In The Jungle and The Rain, Renato Barja Jr. takes us on a stroll through his former neighborhood, an urban landscape he douses with the color of unpainted
cement, the same ashen hue that water turns into after it’s been used to scrub off grime. He looks back at the love-hate relationship he maintained with this corner of Cavite, at the cast of characters he encountered for five years on a daily basis. With them he shared in the din, the putrid smells, the overall drabness of a working class community, one that recession and Typhoon Ondoy had reduced to skid row.
Jojo’s paintings echo the comic book illustrations he devoured as a child. His resin figurines take after the vinyl toys he also collects. Through his work, he introduces us to Bumbo the neighborhood butcher, who poses with carcasses of meat hanging a la Francis Bacon, or stands menacingly in 3D, clutching the pig’s head which will end up picked clean for pulutan. Then, there is the local crackpot, The Prophet. In his portrait, our eyes are directed to the puzzled expression of the dog he has enclosed in his arms, the same dog that stands by his side in his resin incarnation.
Because of the technique Jojo has adopted, we look at the people he portrays as we would protagonists in a graphic novel. Like characters of fiction, they draw us in but we remain observers rather than involved participants. We are concerned and curious, as we would be for actors on a stage. But as he has imbued his portraits and scenes with sympathy and humor, along
with splashes of bright color, he allows his characters to endear themselves to us. We can’t help the empathy with which we regard the commuter sleeping on the bus, or the fondness we feel for his sculpted figures: the bug-eyed rugby boys, the blind singing girl. From his work, we sense an obvious connection to the desolate denizens of his former hometown. More than that, we sense his affection too.
After all, he did portray himself as The Bleeding Heart Bird.
The Jungle And The Rain runs from 15 January to 9 February 2011 at Blanc Compound, 359 Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong City. Phone (63920) 927-6436 or visit http://www.blanc.ph