Ground Truth; Jim Orencio and Shannah Orencio on the landscape
by Riel Jaramillo Hilario
The genre of the landscape was recognized in the hierarchy of painting subject matter when the great art academies of Europe of the 17th to 19th centuries formally categorized artistic learning into well-defined fields. Even though painters have since engaged the reproduction on surface the image of a place for centuries before that, academic artists considered landscape painting as no less important than a set piece for a historical or religious narrative. Many have resisted this categorization, and some, including the Impressionists of the late 19th century, have used landscape painting as a way to react and respond to the changes that were taking place in the eve of modernity.
The same academic persuasion came to the practice of Philippine art in the early 20th century. In art schools in the country, landscape was a step above still life painting and below figurative art. However, this bias in training did not deter artists like Fernando Amorsolo, Dominador Castaneda and later with E Aguilar Cruz, Sofronio Mendoza, Vicente Manansala among others to pack their easels and paint in front of a scenery, often in junkets all over the rural areas away from the city. The language of landscape acquired an escapist, nostalgic taste for the distant, the bucolic. When Modernism came to sway over the aesthetics of Filipinos in the 60’s to the present, landscape is re-framed as a reaction to urbanization, the city, and even became critical to the very notion of place and space, taking on surreal worlds as also loci of artistic expression.
Father and daughter Jim and Shannah Orencio, both represent the divergence on the matter of landscape, with the former practicing its academic and classical form in painting, while the latter explores possibilities and nuances of the concept in contemporary photorealist approaches. The two-man show, Grounds at Art Verite in Taguig City, provide a sampling of how these artists approach the subject from different vantage points.
The title, Grounds, may very well refer to the common use of both painters with textured surfaces. Jim uses a unique primer of acrylic polymer mixed with sawdust which, when daubed with liquid paint, appears to be impasto strokes in the manner of Post Impressionists Bonnard and Seurat. Shannah utilizes a gesso foundation, laid on canvas with palette knife strokes revealing the weave of the fibers beneath. Yet her painting technique contrasts sharply with the texture in its emphasis on the smoothness of oil paint and its mannerisms of blending.
Jim, as mentioned earlier, takes a classical approach to landscape, despite his innovative painting material. His subject is a river running through a pristine forest, illuminated by the warm yellows and greens of a morning sun. The work is illuminism in its overall character, where color speaks for light, and acts as its impressionist herald, making the space depicted as a recipient of illumination, as a refuge of chroma.
Contrasting sharply with her father’s use of color, Shannah uses a monotone palette of deep blacks and warmer greys. Her subject is the ground that lies underfoot, where organic matter decays into the substance of the earth. Sans horizon, Shannah’s one-dimensional, frontal perspective re-frames landscape as an ecosystem, where the life and death exists in square feet of dirt. Yet due to her technique of well-brushed tones, the depiction of decay appears arrested, lyrical, and poetic.
The paintings of Jim and Shannah Orencio represent facets of the genre, and also its possibilities. Grounds not only portray the differences of aesthetics, but the show also demonstrates the malleability of the concept of scenery, horizon and the discipline of landscape painting as an independent painting tradition. The surface is also a world.
Grounds is on view at Art Verite Gallery, 2nd Floor, Serendra Mall, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig from December 2 to 14, 2017.
Jim Orencio is a member of the Antipolo-based artist group Salingpusa. His works are known to range from impressionist landscapes to depictions of turn of the century pastiches. He also curates and organizes exhibitions of contemporary artists for a number of galleries in Manila.
Shannah Orencio graduated with honors from the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. She has had her first solo exhibition at the Pinto Art Museum this year. Her works describe the lyricism that she finds in debris and decay.