By Tito Genova Valiente / email@example.com
Frank H. F. Peñones is a poet and cultural worker. He is an indie film actor in a series of Bikol films, where he played lusty and passionate characters. Frank finds objects and then turns them into dialogues with himself, as in his series of autorretratos, self-portraits or esoteric selfies belonging to dreams and desires rather than mere documentations of empirical moments.
Frank paints but it is his way with wood with paints peeling or made to look peeled and faded that one sees through this artist, ardent always with his thoughts said to others. Things always look old and forgotten in the works of Frank. It is as if the objects and their composition are part of discarded elements in a finished product now unused or unnecessary.
A trio of figures recall African forms in curio shops of the 1960s and 1970s. Frank reconstitutes these memorized images. Where the figurines are almost like line-drawings in the collectible rendition, Frank embellishes them with accessories.
One, for example, is fitted with a breastplate. And is that a vulva with feathers around it? We look at the other figures and we try to figure them out. They are not Africans but a depiction of the native in us, when we put on accoutrements that remove us from the colonized image of ourselves into the exotica of tribes and, yes, imagined communities. These are all assumptions and their truth depends on how our imaginings correspond to what we think is correct or historically factual. History in Frank’s artworks is, of course, contentious and is repeatedly questioned as if its narrative is criminal.
One believes Frank is a poet in his installations and works of found objects. Not that painters are not poets but those who know Frank—and he loves to cultivate the mystery about his person—could find the wit even in his darkest verses and the musings on the discipline of Oriental poets, which he loves to subvert.
Perhaps subversion is really the key to the works of Frank Peñones. In one work, he has a framed collage which bears the name “Bikol Republik.” The search for this new nation as managed by a political group is fairly new but the artist refills the images with iconographies that hark back to the old nativistic movements in the region.
A blue sacred mountain that is hallowed by the rays of the sun occupies the center. Texts and anthropomorphic elements are found within frames. Two pieces have hands that seem to come from a sculptor’s studio. One hand has in its strong grip a bird. This bird, however, is again a plastic representation of the real bird, its face cartoonish. You can let your allusions go wild until you reach the domain of representations of struggles and freedom, and how that quest is plastic, malleable and not strong enough.
Another hand holds a round crystal ball. Below the objects is the number 1081. Is this about Proclamation 1081, the evil number that signaled the beginning of martial rule? The hand can be that of a dictatorship and the ball could be the time and the world in that time. Like all his other works, the elements of history and cultures are framed. Life’s experiences are bracketed for thinking because the artist thinks out always the world around him. Or, you can just look at the composition that assumes a talismanic power and allure. There is no need for a guide. The elements are, after all, present in the cultures and are waiting, in a sense, to be composed by a shaman, a charlatan, or a political activist.
What is a Frank Peñones without text as part of an artwork? A clipping from a book is pasted and framed.
But what should take our breath or faith away is this wild clustering of ragged wooded frames or fence, an anthropomorphic figure floating above, half-woman, half mutation, and the two words Nada and Dana. The first word is Spanish for nothing and the second is the Iriga language equivalent for nothing.
Go figure, I hear this always about the works of Frank. For some that is a command, for others it is a task. For those who have seen his works, they have only the option to look at the work and think about the world in front of them, always framed, condemned to be limited in space.