In retrospect, artist Alfredo Aritcheta Liongoren imagined his past works and exhibitions to be layers of his self that he had to peel through. This points to the intimacy between the artist and his process of making: that he embeds parts of himself into his art as he casts them out to the world. Through painting, he embraced the turbulence of his emotions, speculated on the identity of the Filipino, celebrated his relationship with the Divine, and mirrored the ache of the environment. Through this gesture of peeling through these layers, he opens himself up and unveils his interiority.
Each of these layers affords a unique glimpse to Liongoren’s personhood, without any one of them capable of explicating all that he is. Hence, to arrive at what can be considered an ample understanding of him demands the delicate procedure of gathering layer upon layer of his artistry. Attempting at such, this retrospective exhibition, which also serves as a homecoming, brings together artworks from six decades of the artist’s practice: starting from his student years at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts in the early 1960s, to the succeeding decades—which have been typified by shifts between varying degrees of abstraction and figuration, and later, explorations with the overtly socio-critical and the performative. Laid down in themes and supplemented with archival materials, his artworks are treated as points within a matrix that one may trace along.
Through constellating these layers, one arrives at the realization of the significance of Liongoren’s bouts of seclusion and retreat. Unlike how these have been portrayed to halt or inhibit the development of his practice, the exhibition proposes that it is through these gestures of distancing from specific points of reference—the Manila metropolis, its art scene, and dominant ideologies—that he was able to open his practice to other generative trajectories: introspection, religion and spirituality, ecology, and the rich cultures within the South. It is in this frame that the exhibition views the shifts that the artist took among his abstractions. At an early stage in his practice, he was able to harness the potential of this mode to express his varying mental and emotional states, and to explore the world of form and material. Yet, later, his abstractions took on another tenor—one that is relational: both spiritual and social, possibly even political. It is also in this frame that his overtly socio-critical and performative works may be seen in the context of his participation to active citizenship and his grounding to spirituality.
By viewing these layers, one also gets to witness how dominant Liongoren’s shifts in stylistic persuasions are in his practice. Although largely rendered to be opposites, abstraction and figuration are modes that have both been virtuously handled by the artist, attesting to his creative versatility. Yet it is interesting how he lent some of his abstractions with semblances of mimetic form, while his figurative landscapes and sketches did not elude his penchant for fluidity, expressiveness, and spontaneity that parallel the energies he channeled in some of his abstractions.
This surfacing of additional textures on the relationship between abstraction and figuration is but one among the entry points Liongoren’s practice can offer to the larger project of reexamining various forms of binaries. His narrative as an artist and as a person after all is characterized by his negotiations with and navigation through several spectra, some of which his practice nuances: form and content, metropolis and the regions, national and local, and nature and development. The exhibition, through the layers of the artist that it presents, wishes to shed more light onto his voice and positionality across these spectra, in an attempt to weave together the diverse messages that his practice has forwarded about the human condition in this ever changing, complex world.
- Mark Louie Lugue
UP College of Fine Arts (CFA), Bartlett Hall, Emilio Jacinto St, UP Diliman, Quezon City, 1101, Philippines