which then invokes the disquieting
manner men have treated the so-called “weaker sex.” On the head of this mannequin, the artist has
unceremoniously dumped a heavy load of laundry wash.
Jericho Valjusto Vamenta’s “Residual Felicity” generates questions that are left-over, because
unanswered, from man’s prejudices and dereliction.