What a welcome development for the art scene that the creative minds behind Art Informal have decided to devote half of their line up for the year to sculpture exhibits. Already, they’ve chalked up some pretty good ones: glass and stone pieces from Noell El Farol and Mervy Pueblo, works on clay in Himasmas, woodwork
from Riel Hilario. Even more exciting, Joel Alonday, one of the gallery’s prime movers and its resident curator, also the 2008 Metrobank Foundation awardee for Achievement in Sculpture, finally shows his own pieces. Because of his responsibilities in developing AI’s exhibits and conducting its workshops, Joel’s fans and collectors have had to wait three years for this solo appearance.
Few of us know that Joel’s background in industrial design led him to a stint as an exporter in the 1980s. Not content with merely developing products for foreign markets, he also learned how to fabricate them. He honed his skills in basketry and sewing, carving wood, welding iron, and working with resin. Eventually, his nine to five job crossed into more creative pursuits. As his firm exported papier mache products in 1987, he joined the art group Hulo and exhibited life-sized papier
mache sculpture. It took a few years before his first solo show. In 1994, at the CCP, he presented mixed media assemblages. By 1997, he committed himself fully to sculpture, collaborating with curator Bobi Valenzuela, showing first in Hiraya, then Boston Gallery.
Markings signals a departure for Joel, a break from monumental pieces in cold cast marble. This time, he holds off on busts of our national heroes and denizens of classical mythology. Instead, he takes us on an intimate journey through his personal and artistic life. He works with clay, occasionally combining it with wrought iron, experimenting with different glazes to finish his pieces. He installs his pieces chronologically, grouping together works that recall specific periods and events.
We begin at the gallery’s foyer. In Fairytale, Joel portrays a mermaid’s tail as a fragile and delicate skeleton, gently curving as if ready to swish. Through its slightness, he illustrates how easily a myth crumbles with the onset of adulthood. He uses locally-sourced clay for this piece, a variety developed by potter Jon Pettyjohn. Mortuus Mens means death of the mind. It is a depiction of the god Shiva, atrophied from the inactivity of its brain. You first notice that this figure wears its brains like a rapper’s skullcap. Its torso has six arms and they hang limply on its side. Before devoting his days to his art, Joel felt brain dead, paralyzed by his daily corporate grind.
Joel lets us into his internal struggles with his faith via two pieces. The humorous Mooning portrays the devil burrowing his way back to the underworld with only its long and spiky tail visible to us on earth. Seed takes a more sombre tone, with its bust of Padre Pio, recently canonized, a source of miracles.
My favorite piece, Disguise, speaks of past heartbreak at the hands of women who are not what they seem to be. Lift up her hair and voila, she takes on a different persona. Almost unnoticed, the tips of her wig end in goat horns. Posporo is the last piece Joel finished for this show, at the point when he felt spent and burnt out.
While the tragic events brought on by Typhoon Ondoy make the art scene seem irrelevant for now, it would be a pity to miss out on Joel’s show. After all, we may have to wait another three years for the next one.
Markings by Joel Alonday runs from 24 September to 24 October 2009 at Art Informal, 277 Connecticut St., Greenhills East, San Juan. Phone (632) 725-8518 or visit http//:www.artinformal.com