Landscape as a State of Mind is a Landscape • Geraldine Javier

May 4 to May 30, 2015 • Finale Art File

Since her first show in 1997 Geraldine Javier has been recognised as an artist with unique and powerful vision. In recent years with shows in South Korea and Germany she has begun to build an international reputation. She was brought up in Candelaria and moved to Manila to study first as a nurse, then fine art at UP. Her work has often been seen as gloomy and death obsessed, but it is always enlivened by a quirky sense of humour and an instinctive feel for materials – as well as paintings she makes collages, fabric works and installations. As an artist she is intense and very hardworking, in society she is unfailingly courteous and often vivacious.

After twenty five years of living in Sampaloc Geraldine Javier was desperate to live in the country. The noise, clutter and congestation of Manila had become too much. She had always seen herself as a country girl and she wanted to get back to a place where she could have more plants than those few that the pots on her balcony could hold. So she bought a property in Batangas, in the hills south of Lake Taal, and set out to build a new studio there.

But anyone expecting peaceful images of flowers, trees and sunsets in her next exhibition at Finale Art File will be disappointed. She finds beauty in other places: when her partner brought her a bunch of roses she patiently waited for them to die before painting them; in another set of works she has used embroidered scenes of ultra-violence from Kubrick’s movie A Clockwork Orange; in unexpected transformations strange, alien creatures enter her garden and her paintings.

The countryside of her imagination is not a calm and peaceful one. It is a place where animals and people not only co-exist but can exchange identities: young girls with the heads of deer linger in the undergrowth as if they have been called to the wild, a man with a buffalo’s head sits patiently. You look at a painting of old women sitting peacefully beside glorious red flowers and then you do a doubletake, for their skin seems to be formed from leaves. Are they flesh or plant?

In the centre of her forthcoming exhibition will be a small labyrinth entitled Living with the natives composed of ten double-sided paintings of flowers, and embroidered figures, but – as can be seen from those three already exhibited and illustrated here – there is a lot else going on. The paintings have large frames which she has covered with fabric painted with patterns; there are also all sorts of geometric shapes crossing the picture or spurring out of the frames. A second glance and one may recognise the Pinoy habit of using lattice work to cover windows rather than ugly security grills.

She has always enjoyed design and decorative traditions, has often made work with embroideries and crochet, but in the process of creating this exhibition she became fascinated by patterning. Being passionate about her Filipino heritage she first looked at the indigenous Filipino textiles, but in the end she created her own patterns: she wanted patterns that were dynamic rather than intricate. Much as she likes traditions she always ends up doing something new. Each painting or embroidery has a different pattern for the frame. She does not like repeating herself.

She likes making. She responds to materials, be it fabric, wood or paint. But the material has to have a purpose, it has to be right for the concept and vision of each exhibition. For this exhibition she is using coloured inks. Because she knew she would be moving back and forth between Manila and Batangas on a regular basis she realised she could not paint in oils as it is so slow drying. The new medium she chose, ink on canvas, was challenging because once it is laid down it couldn’t be corrected, but she could get the deep, rich colours she was envisioning.

Like any good artist, ideas and images emerge from strange places: she emails me, ‘I’m painting a landscape which is not really about the landscape but a state of mind within that landscape, the title is To the Big Rock Candy Mountain taken from a 1928 song used in a Coen brother’s film starring George Clooney – Oh Brother Where are thou.

Oh I’m bound to go
Where there ain’t no snow
Where the rain don’t fall
The winds don’t blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

That film is, she tells me, a metaphor for the exhibition: a group of people trying go in one direction but always being pulled off in others. They never find the promised treasure.

‘The country to me is not just organic gardening,’ she says. ‘More about a different way of life and also about the people I work with here. You become more accepting, less angry when things go wrong – the landscape is always there and keeps pulling you back.’

If, like most of us, you have lived most of your life in the town, the country is a place of imagination and fantasy. For her, once she is there, planting plants, walking her dogs, listening to the wind, setting up photo shoots with local children, it is a complete, multi-layered world. Immersed in the reality of her landscape, memories and images flood in.

—Tony Godfrey

How can I describe my world to you when I’m also lost in the world I live in? After twenty years living in Manila I yearned to be in the country again, to have a garden larger than what my balcony could hold. The works in this exhibition were made in Batangas where I am making a new studio and garden, between a barangay and the jungle. It’s no simple pastoral dream, it’s hard work. Just as the birds and snakes from the jungle slip into my garden and the noise of the barangay drifts over it, so memories and imaginings float into to my consciousness. Secrets and transformations; rich colours and the smell of freshly turned earth. Life isn’t easier here, it’s complex in a different way. A set of strong-willed, difficult dogs: unpredictable, yet loving. New doubts and difficulties, new pleasures and desires, older ones linger still. But the trees and the nearby mountain are always there, a constant. And I find it easier to accept the irritations and vagaries of life. Now I am more at peace with myself, but not complacent.

—Geraldine Javier