New paintings by R.M. De Leon
November 10 – 28, 2017
Archivo 1984 Gallery
Pasillo 18, La Fuerza Compound 1, #2241 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Opening: Friday, November 10, 6PM
In RM de Leon’s words, the works in this show have no specific narrative, nor do they have an agenda, hence the exhibition’s title: No Plans. And while this is a risky undertaking in today’s politically-charged climate, this is a risk de Leon is willing to take in the name of a practice built on deriving order from chaos. The pieces in this exhibition were created over an extended period, in different contexts, and the result is a carefully considered look into his ongoing engagement with form and composition. Referring to this series of works on paper, de Leon explains that he “can be critically black humored if it need be, but this current show is about ‘formal elegance’.”
Ramon Manuel de Leon began his education in the arts with an Industrial Design degree at The University of Santo Tomas, before he transferred to the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines, where he majored in Advertising. He made one last shift to Studio Arts, majoring in Painting, and in this early trajectory, we might attribute the confluence of the commercial and the critical in de Leon’s work. “I’m like a sponge and I absorb what interests me and let it go through some filtration on my own systems,” he says of the multiple interests that inform his works on paper. It is in the care he takes not to fill the page that we find a demonstration of the “filtration” of which he speaks.
For de Leon, the lack of an agenda, or “plans,” for this show should not automatically translate into political apathy. He cites the sculptor and painter, Kara Walker, on the privilege of artists to incite, provoke, or remain passive in their attempts at portraying the world as best as they can. A consciousness of his context is seen in his playful bordering on irreverent treatment of existing pictorial compositions, such as the portrait or the landscape, and in his liberal appropriation of pop cultural elements. Forms are voided of any distinguishable features and brought to the foreground in contrasting acts of erasure and amplification. Cartoon(ish) characters float in negative space, without any of the sharp, clear lines that make them easy to identify, and tools like stamps and screens are used to achieve a level of flatness that is then negated with drips and smudges.
The chaos in order—as well as the order in chaos—that results from de Leon’s manipulations of pigment and paper demands a double take. Here, both the Rorschach test and its ensuing interpretation are flattened into a single pictorial ground, achieving a specific type of “retinal engagement,” to borrow de Leon’s words again. No Plans combines the formless with the familiar, whether through a shakily drawn line or unnervingly organic landscapes.
Through these subversions, de Leon’s work allows us to revisit questions about the tyranny of the visual in contemporary art, shifting our attention instead to texture and other sensory experiences. By referring to his works as “figurative abstraction,” De Leon quotes Wassily Kandinsky, the German painter, whose work was driven by melody and composed on the canvas almost the same way a composer would notate music along a bar. A similar musicality can be seen in RM de Leon’s work, thus shifting the experience of his work to the aural: lines and colors appear to dance on the paper, occasionally disrupting each other, but often colliding in a mindful and engaging harmony.
Unlike Kandinsky, however, the works surveyed go beyond the precision that makes it possible to compose and perform music in the first place. Instead, de Leon’s works on paper demonstrate the possibility of coherence in what is improvised, hence the title: No Plans.
– Essay by Alice Sarmiento
In “No Plans”, De Leon continues his practice of deconstructing and reconstructing found imagery, creating new narratives that blur the lines between abstraction and representation.
Ramon Manuel “RM” De Leon, born in Manila (1960), earned his Painting degree at the University of the Philippines in 1984. From then on, his career has been a productive 33 years, bagging various prestigious awards and grants. He was a Cultural Center of the Philippines’ 13 Artists awardee in 1990 and was the first Filipino recipient of the Vermont Studio Center scholarship for studio arts program in painting in the U.S.A. He currently teaches at the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde.