Valentine Willie Fine Art is pleased to present THE PAINTER’S EQUIPMENT, a solo exhibition by the internationally acclaimed Philippine artist Manuel Ocampo. Despite major museum exhibitions in Spain, France and America - not to mention inclusion in the world’s leading biennales of Venice, Berlin, Lyon, Kwangju, and his controversial inclusion in Documenta IX (1992) - this is Ocampo’s first solo exhibition in Asia outside Manila. It is a great coup to have this work in Singapore.
This exhibition for Valentine Willie Fine Art will show both new paintings and works on paper in Ocampo’s signature idiosyncratic style – a composite of popular icons plucked from Western culture and Filipino kitsch – motifs such as the swastika, crucifixes, pizza slices, phallus-like sausages, liquor bottles, ghosts, ghoulish dripping eye balls and excrement. It is no wonder Ocampo’s paintings have been tagged blasphemous, satirical, and ambiguous since the 1990s.
What sets this new work apart from a grunge counter-culture that is associated with so much contemporary art today, is Ocampo’s ability to filter this mad collection of references through his rich knowledge of art history, literature and travel. He has an uncanny knack of filtering and juxtaposing the banality of society and, yet, maintains its pulse so our engagement is one of curiosity, shock and intrigue. This is the brilliance of Manuel Ocampo’s imagery and it has garnered world attention over the past two decades.
This exhibition will challenge the viewer’s perception of what ‘desirable painting’ is, and how we attach meaning to his imagery. Furthermore, Ocampo in recent years has used the gallery as a blank canvas extending the experience of his paintings spatially. In all things, Ocampo hurls the unexpected at us: it is refreshing, it’s maddening and, above all, it is intelligent painting of our times. As Ocampo says,
“The strong symbolism in my paintings is presented as empty signs. I want to push the conventions of painting to the point of ridicule...to go beyond thought. The unspeakable content in my pictureless picture cannot be defined, but can only be imaginatively complimented with an otherworldly laughter.”
And laugh one shall. THE PAINTER’S EQUIPMENT by Manuel Ocampo will leave an indelible impression. It is an exhibition that defines Ocampo’s practice in this region and beyond.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
MANUEL OCAMPO is a Filipino artist whose work fuses sacred Baroque religious iconography with the secular and serious political narrative. His works draw upon a wide range of art history contains cartoonish elements and inspiration from the punk subculture. Manuel Ocampo has exhibited extensively throughout the 1990s, with solo exhibitions at galleries and institutions through Europe, Asia, and the Americas. In 2005, his work was the subject of a large-scale survey at Casa Asia in Barcelona, and Lieu d’Art Contemporain, Sigean, France. Ocampo's work has been included in a number of international surveys, including the 2004 Seville Biennale, 2001 Venice Biennale, the 2001 Berlin Biennale, the 2000 Biennale d’art Contemporain de Lyon, the 1997 Kwangju Biennial, the 1993 Corcoran Biennial, and 1992's controversial Documenta IX. His work was featured in many group shows in the 1990s, including Helter Skelter: LA Art of the 1990s, at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1992; Asia/America: Identities in Contemporary Asian American Art at the Asia Society, New York in 1994; American Stories: Amidst Displacement and Transformation at Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo in 1997; Pop Surrealism at the Aldrich Museum of Artin 1998; and Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2000. He has received a number of prestigious grants and awards, including the Giverny Residency (1998), the Rome Prize at the American Academy (1995–96), National Endowment for the Arts (1996), Pollock-Krasner Foundation (1995) and Art Matters Inc. (1991).
the pizza delivery device is just peachy
Sidling up to timeworn clichés - crucifixes, Klansmen and swastikas – Manuel Ocampo’s paintings have been described over the years as idiosyncratic, blasphemous and lewd. Known for their highly loaded motifs streaming Western thought against the Filipino psyche – kitsch imagery pregnant with political jabs and ambiguity – Ocampo’s paintings catapulted onto the world stage in the early 1990s.
While the art cognoscenti mulled over his hybrid abjections sipping glasses of chardonnay, Ocampo - customarily working against the grain - overhauled his ghosts of past. What emerged in the toxic haze of Manila – where Ocampo returned in 2003 after seventeen years abroad - was a narrative fascinated with phalluses, ghoul and excrement. It was a subject matter that bundled him within the anti-aesthetic camp of the day, painterly assemblages of sausages, dripping eyeballs, pizza, turds, mucous, and bones that burp and blurt off the walls with queasy insolence.
Caught somewhere between grainy b-grade zombie flicks and comic sub-culture, locating these images is not such a leap; the young Ocampo sketched cartoons for his mother’s newspaper while ‘touching up’ religious statues for the local priests to look old, later to be updated with the collision of Hollywood and Mexican-religiosity living in Los Angeles. It’s a foundation that folds into the adult amusing of Robert Crumb, bawdy jokes and grotesque fantasies of writer Francoise Rabelais, and so-called ‘pure abstractions’ of Philip Guston’s hooded globs. It is not surprising, then, Ocampo’s images relish in their lack of clarity and incongruity. It is a tango in the dark – off-beat and exciting.
It is this constant reinvention and rejection of systemic logic that remains core to the work of Manuel Ocampo. Simply, his paintings hold the patina of our time articulated as a mash of motifs, and it is this astute banality that is their success.
“...there will be abrupt stops, and meanderings like a drunken square dance:
one step forward, two steps back, change partners, stumble to the ground,
pass out, and sleep on your vomit.”
Read like a neon sign on a slightly seedy motel flashing ‘vacant / no vacancy…vacant / no vacancy’, Ocampo’s images slide between recognition and irreality. It is as though we are pedestrians through his dreams. His sketchy forms are stacked and balanced, largely leached of color for this show and floating on neutral backgrounds. Is it the retinal burn of a nightmare? An LSD flashback in tasteful sepia?
Ocampo constantly works against the convention of explanation opting to drift untethered - the ‘pictureless picture’ as he calls it. Affronting these works we are bought to question our own limits of comfort – of repulsion - as constructs of desire jostle between aesthetic and market definitions. What defines this point, he suggests, is when an image of shit turns into a strange attractor. Ocampo describes it as ‘intertextuality’, where meaning is not transferred directly from object or artist to viewer but rather is mediated through, or filtered by ‘codes’ imparted by a multiplicity of texts and stimuli - the physicality of the image.
“...In other words, a painting consists of precisely what cannot be thought;
it is that which goes beyond thought...an accumulator of ideas which scatter and
overlap as form, color, matter, proportion.”
So while a slice of pizza teetering top heavy on a purple sausage sets up an exciting spatial dynamic within a painting, it is primarily a delivery device for Ocampo in dismantling the conventions of painting to the point of ridicule. It’s working just peachy.
Simply, we can approach these paintings as a series of stage directions: exit stage left via door labeled ‘avant garde clichés’ – enter gallery, ‘understanding’ checked at the door and prepare for permeation of laconic ooze. His goofy composites remind me of the childhood toy “Mr. Potato Head”, the game of placing mismatched appendages to add personality to a plastic spud. Let’s not be too serious here.
Exorcised of art’s heady dictates, there is a sincere joy in the act of painting for Ocampo – the unguarded mark, bleeds and dribbles. The gesture extends off the canvas to the way the artworks are arranged in the gallery, working back into the space like a blank canvas, always thwarting convention with tongue firmly in cheek. There is dexterity across medium and scale that comes with prolonged making. It is deceptively intelligent painting.
“The work’s purpose is to keep one alert, ready to penetrate one’s conscience,
so that the painting can reveal itself for what it really is – an absurd body of accumulated information with no clear direction or intention to which imagination and meaning are casually attached. The viewer has to be armed with the unerring faith in the power of irony and streetwise to all the tricks of ridicule...”
Ocampo’s work does not sit easily within categories. It defines its own. By opening up the cracks in societal expectation, he allows something else to enter our perceptions. The space to be one’s self, unguarded.
“...my strategy is like the Bob Marley song from the Heathen,
“...[Rise and take your stance again]
‘Tis he who hides and runs away / lives to fight another day.”
- Gina Fairley
Quotes by Manuel Ocampo drawn from email conversations with the writer August – November 2010.
Born in Quezon City, Philippines. Lives and works in Marikina City, Philippines.
1985 California State University, Bakersfield
1984 University of the Philippines, Quezon City
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS
2009 Monuments to the Institutional Critique of Myself, Pablo Gallery, Manila
Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Brussels
Galerie Baerbel Graesslin, Frankfurt
2008 Uplands Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
Galeria Tomas March, Valencia, Spain
2007 Guided by Sausage, Nosbaum & Reding – Art Contemporain, Luxembourg
2006 Down with Reality, Galerie Jesco Von Puttkamer, Berlin, Germany. Bastards of Misrepresentation, Casa Asia, Barcelona, Spain
New Works, LAC, Lieu d’Art Contemporain, Sigean, France
2004 Galeria Tomas March, Valencia, Spain
Bastards, Galerie Baerbel Graesslin, Frankfurt, Germany
2003 Sprüth Magers Projekte, Munich, Germany
Wunderkammer, Gesellschaft Für Gegenwartskunst, Augsburg (Society for Contemporary Art Augsburg), Germany
2002 An All Out Attempt at Transcendence, Galerie Baerbel Graesslin, Frankfurt, Germany
Comprehensible Only to a Few Initiates, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris
2001 Presenting the Undisclosed System of References in the Loophole of Misunderstanding, Galeria OMR, Mexico City, Mexico
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2009 The Making of Art, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
2008 La dégelée Rabelais, organised by FRAC Languedoc-Roussillon, France
2006 Five Stories High, Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, USA
Wonder and Horror of the Human Head, 4-F Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Painting Codes, Galeria Comunale d’Arte Contemporanea Di Monfalcone, Italy
La Alegria de mi Sueños, Seville Biennale, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporanea, Seville, Spain
2002 Extranjeros: Los Otros Artistas Españoles, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Esteban Vicente, Segovia, Spain
2001 49. Esposizione Internazionale, Plateau of Mankind, la Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy (catalogue)
Berlin Biennale II, Berlin, Germany (catalogue)
Les Chiens Andalous, Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, USA (catalogue)
Vom Eindruck zum Ausdruck: Grässlin Collection (From Impression to Expression), Hamburg, Germany (catalogue)
2000 Partage d’Exotismes, 5th Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, Lyon, France
Sammlung Falckenberg (Falckenberg Collection), Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany
The Sensational Line, Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, USA
Bergen Kunstmuseum, Bergen, Norway (catalogue)
Sensibilidade Apocaliptica, Festival Atlantico ‘99, Lisbon, Portugal (catalogue)
1998 Double Trouble: The Patchett Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, USA (catalogue)
Pop Surrealism, The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut, USA (catalogue)
1994 Icastica, Galeria d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, Italy (catalogue)
Jean-Michel Basquiat & Manuel Ocampo, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, USA
1993 43rd Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., USA (catalogue) 45th Venice Biennial at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy (catalogue) Medialismo, Trevi Flash Art Museum, Trevi, Italy (catalogue)
1992 Documenta IX, Documentahallen, Kassel, Germany (catalogue)
Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, USA (catalogue)
1991 Mike Bidlo, Manuel Ocampo, Andres Serrano, Saatchi Collection, London, UK