Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Read All About It! UV Light-Reactive Paintings in Manila

UV light-reactive paintings

For those interested, there are two vital elements in this painting indulgence that need to work in tandem--the ultra-violet light source, often a fluorescent UV-A blacklight with low range of 400 nanometers (deemed totally safe for homo sapiens) and the ultra-violet light-reactive paint pigment. In between I have to wedge myself to partake in UV painting process. My mission: take control of areas of canvas where UV pigments should and should not be; to deceive and reprogram my brain's traditional painting habit that from now on white canvas shall appear black under UV light; and forever pursue the need to manufacture new neurons along the way.

The technique is not new, I thought, a bizzare deja vu of scratchboard art in my pubescent years, where poor artisan had to work in reverse and necessitate falling in love with negative spaces. Now it is deja UV, to go on a safari hunt and tame the blinding brightness of unusual pigment; to use white paint as “black” and to paint with liquid “optic fibres”; to confess that to lose control is to become a pig of pigments and to be lulled stupid by the gimmicky luminescence of a drippy Pollock of a canvas (which may not be a bad idea at all:).

When I was a younger man who patronized Vasquez Bros. art supplies stores in Manila, I asked an older artist how to paint. His retort was simple. “Paint!” Of course! ..but it mocked yet ironically inspired my illusions until I arrived at a dark, dead-end alley, where an obscene graffiti on wall read out: No shortcuts in doing serious painting. It then became clear that no one could actually teach another to paint. The art teacher is only a sherpa while self-taught student is left alone to climb the peak and etch an indelible mark on his canvas.

There were times contrasting internal dialogues assaulted my brain.

  • Oh dear; glow-in-the dark serious art? Oh Edd, you gotta be kidding!
  • No I'm not! Does it make any difference to you if paint I use is visible only under UV light whilst admiring your mother's portrait?.and by the way, the paintings don't light themselves up independently in darkness, I use a UV lamp!
  • Gimmicky mate, gimmicky; get back to your newspaper drawings!
  • But..but..I'm dead-serious about doing anything be it a cartoon, illustration, painting or whatever, and what about my day job? It sustains my pursuits doesn't it?
  • Sure buddy; never, ever give it up.
  • I won't take that as an insult, thanks for the challenge. I still want to share a part of myself with you..even if so vicariously.

The mental chat stopped when Goethe reared his philosophical head..”Work artist, don't talk!”
Nevertheless the older painter at Vasquez Bros forgot to tell me how to choose the painting medium that shall suit a vague artistic skill.

 It was I think about 3 a.m. when I heard the Sydney Council garbage truck doing its round. I felt thirst and hunger and thought of toasted bread instead of burnt corneas. Dizzy I was after enjoying about 5 hours of continuous and mesmerizing paint work. My legs shook a bit for I can never paint sitting down. The chair restricted my movements. I put down my brushes and replaced the paint lid.

Well, how about I make milk shake out of UV powder that ironically rejects the invisible light of Sun God Ra? Ah, to taste art literally is afterall as ancient as the noble Australian aborigines who chewed chalky, saliva-enriched white clay to blow over their hands pressed against their ancient cave walls and then leave a long-lasting legacy as paleolithic as those in Lascaux. But then I don't think I'll enjoy my pasta after using roof of mouth as paint palette.

Tedium and chaos defined my early explorations (2004). The dark mental cave I strayed in was full of confused bats and scorpions! “Go away!” I screamed; ..or I shall be ultra-violeNt!
Google image: a scorpion under UV light

Guano suddenly became fragrant as I carefully mixed UV pigments to achieve varying degrees of value and intensity. I was so desperate to bottle delicately each mix with intent to cover the whole ultra-violet spectrum. What a wonderful idea! What a clever sausage you are, Edd! I came out of the cave with a giant smirk in my UV powder-tarnished face, scratching the top of my hand while looking so evil and conceited. The darkness is my sweetheart, the cave my new playground and my newest ally, the UV torch shall help me guide my way through the dark caves. The UV light-sensitive arachnids scampered away as they acknowledged my eureka moment.

A-ha-ha! For the background I'll use ready-mixed #1 and for the foreground, ready-mix #2 and so on. Perfect-o-o!

Then a ton of bat dump hit me; completely horrified after almost halfway through painting. What am I doing? Painting by numbers? I almost cried. Stupid me! Had to gather myself upon realization that they were not confused, blind bats just like me. It wasn't their fault. I spooked them and disappeared in disarray, that's why. Perhaps I should be living among these shifty creatures of the dark I thought. The chiroptera shall be role model for my pursuit.. to fly smoothly and dodge fine piano wires albeit flying blind. It dawned upon me that they were just being their natural selves. Active and reactive yet unformulated! The silent revelation was quick. From then on I've directly mixed pigment and acrylic-based vehicles on canvas I was working on. I dumped the palette.

A few years later the process became second nature and gave a comforting self-confidence to authorize finality to its exploration. It was time to settle down and bring back to life my old punk-haired sables and seriously romance the medium. The old dry-brush technique was rehashed to become a new religion in the arid desert of my adopted land. It was rapture for this a la prima atheist, the writing on the wall has changed. It announced a genesis of a line.. “Let there be UV light!”

I sang in full oido; hoo-ray no more ready-mixed palettes! The academic and monochromatic color wheel rolled away to oblivion as I duplicated spontaneously various paint mixes over and over again just by eye alone..likewise, the UV light which seemed to mock me initially like that old painter had offered its secrets, its provocations falling silent as the challenge shifted to a more interesting phase, i.e. to home in on concepts that begged physical manifestations. I was back in my turf.

Man (to include woman) is always center and theme of my paintings ever since, even editorial illustrations I do for Australian newspapers. I quite feel at a loss doing landscapes without the representation of Man who offered scale to a vast nature. Nature and human nature, aren't they one and the same?

This particular Manila exhibit is humble tribute to women whose images bask under a different light. Most of painting subjects are those of Filipino and Australian models and also include two vicarious works based on old photographs of two indigenous women, one by Eduardo Masferre and the other a detail from a 1900 photograph by a US government photographer posted in the Mountain Province at the time. I've also included the image of my own mother carrying the 2-year old me in 1951. I thank her. I have somehow closed the arcs of a mysterious loop.

I invite you to witness (silayan in Tagalog) the incredible, invisible rays of the light spectrum which could only reveal my latest paintings to be displayed at theYuchengco Museum this February. The show shall run until April of this year. 

All through out the time I was preparing this UV show a certain Filipino song kept playing in my mind, vivid and perhaps better sounding than the one in my MP3 player. May I remind you of its beautiful tune by Nicalor Abelardo and lyrics by Teogenes Veles. It is a 30-year old Tagalog Harana. Maraming salamat po.


Silayan at bigyan ng pag-asa
pagmamahal pusong nagdurusa
iwasan ang pag-aalinlangan
lahat ng araw kita'y mamahalin

Sa labi ng imbing kamatayan
itangi yaring pagmamahal
tulutan magtapat sayo hirang
lahat ng araw kitay' mamahalin

Here's an amusing version by Charmaine Clamor. The song is often retitled affectionately by most people as "Lahat ng Araw". Charmaine lives in America where the Philippine sunlight reaches and burns bright in her heart.
Philippines sans frontieres!