It’s been fascinating to follow Leeroy New’s creative process. The core of his art stays consistent. He explores the tenets of Filipino Catholicism and Philippine history and integrates these with his inclination for science fiction. In the last three years, this
has led him to conceive the most fantastic, three-dimensional creatures in Philippine art. We have seen the larger-than-life ones mounted in public spaces abroad: at the 2008 Singapore Biennale and the 2009 Fukuoka Triennial. I find it amazing that in his current show at The Drawing Room, Leeroy has found fresh and novel ways to express his sensibilities.
The show’s title, Corpo Royale, plays on the word corporeal. Like scientists, we are meant to scrutinize the tangible, physical forms of Leeroy’s works. Leeroy treats his pieces like specimens in a museum, encasing most of them under a clear dome. Each piece has its own light source, fluorescent bulbs lit from beneath white acrylic bases. He also makes extensive use of the small, brightly-colored resin figurines that debuted in Passive Aggressive, his solo show of a year ago at Art Informal. Now, like fecund aliens, they seem to have multiplied into even more phantasmagorical life forms, lending color and detail to each work.
Mother Of Pearls and Leche make use of familiar representations of the Infant Jesus and Mother Mary that we find in Filipino households. Leeroy turns them into his own statuettes, covering Mary’s form with dozens of pearl-like beads hewn closely together. Up close, they seem like pistules about to burst. Artificial teeth pieced like tiles in a mosaic follow the contours of Baby Jesus. Leeroy even dabs portions of the body with red paint, making the teeth look newly-fallen. Both figures have beady eyes that seem to me to be crying out for release, as if real souls are trapped within the casing of pearls and teeth.
Leeroy utilizes the embossed tin sheets frequently used to embellish carrozas and altarpieces for three of the works in this show. Death Mascara harks back to the pre-colonial tradition of covering the faces of the dead with masks fabricated from hammered gold. Here the mask is a tin skull, decorated with acanthus
leaves and curlicues, and topped by a circlet of the sun’s rays, just as a santo’s head would be. The tin sheets, curved and molded, entomb the blob mummified in Sarcophagus. While Sarcophallus once again references the pre-colonial Filipino. For this, the sheets assume the form of a bulul, the rice god from Northern Philippines depicted with its exaggerated proportions.
Corpo Royale also serves as the title to one of two wall-bound pieces. The omniscient eye recurs periodically in Leeroy’s work. Here he composes it from latex, gauze, and beads, all in monochromatic beige. The rubber and gauze give the piece texture, and initially, because of the intricate patterns, I thought Leeroy had used
piña, a fabric also associated with vestments and church rituals. Empire, Leeroy’s other wall-bound piece from latex, gauze, and strips of artificial blond hair, refers to the American empire and the pervasiveness of the American culture in the Filipino psyche.
In Vassel/Vessel, Leeroy arranges his resin figurines to form a cross reminiscent of a cathedral’s floor plan. And for Gorgon Sola, he positions them to radiate like spikes on a sphere, his version of Medusa and her head of snakes.
It was not my intention to catch the show after dark, when the gallery had been ready to close for the day. As it was, the darkness outside the gallery’s windows served as the perfect foil to Leeroy’s lighted pieces.
As is the case with most of his work, you have to make a point to view the pieces from all angles to catch Leeroy’s details. With light glowing from beneath or within, each one emits an otherwordly gleam.
Corpo Royale runs from 27 February to 17 March 2010 at The Drawing Room Contemporary Art, 1007 Metropolitan Avenue, Metrostar Bldg., Makati City. Phone (632)897-7877 or visit http://www.drawingroomgallery.com