Jose John Santos III’s {UN}Common Sense

John Santos goes UnCommon

Yes, it’s true.  Jose John Santos III takes a leap, makes a volte-face, and gets rough.  In this show, we’re in for a surprise.

Jose John Santos III, "Inside Out"

With his small, spare frame and self-effacing manner, you at first don’t notice the intensity in John’s eyes.  But get him started on his art, on this new direction he has shifted it to, and it’s his eyes that engage you, even without him directly looking at you.  They turn incandescent brown as he speaks about his plans.  His measured words wrap you up in discussion. You forget that somewhere in this metropolis, a political wedding dominates the airwaves, along with the threat of another typhoon barreling towards Manila.

Jose John Santos III, "Relief"

That he can hold audiences in thrall counts as a given to the hundred art freaks, give or take a few, in the waiting list for his paintings.  We all know that perfectly finished, hyperrealistic, painstakingly detailed figures spring from his canvases. The pull of his pieces comes from the unexpectedness—even absurdity—of his images. John’s genius lies in his ability to inject the off tangent into what first appears to be innocuous tableaux.  Even he has admitted the comparison to Rene Magritte.  But then that simplifies his art too much.

In the magnificent piece, Behind The Scenes, from the collection of art aficionado Paulino Que, he turns an airport waiting area into a lounge populated by such disparate characters as a sheep atop a high chair, a man with a head of a horse, another with a box as its head. As Riel Hilario, former curator of Boston Gallery puts it, ”… what [has been] fascinating about John’s work throughout these years is its sheer inscrutability, owing surely to a calculated effort to throw viewers off, even as the works are handsomely crafted — which pulls viewer’s attention back to the work again and again resulting in a tug-of-war between our aesthetic judgment and reason.”  We have always delighted in unraveling John’s codes, in finding the meaning in the alternate reality of his narratives.

John, however, chooses to keep us off-balanced and intrigued.  For (Un)Common, his current show at Art Informal, he abandons what has been tantamount to a signature style and goes back to an earlier sensibility.

John installed an assemblage of objects used as subjects for his paintings at the gallery's entrance wall

Jose John Santos III, "Weather Vane"

“I guess I had always tried to make paint become what it isn’t, to not retain any of the paint’s qualities.  In this show, I wanted to feel the tangibility of paint, its sensuality, to leave traces of paint’s magic”, John explains.

He rediscovers his fascination for still lifes and mixed media assemblages. Each of his nine canvases depicts banal objects—trucks, paintbrushes, plastic bags, masking tape— integrated with actual objects.   No human figures, no narratives, no symbolisms, no double entendres.  He alters even his brush strokes, eschewing the fine finish for the coarse and abrupt.   What stays consistent is his deliberate, academic, even scientific, approach to constructing his pieces.  You can bet that John leaves nothing to chance in his craftsmanship, ensuring his works will stand the test of time.

(Un)Common plays on his immortalization of the common, everyday scraps that he chooses as the subjects of this show’s paintings. He experiments even with the sizes of his canvases:  five of them stand at six feet by nine inches, like long rifle boxes crammed full of an artist’s knick knacks. (Un)Common also refers to this move of confidence he makes as an artist, his veer towards his untested ground, his challenge to his creativity.

Jose John Santos III, "Clamped" and "Rolled Up"

How will his collectors react to this latest development in the art of John Santos?  Perhaps that’s the only part of this process that stays predictable.  They will love it.

{Un}Common runs from 19 December 2009 to 9 January 2010. at Art Informal, 277 Connecticut St., Greenhills East, Mandaluyong City. Phone:  63(2) 725 8518 or visit

Exhibit installation view

Note:  I reworked this post from an article that appears in the December 2009 issue of Rogue Magazine and the December 18, 2009 issue of Business Mirror

Tina Fernandez and Nathan Atienza


One Response to Jose John Santos III’s {UN}Common Sense

  1. april says:

    how can i contact mr.santos?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: