As a gesture of inward reflection, Elaine Navas turns her gaze away from the ocean and skies in Little Monuments, and she turns it towards seemingly ubiquitous views of her intimate interior life, through the produce that pervade it. In this tender series of works, Navas distills her memories in arrangements of fruits and vegetables, using these paintings of still lives as markers of her own — little monuments to the moments she wants to keep alive, despite the growing distance of her family’s personal geographies.
A bowl set on top of a refrigerator shelf is her daughter’s: something lovingly placed at her eye level, when she used to live with Navas and her husband. A dragon fruit arrangement, seen along a roadside carinderia just outside Fort Ilocandia, is worthy of a different kind of permanence because it was a marker of her last trip with her whole family in the Philippines. A visit to her daughter’s house in Los Angeles is kept alive through a bowl of fruits set against a bright blue table: faces drawn on the fruit by the best housemates her daughter could have had. A vegetable arrangement in Ilocos “acting like fruits,” attracted fat, heavy flies becomes a reminder of a funny memory of her husband. Even more ordinary still, an everyday arrangement of bananas is immortalized because of their brown freckles.
Little Monuments is a study of ‘everyday aesthetics,’ where beauty is seen in each ordinary arrangement. Here, Navas gives the small and quiet moments in her life reverence using the body of the paint that she uses and the movement of her gestures. She imbues life into the images she keeps and makes, magician’s trick that makes each of them much more than a bowl of fruit or an arrangement of vegetables. Hers is the hand that pushes you to see past the ordinariness of things, to break through the almost automatic register of mundanity and see the beauty in and of itself, not in spite of.
These are attempts at keeping still the lives around her (including her own) that carry on moving and changing. Never intrusive or restrictive, Navas’s paintings give honor to what has happened, no matter how small the “event” is and each of them give way for that which will happen next.
In “Bonsai,” poet Edith Tiempo writes “All that I love / I fold over once / And once again / And keep in a box / Or a slit in a hollow post / Or in my shoe.” This series of paintings is Navas’ way of scaling “all love down / To a cupped hand’s size,” to keep forever without holding on too strongly to memories that resist being kept prisoner. In this way, they are kept alive and precious. (Carina Santos)