HomeExhibitions2020 ExhibitionsIN ISOLATION



NOVEMBER 19, 2020


WRITTEN BY Carlomar Arcangel Daoana


A Loving Hand in Praise of Van Gogh

Perhaps, no other artist commands the same devotion as the Dutch master Vincent van Gogh. More than a century after his death, praise to his coruscating works continues to pour—from musicians to poets to filmmakers and, of course, to fellow painters. His choice of subject matter, his painterly brushwork, and his bold use of color have continued to inspire generations of visual artists who see van Gogh not merely as a virtuoso ahead of his time, but as a romantic figure married to his craft.

Mark Lester Espina, in his solo exhibition, In Isolation, honors the memory of van Gogh in a collection of bust sculptures and paintings that present the likeness of what some people perceive as a gifted but tragic figure. Known for his unique application of dried-up pigment onto the pictorial surface, Espina must have resonated with the raking impasto of van Gogh, who saw paint not merely as material to describe the world but to express deeply felt emotions.

In a suite of portraits, the Expressionist master is presented as how van Gogh saw and depicted himself in his self-portraits. Espina’s interpretation features the man in monochrome, inflected with thick and dazzling scales of pigment applied on his clothes. Surrounded by a heavily gilded frame, van Gogh is presented no longer as a common man but as a legend, whose brief career in art nonetheless has blazed beyond his lifetime.

The sense of van Gogh’s iconicity is further expanded by a collection of bust sculptures, in which he “wears” the pigments of Espina. In different colors (as bright and as exuberant as what van Gogh had used), these sculptures are meant to translate van Gogh’s lasting fame to a contemporary language, which could be traced to Pop Art when Andy Warhol laid dazzling layers of color on the serigraphed portraits of celebrities.

The main piece of the exhibition is “Our Daily Bread,” an appropriation of van Gogh’s “The Potato Eaters,” whose figures, according to its painter, are meant to be conveyed to “have tilled the earth themselves with these hands they are putting in the dish… that they have thus honestly earned their food.” In his interpretation of this painting, Espina comments on the honest labor of the poor whose “daily bread” has to be earned with more than enough measure of strife and difficulty.

In conceptualizing the show, Espina found affinity with van Gogh, especially in the context of the pandemic and the consequent lockdown when people were asked to stay home to disrupt the perpetuation of the infectious novel Corona virus. Not alien to isolation, van Gogh had to live in the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole for 53 weeks, after cutting off his ear. While van Gogh considered the aloneness as “sometimes hard to bear as exile,” he also saw it as a necessity “if we want to work.” Indeed, van Gogh produced some of his most famous works at Saint Paul. In Isolation, by honoring van Gogh who made the most out of his solitude, instructs the viewer to see solitude as a kind of tonic for the soul.