Pow Martinez liberally throws around the word astig. He uses it nonchalantly, with a casual shrug.
George Condo, the American artist who paints caricature-like figures with pursed lips, bulging eyes, and scrunched up heads? He’s astig. Philip Guston and his cartoonish renderings? Yup, him too. Ditto the Scottish animator David Shrigley, and provocateur Dash Snow, he of the hedonistic lifestyle who died of an overdose two years ago. On the local front, the word is reserved for the likes of Manuel Ocampo and Jayson Oliveria, purveyors of chaotic and sexually explicit images.
Clearly, the inclinations of this boyish, 28-year-old Ateneo Art Awards winner do not lean towards order and discipline, or anything remotely intense. He admits that his decision to become an artist stemmed from a distaste for academic work. “Hindi ako mahilig mag-aral”, a realization that prompted him to attempt UP College of Fine Arts. He discovered that that too required some sort of effort. Pow moved to Kalayaan College’s program after UP kicked him out for his grades (“Sumobra sa inom at sa jutes!”).
While in Kalayaan, classmate and friend, Robert Langenegger, drew him to the independent art space Big Sky Mind where Roberto Chabet, the iconic UP professor and former director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, conducted workshops and lectures.
“Para siyang Jedi Master”, Pow describes Chabet, considered by Manila’s art community as the pioneer of Philippine conceptual art. Here he found kindred spirits. “I realized na puede pala yung ganun, yung art na impolite, na messy. Yung art na gusto ko.”
Initially, Pow was drawn to more conceptual works, producing sound installations that jive with his predilection for punk music. He decided to paint two years ago, filling his canvases with thick dabs and smears of brightly colored paint, with crude figures that gravitate to the lowbrow, a nod to German artist Jonathan Meese (another astig). He called his paintings ridiculous. But that 2009 exhibit at West Gallery, 1 Billion Years, wowed the Ateneo Art Awards panel of jurors for its refreshing move away from the photorealistic images that permeated the auction circuit.
Three more solo exhibits have since followed: Hyper Blast Abominations in Mag: net and March of the Pigs at LOST Projects in 2010,
and Cut Hands Has The Solution, a return to West Gallery early this year. In between, Pow has been featured in numerous group shows. He also participated in a survey of contemporary Philippine art organized by Manuel Ocampo for the Freies Museum in Berlin last October. He laughingly recalls how one of the museum visitors told him that his work was the worst painting he had ever seen in his life. “Ok lang ‘yon. I want my paintings to take up your space. Na touch ko pa rin siya.”
Destroyed Planets, Pow’s solo exhibit at Pablo Fort, has drawings, paintings, an installation piece, and featured a performance from Pow on opening night. His paintings and drawings keep to his cluttered, rough, and raunchy aesthetic, but play with more abstracted forms.
For someone with such a laidback, relaxed approach to art, Pow counts among the busiest of today’s young visual artists. Concurrent to the Pablo show, he has a two-person exhibt at DAGC Gallery, and has works on view at NOW Gallery. He draws every day, filling sketchbooks in the Commonwealth Avenue studio he shares with girlfriend and fellow artist, Maria Jeona Zoleta.
There is an authenticity that emanates from Pow’s work despite his seemingly inconsequential subjects. He brushes off his success, almost as if it were accidental, even irrelevant. He would not do things any other way. As he scans the half-finished canvases that lean against the walls, Pow describes the essence of what he hopes to convey: “What if gago ang mundo?”
Is that astig or what?
Destroyed Planets runs from 20 August to 24 September 2011 at Pablo Fort, Unit C-11 South of Market Condominium, Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Phone (632) 5060602 or visit http://www.pablogalleries.com
An edited version of this post appears in the August 2011 issue of Rogue Magazine. See http://www.rogue.ph