Dire Patterns by Antipas Delotavo

The Sheltered Lives in Dire Straits

Dire Patterns: Antipas Delotavo

Images used with the permission of NUS Museums

The modest solo exhibition consists of 5 works, in 2 spaces: the first, a darkened space with a projection of a watercolour portrait painting in progress; the second, 4 three metres wide canvases painted with hyper-realism. Antipas Delotavo’s work is relatively new to the Singapore audience. Skilled in representational painting and tagged by art critic Alice Guillermo as a Philippine social realist, these paintings are more universal in the climate of the green movement or global financial crisis in recent times. 3 out of 4 paintings are very theatrical, like a photographic moment frozen in time. Except here, the moment frozen is more  surrealistic, predictive of times to come. It might remind one of Rene Magritte’s work, challenging one’s perception of reality and forcing us to re-examine our assumptions of what we ‘see’. TV buffs might say they resemble “flash forwards” but they are more like omens than paths of destiny. The canvases act as dream catchers, distilling the artist’s premonitions.They seem to reflect the sheltered lives young Asians lead, sheltered against the external environment in dire straits.

The exhibition title can be interpreted as illustrating extremely serious or urgent trends in the apathy of our world to economic, natural, or terrorist-related disasters.

“The Nature of Beast” reminds us of a bullish stock market, indicative of a stock market recovery. But then again, it is a mere symbol, a static icon that creeps in as wallpaper patterns, The balanced black and white tiles remind one of a chess board, evoking the familiar expression “life is like chess”, suggesting there are greater beings in control of Man’s fate. It also brings to mind the saying “music soothes the savage beast”, suggesting the pianist might be playing a sonata ritual to ease the stock market. Or the bull might really be the pianist’s imagination, economy recovery an aspiration that may come to a naught.

“Pass De Deux” is another interior painting, featuring 2 ballerina’s oblivious to the explosion in the distant buildings. With threats of terrorism in the real world we inhabit, and civic unrest in South East Asia, the painting reminds me of the ambivalent position the visual arts take, or may contradict: On one hand, the aloofness of high art is rather resistant to depreciation and immune to adverse economy fluctuations; on the other, activist art has the power to stir the minds and body into action. Some art draws its inspiration from universal themes such as love, geometry or the human body, others stem from global events that rock the world. This painting sits on the fence, offering no resolution to the dilemma of high art and hard reality.

The title-less ‘work’ that features the projection, and a horizontal plasma panel screen offers two interesting scenarios. Firstly, the work presents a documentation of the process of painting a watercolour portrait. Secondly, it is a watercolour portrait painted from a projection. While the difference is subtle, it acknowledges artists’ dependence on technology to make art – much like Vermeer was often regarded to be aided by a camera obscura to create the most stunningly mathematically proportionate one-point-perspective paintings. ‘Dire Patterns’ here, could refer to the trend of relying on technology  such that it might over-take the humanistic processes involved in art – of observation and instinct.

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