So what exactly is a painting? That seems to be the question that Nilo Ilarde asks us to consider as we make our way around the colossal pieces of Painting As Something And The Opposite of Something, his solo exhibit currently on view at Finale Art File.
On a visual level, the show is spectacular. We get that wow factor without feeling overwhelmed by the number and the size of his work. While we see treatment that recall past pieces (words scraped on the wall, empty tubes of paint), we come upon surprising additions.
We all know that Nilo puts his curatorial stamp on a good number of shows in Manila. So he knew exactly how to work with Finale’s expansive Tall Gallery. But we also know that Nilo challenges on another, more cerebral, level. And his exhibits engage all the more because of that.
For starters, we have been asked to suspend our conventional notion of paintings, and accept the five pieces he has on view as his paintings, unorthodox as that may sound.
The first of those five immediately catches our eye. Scratched out in gigantic letters that fill most of the gallery’s long wall, Nilo appropriates Martin Kippenberger’s cheeky request: Dear Painter, Paint For Me. The line comes from the title of Kippenberger’s seminal suite of works from 1981 that also turned painting on its ear. Kippenberger had a sign painter execute his portraits in various stage-managed tableaux. In Nilo’s piece, the statement on the wall is itself the finished product. You have a painting, albeit one that had undergone the reverse process from the norm. Paint has carefully been stripped off wood, rather than brushed on it.
Across from this, we see a glass receptacle that houses hundreds of used paint tubes. We saw about half this amount in 2009, as I Have Nothing to Paint, and I’m Painting It. Now with double the number collected from various artists, Nilo has transformed the piece into The Void Speaks In Each Painting, Between The Brushstrokes. Here we see the response to Kippenberger’s plea: Nilo’s colleagues, dear painters all, have indeed painted for him. Composer John Cage once said that the gap between the notes can also be considered as music. Discarded paint tubes make up a painting’s gap. Thus, these repositories of paint, from which several paintings had been created, collectively make up a painting too.
Beside the amassed tubes hangs a boxing ring’s old floor,
resurrected, with much cajoling, from the Elorde Sports Center storage. This massive square of printed canvas acts as Nilo’s third painting. He installs this as a diamond, a nod to Mondrian’s Victory Boogie Woogie. Filled with drips of sweat accumulated from the numerous boxers who have sparred on it, their DNA served as the paint that completed the piece.
How can we miss The Road To Flatness? A crushed blue car suspended high above the gallery’s far wall and installed just as a large-scale painting will definitely receive its share of attention. A hired pay loader went to work on an old Volkswagen Beetle until the car had been completely squashed. The pay loader mimicked an Abstract Expressionist, levelling the car’s figure, obliterating all but it’s basic form.
In Making Nothing Out Of Something, Nilo goes further than merely scraping off paint from the gallery’s walls. With the intent to start afresh–he uses the term Tabula Rasa– he completely removed all traces of what had been in that portion of the wall, layer by layer, until only empty space remains. But the irony is, because the emptiness gives us a peek into what we did not see before (Finale’s backroom), he hasn’t really created nothing. We get a framed look at more paintings—Nilo’s final painting of stacked paintings.
“The paintings are about paintings thinking about paintings”, is how Nilo explains his work. We could probably say the same thing about his impact on us. Once we’ve gone beyond the visual feast, the show gets us thinking about paintings too. Well, it did me.
Painting As Something And As The Opposite Of Something runs from 9 July to 2 August at the Finale Art File, Warehouse 17, La Fuerza Compound, 2241 Pasong Tamo, Makati City. Phone (632)813-2310 or visit http://www.finaleartfile.com