After Sir • Elaine Navas

Jul 5 to Aug 2, 2014 • Tall Gallery

Elaine Navas’ latest solo exhibition titled After Sir at Finale Art File is a tribute to her mentor Roberto Chabet. Both an appropriation and a commemoration of the late artist’s works, the exhibition recalls some of the anxious objects he has left behind−the red and white parachutes, the red neon basketball hoop, the battered wooden school desks, the deflated plastic globe, the cast-iron monay, and the multi-colored ziggurats.

For this exhibition, Navas selected images from Chabet’s archive and used them as a guide for her paintings. Like many other artists, she paints from photographs but what sets her apart is that she does not confine herself to the strictures of photorealism. Her distinctive use of impasto creates an intense physicality to her works. Instead of making faithful copies, she paints with abandon and transforms the flat images into sentient moving forms, quite in the same way as Chabet sets his everyday objects into paradoxical collisions through his ephemeral installations.

Paint is alive in Navas’ works; it gains its own momentum as soon as she lays it on her canvas. Her pulsating brush strokes have a frenetic energy all to their own. While uninhibited and unrestrained, her expressive and bold handling of paint also imparts a kind of familiarity and tenderness for her subjects. Her other works include portraits of artists in her community and paintings of things in her immediate environment such as her children’s homework and toys, fruits in her kitchen, or the canopy of trees outside her window. She has also previously appropriated other artists’ images for her paintings including Roni Horn’s River Thames and Michael Wolf’s bastard chairs.

Navas studied Painting at the University of the Philippines College of the Fine Arts (UPCFA) in the late 1980s under Chabet and since then has been his close follower and friend. He curated several of her exhibitions, including her first major solo exhibition About Face at the Ayala Museum in 1997. In many ways, he was a father figure who provided his close students with constant guidance and support. His sudden death last year was an enormous loss for Navas and many of his former students at UPCFA who had to face life After Sir.

For Navas, painting Chabet’s works is a way of recollection. Her selection of his works is entirely personal and is not an attempt to represent his most iconic or historically significant works; rather they are the mementos that she would like to remember him by. The titles of her paintings are also her own personal descriptions of Chabet’s works rather than his oftentimes more cryptic codes. She memorializes his works not just by merely copying them but also by making them her own.

Chabet once said that his works are “dream objects, perhaps even dreams themselves.” Appearing in numerous exhibitions throughout the years, they have also seeped into other people’s subliminal consciousness. Navas’ recollection of his works ensures that even after his passing, these objects will continue their course and gain new life and meaning with each recurrence.

—Ringo Bunoan