Raul Lebajo’s Magic Realism
By Carlomar Arcangel Daoana
For decades, Raul Lebajo has been creating a body of work in the mode of surrealism, with the intersection of fantastical detail with humdrum reality. But unlike the surrealists before him, Lebajo’s paintings don’t necessarily evoke ephemeral instances of a dream but rather well-thought out articulations of the natural world rich freighted with associations and symbolism, which just so happen to reveal here and there elements of the magical.
In Beyond Profile, Lebajo provides us a fresh pathway to his spectacular vision. In painting after painting, we are shown the juxtaposition of the human with nature, establishing their symbiotic relationship and need of each other. Against strokes of color that essentially accrue into fields of abstraction, faces emerge bearing signs of organic growth: roots, flowers, trees. One work, “Tagapamasid,” eyes open on the leaves, unstintingly looking at the one who may theoretically arrest the growth of the budding plant. Everything that has life has agency.
Together, the works constitute a kind of insight into the fundamental scaffolding of life: the DNA, the cells, the invisible forces that permit growth, flourishing, and inevitable decline, as expressed through the manifold branching-out of creation. These works show that we are just one strand in this never-ending cyclical process. While the face is central in most of the works, those depicted simply reflect the larger environment—often in rich, variegated tones—around them, urging the viewer to see “beyond profile.” Their skin is not a protection but a porous membrane for the outside to seep through. Nature inhabits them as they themselves inhabit nature.
In eking out his visions, Lebajo inevitably creates his own interpretation of beauty, one that is made evident not by proper proportion and scale but by the surprise visitation of elements of his unique observations. These observations, while perceived by the mind’s eye, could not have been possible without his direct engagement with the natural world. When not painting, Lebajo works in his garden or in his farm, intervening into the soil, nourishing his plants, attuned to the shift of weather and climate. The elements are everywhere present in the paintings.
While active and prolific, as the output of this exhibit exemplifies, Lebajo has taken the stance of the hermit artist, who proudly works away from the noise of the art world, doing his own thing. Each time he surfaces he always brings with him works that are fresh, startling, and immediate, almost always delivering a jolt of insight. There is always something new to look forward to, as though his artistry, silently cultivated through all these years, has always lived in the eternal season of spring.