Portraits for the end of the world

In Photo: God Of War Is Man Itself and Empty throne

IN the search for revolutionary ideas, artists often forget about the basic requirements of art. Art can be a visual metaphor that uses images and objects to create links between different ideas. It uses analogy like the simile comparing the likeness of terms. Unlike simile, metaphor equates their meaning. But more powerful than all of the above is the allegory because it illustrates complex ideas in simple ways that viewers can comprehend. When it instills morality and ethical order as it usually does, it becomes a way to control the masses.

Anton del Castillo’s latest work extends the allegory by displacing hierarchical values of good and evil, and replaces them with something more discerning—the truth of portraits.

The truth is that the most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are, Jim Morrison said. In the show, titled The Waiting, which was on view until January 25 at Mizuma Gallery’s booth in Art Stage Singapore held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Center, the artist presents for the very first time not only portraits but representations that work on the level of what-you-really-are.

He does this without preaching the vaunted ideals of traditional mythmaking and the proselytizing of earlier belief. The latter methods, like much of religious art, were aimed to employ regimes that made institutions of their political power. The icon was not merely an image but the actual presence of the deity, sold to sow wet dreams of an afterlife. Using the extremist’s example, that’s like the promise of heaven that can turn fundamentalists into murdering martyrs. Now that’s a loaded simile. Instead, del Castillo looks for alternatives.

He deals with the issue: Contemporary art often fails to be contemporary. The temporal factor may be present, but the personal symbolism employed by the solitary genius self-references his dictatorship to the point where he leads his cult below the level of significant change. What we know as Marcel Duchamp was different because he ushered in a movement that continues to the present age. When an artist follows Duchamp in different guises, he is not revolutionary.

Revolution changes the world. If one insists on finding something positive about the present, it must be said that its only redeeming aspect lies in its self-destruction, its negation into the ether of other possibilities, its commitment against itself by revolution, to paraphrase Guy Debord. But this should not be the mere choice of the artist.

Revolutions must commit themselves to the social. In The Waiting, the images count the hours before annihilation in order to bring about their future.

They’ve been waiting for metamorphosis, just like the masses who scream entitlement to all the world’s profits, not realizing that they had already signed the warrant of their own slavery by buying into the system. Revolution wants to free you from your chains.

In Standoff, a painting measuring 6 by 10 feet, a negotiation takes place before the trigger is pulled. The work shows a dynamic between two powers. Although we often perceive the world through a Western viewpoint, Eastern sensibilities have come for the challenge. The piece conveys the deadly negotiation now taking place among billions of players. When superpower status changes hands from the West to Asia, will there be an integral change to the system or will there be only a change of players? Will you follow Western or Eastern thought?

In this battlefield, one comes across the woman of The Waiting Diptych the dionysian tendency who could be the harlot of Babylon drunk on her own excess. As a portrait of today’s consumerist culture, it partners well with the man of The Waiting Diptych, the profiteer.

The only sculpture in the collection, The Witness comes in the form of a dog with a studded collar and gas mask. In an age where god is a creation, the next best thing to love is the witness to all that transpires. The omnipresent god is replaced by the dog, not by reading god backward, as Satanists are fond of doing (god = dog), but by the dog’s slavery to the spectacle of performance. Caught in the triviality of the moment, the dog serves its masters for what it lacks, while the masters strive to create newer needs for its god to consume. But needing signifies a negation.

Del Castillo has once said, “It is better to desire.” Who wouldn’t want a dog to follow your every command? Ultimately the scenario leads to a battle for markets, because there is a god to please and a dog to command in everyone.

Every world order has established a center. Despite the diffusion of power to multiple points, a revolution has a tendency for concentration.

The one who wins this war is still unnamed. In God Of War Is Man Itself, he is the warrior who fights continually, who creates war in all the spheres. Now take note of this: The surest way to ensure the destruction of the system is to follow its inherent logic to the extremes. That is why we’re a firm believer in every opinion and see no contradictions in reality. After all, the most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are.

The future demands a leader who will make it happen. We are all waiting for someone to save us from ourselves. The last painting shows the Empty Throne.

As for technique, del Castillo’s latest paintings are a resumption of his exploration with the potentials of traditional gold leaf icon making, following methods developed by Byzantine artisans in the eastern half of the Roman Empire.

As much of contemporary art flattens quality into a zero, he provides the resumption into well-crafted objects befitting imperial tendencies. Iconoclasm was also prefigured by Emperor Constantine V’s public policy which venerated the profane over the sacred due to disputes in scriptural interpretation. As a tendency, iconoclasm often partners with major political or religious changes, the likes of which we would like to see in Asia to make the world one.

After his outing at Art Stage Singapore, del Castillo flies back to Manila where he will unveil at Art Fair Philippines his latest cycle of metal sculptures depicting the dualism of hunger and war as main features of the present age. Luckily, we’ll be able to see them during the vernissage on February 5 at The Link in Makati. We can’t wait to show you the pictures.

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