LIFE'S A BEACH
by Nina Garibay
June 25, 2020
Beneath The Blue of The Waves
The sea sits formless and structureless, a vast expanse of water that dances around rocky cliffsides and sharp fjords, along sandy coasts where the tides wax and wane, as if reaching out to the land and then retreating back into the distance just as easily. Perhaps that is its appeal—it holds a mystery that is as clear as its depths. For as long as people have known of its existence, the sea was a symbol of hope, of life, of new discoveries. And for a nation whose history ties very closely to the waters, the sea inevitably shapes its identity, designing a culture and way of life that intimately weaves the past and future as it glides through the present.
Today, the sea takes on a new form. It’s a respite from the bustle of everyday life—a break, a holiday. For Filipinos, it’s a trip only a few hours away. You pack your bags and ride a bus or car; you lounge on the beach, beneath the heat and enveloped in the cool, salty breeze of the sea, waves crashing and voices rising above it in excited murmurs. It’s almost second nature to us; we are quite like the sea, its distant horizon almost like a hand reaching out to us in invitation. And yet, at a time when outdoor movement has become much more limited, we are slowly losing contact with this magic touch, cooped indoors and away from the freeing and liberating view of the seaside. In this respect, Nina Garibay’s first solo exhibition Life’s a Beach becomes an escape.
In a fashion that is distinctly Garibay’s, the works are a marriage between magazine collage cutouts and oil paint. Images are chosen at random from magazines, and then painted over with a careful hand. For the artist, it is a liberating process. There is a sense of control that comes with being able to choose which pictures to use, of cutting them to depict only what is wanted, and stitching them together and painting over their likenesses. And within this intimate process of creation between the artist and artwork there too is a subtle power play, as the artist skillfully commands the medium, and her materials, to produce a desired outcome. Garibay cites a fascination for the meticulous and almost “staged” nature of magazine journals, where every detail, from the positioning of images to the ordering of pages and advertisements, have an underlying agenda of influencing the average reader. By using photos from these magazines, and thereby removing them from their prescribed setting to arrange them across a canvas the artist has complete control over, Garibay is able to express a nuanced understanding of the role that art plays in the ways we, as the audience, process the information laid out before us, more so as we take into consideration the seasonality of magazines as they document the present in its most lavish and rather extravagant state. Even the use of oil paint gives the works more texture, as its flexibility allows for constant change to happen on the canvas, resulting in pieces that manage to be dynamic in its presentation and perceptive in execution.
And so we return to the sea. In Life’s a Beach, Garibay’s sea is an ever-present character in the background of her works. Painted in rich shades of blue and aqua, the waters are not intimidating. They are inviting and welcoming. They shine almost with a sparkling intensity that draws the eyes to its omnipresence, the light of the invisible sun reflecting on its surface as it snakes around and through the figures on the canvas, pulling even the viewer into its embrace. Against the calm of the waters are splashes of bright colors, at once summery and warm, almost nostalgic in its shade and hue. And for the audience whose only recollection of such summers seem like a lifetime ago, perhaps each stroke of the brush is meant to be like a memory come alive, vibrant and enchanting—a carefully curated collection of pictures and postcards, as if laid out before curious eyes that are encouraged to look and choose, to recollect and remember.
One major reference for this show is the work “Tagadagat” (2017), a collaborative large-scale mural by the artist’s father, Emmanuel Garibay, and Elmer Borlongan and Mark Justiniani. In the piece, a large boat floats on the sea, helmed by a man and woman on both ends, rowing in opposite directions, motionless and unable to proceed forward. For this exhibition, however, Garibay wanted to create a lighter version of that monumental work, still using the sea as an axis on which the figures move and are brought to the forefront. Unlike in “Tagadagat,” where the subjects are in the process of sailing across the vast sea, in Life’s a Beach, the figures stand close to the shore, somewhat still anchored on steady ground, right at the tip of one’s reach. And in these rather strange times we live in, the works begin to take on a more immediate meaning. It looks closer, at us, right now and within this moment, as we move day-by-day, sailing through these uncertain times, offering us glimpses of the things that were once reachable but no longer are.
The sea on its own is terrifying and almost sublime. In the day it is warm and all-encompassing; in the night it is cold and holds many secrets. In Nina Garibay’s Life’s a Beach, we see the sea not on its own but with us in it, as bustling figures that lounge, lay around, and stroll on the bright sand—moving, always moving, somewhere, someplace, in directions that are never always certain. And just like the works in this exhibition, we are reminded that the sea surrounds us. It flows in between islands and through cracks in rocks, always finding a way to go through, to seep through, to come out of ragged fissures and connect with one another, like a rich blue thread that glides smoothly around shores and coastlines, enveloping our spirits and collective memory as a people. The sea is a place of constant travel, but it is also immovable; it will always be present. Even in trying times like these where faint echoes of better days are the only sounds that travel across the distant horizon, we are still presented with the assurance that the sea will remain as we remembered it before, welcoming and familiar. But for now, we are invited to bask in the comfort of Garibay’s works—a series of pauses and still moments, a remembrance of bygone days, all golden and warm and still very fresh. Perhaps somewhere amongst the haze and confusion of today we will find a little bit of ourselves in each of the artworks—whether it be a sharp impression of something lost, or a mnemonic fragment of a prosthetic memory, one that reaches out to us softly, like the sea has always done in the days we could still stand near it, gentle like the waters that would lightly graze our feet.
– Elle Lucena