• Start

    08 January 2015
  • End

    08 February 2015
  • Artist

    Sam Penaso

  • Venue

    Altro Mondo • Arte Contemporanea 3rd Level Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati City

As to who is the greatest artist of the twentieth century, there could be no doubt: Picasso.  The choice is inarguable, for this sacred monster of art broke barriers as no artist before him ever did. Indeed, Picasso changed the way man viewed reality when he introduced the concept of Cubism or the simultaneous viewing of every facet of objective reality. With synthetic Cubism, he introduced a piece of actual reality into his illusionary space. Thus was born the concept of collage, or papier collé, from the French word coller, meaning to cut.

Not only in painting but in sculpture, too, did Picasso revolutionize the medium, delivering sculpture out of the bondage of carving, modelling, and casting. Picasso introduced the sculptural concept of assemblage. In a supreme act of genius, he combined two unrelated parts, a bicycle seat and a handle bar, producing a totally new reality.  He called the sculpture ‘Bull’.  And indeed, it has the likeness of the real beast.

The concept of assemblage caught on, in particular in the works of fellow Spaniard Julio Gonzales, who as an iron smith, even taught Picasso how to weld. In America, the sculptor who elevated assemblage to a monumental level was David Smith. Considered his equal was Alexander Calder, who introduced the element of motion into sculpture. He called his works mobile.  In England, the sculptor who perfected assemblage was a one-time assistant to Henry Moore named Anthony Caro, who introduced the idea of sculpture out of the pedestal and onto the ground. In the Philippines, assemblage was largely the work — not of Napoleon Abueva, as most will surmise – but of F. Elizalde Navarro who was himself an excellent painter. Another assemblagist, to coin a word, is Gabby Barredo, who brought the practice to an operatic and surrealistic level. Adding a humorous touch to assemblage is Pete Jimenez.

Now, a young artist exhibiting his assemblage works at the Altro Mondo Gallery is Sam Penaso, who initially made his presence known in the art scene though his relief paintings. They are all-over works characterized by an elevated surface, a multitude of reliefs that coursed their way through a minefield of variegated designs. These reliefs are what his audience has always associated him. Now Penaso has given physical form to these reliefs in wall sculptures that navigated several level of artmaking.

These works, titled generically ‘Metalscapes’, are quite rightly assemblages, for they have been assembled from a litter of disposed metal parts. Like Barredo and Jimenez, Penaso scours the junk shops of Metro Manila. These assemblagists prove the adage, “One mans trash is another man’s treasure”.

And treasures are what Penaso has converted these metal parts into: flat pieces of non-recognizable silvery plates securely welded together in overlapping configurations. As such, they could also be called ‘drawings in space’, a phrase first ascribed to the works of David Smith. But since Penaso works have a ‘flatbed’ quality (a phrase first used by the critic Leo Steinberg to describe the works of Robert Rauschenberg, still another assemblagist, but called his works ‘combines’), indeed Penaso’s works are ‘drawings’ on a flatbed surface of its own making, mimicking doodles and casual markings, but are so physically present that they protrude from the walls on which they are attached. The pieces are so intelligently integrated; one hardly notices when one part ends and another begins.

In a few works, Penaso deftly insinuates the human visage: eyes, nose, mouth emerge from this welter of metal parts, thrusting their presence, gazing straight out into the viewer. In other works, Penaso challenges the viewer to identify objects and to unlock them from the context of an abstract field.

To be sure there is a dancing quality to these ‘Metalscapes’, a restless and ceaseless oscillation of energies, felt through the freewheeling, rioting and floating metallic forms, exalting in the unexpected arbitrary of found junk parts. It is Penaso’s sensitive eye for design and composition, his playful dialogues with his materials that delight in their eccentric irregularities, inviting the viewer to step into the threshold of shadows behind the wall reliefs when sharply spotlit .

As the famous line from the classic movie “Casablanca” says:  “Play it again, Sam!”

— Cid Reyes