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The space in between

Ernest Concepcion and the deviant nature of progress


By Hannah Jo Uy

Images By Pinggot Zulueta

Lil Leader, oil enamel and gypsum on canvas, 2016

Lil Leader, oil enamel and gypsum on canvas, 2016

“Space is an important issue,” says Ernest Concepcion. “Humanity can sometimes be so petty, we’re like little kids squabbling over this small room we are occupying in this vast universe.” On this big blue rock called Earth, which is indeed, a minute speck of real estate in the wider scope of the cosmos, this visual artist is setting his sights on what lies beyond the horizon.

His inclination for space travel is a deeply ingrained curiosity that was passionately cultivated when he was still young. “Even as a kid, I dreamed about it,” he says, recalling that his mother would bring him gifts from the US, particularly from Florida, which was the site of the Kennedy Space Center and home of National Aeronautic’s and Space Administration’s (NASA) space program. Exposed to cartoons, coloring books, and toys embodying humanity’s never-ending fascination for space exploration, Ernest himself was intrigued by the infinite possibilities that the galaxies had to offer.Ernest

Being an inherently visual person, these imageries greatly impacted Ernest. “The sci-fi book aisle is like a gallery of amazing paintings,” he says, praising the unsung heroes responsible for the striking illustrations on book jackets immortalizing iconic scenes from sci-fi literary icons such as Jules Verne and the like.

The aftermath of these early influences on his visual repertoire is noticeable even until today, particularly in his latest collection, which was showcased at his recently concluded exhibit at Gallery Ysobel, entitled “Unprecedented Views.” Though centered around intergalactic concepts, the collection maintains the sense of naïveté and childlike wonder that has remained palpable within the artist’s large and expansive oeuvre over the years. With colorful silhouettes that allude to the Mars rover and NASA space pictures, various images became cues for artistic creations, “pun intended, they were my ‘launch pads,’” says Ernest, cheekily, in reference to his sci-fi influences. “I’ve been recently very interested with Elon Musk’s space projects. Totally excited for 2025—first manned mission to Mars.”

Deeming the Mars One Mission’s human colony as our generation’s Man in the Moon, these innovative achievements of humanity as a collective, has captured the imagination of Ernest, who believes that such things emphasize the common thread that binds mankind as a species, looking beyond the issues of race, religion, and political ideals that have created gaps and enemies within our own kind.

The space odyssey that Ernest narrates within his recent works emulates his early works when he first moved to New York, where he was delving deeply into the development of line drawings inspired by similar themes. Since 2013, Ernest has been residing in the Philippines. “As abruptly as how I just suddenly migrated to the US, my coming back here was just as abrupt and unexpected,” he admits. And since his return, he has exhibited a bolder and more daring approach toward his                     art process.

Followers of his artistic progress are not fooled by his recent inclination toward space travel, especially in light of the fact that this recent exhibit at Gallery Ysobel marked his third exhibition for this year alone, and all three exhibits were immensely different, in both style and subject matter.

His first show for the year at 1335 Mabini, which he is currently represented by, entitled “Just a Hint of Mayhem,” tackled pressing and sensitive social issues, while his second exhibit at Tin-Aw Gallery, “Can’t Sit Still,” featured abstract floral creations that served as his first solo exhibition featuring purely non-figurative works.

The artist shares that his departure from his usual aesthetics had people wondering if he was now an abstractionist, something he easily dismisses by saying, “I’m not moving in a direction to be labelled, I’m just walking.”

For Ernest, progress does not follow a straight line, and his journey, with all its chaos, spontaneity, and unpredictability, has been chronicled in a truly authentic matter through the work of his very own hands. The stark differences in his successive exhibitions in the past year alone reflect changes that artists would take years to pursue, however, for him, the sole purpose of creating has always been to transcend with each new collection, and allowing the tide of fleeting interests pull him in all directions, toward the new, the old, the known, and the unknown. He likens each exhibit to a musician’s unique presentation of influences with each new album, every piece, like a song, is part of an artistic chapter that forms a visual diary and catharsis of ideas and concepts that have captured                         his imagination.

He continues in his artistic sojourn, aimlessly but with purpose and conviction, refusing to be imprisoned or pinned down to any genre, style, or classification. Unabashed in confessing his love for video games and comic books, playtime for Ernest is equivalent to work time, and each begets a new discovery in art and within himself. “I love the fact that I still keep surprising myself, I guess I just keep working in the studio—but I’m pretty much still like a child in awe.”

He probes and scrutinizes, experimenting with everything from acrylic epoxy to plaster of Paris, making his own pigments, and also going back to oil markers and colored pencils, which he prefers for the innocent façade they lend the piece.“I’ve certainly gained even more confidence in experimenting with other mediums in painting and using more unconventional art materials.”

Indeed, his creations have evolved in scope, style, and subject matter. The textures presented within his paintings are raw, and provides a new dimension to the piece. As he explores primary modes of expression he goes as far back as to even mimic the wide eyed and credulous perspective of early cavemen who were unperturbed by preconceived notions of art, and are simply aiming to recreate an experience and document life as they see it. He favors the prehistoric feel that the textured composition alludes to, thoroughly enjoying the tactile aspect of the art-making process.

Ernest does not only discuss space in his artwork, he also creates space from his artwork. Though affectionately calling them his babies, he maintains distance from his creations, adamant to impose no opinion. Instead, his concern lies in creating images that can make the familiar unfamiliar, and by doing so inspire thought and contemplation in the viewers attempt to develop their own interpretation.

Perhaps, the only thing that will ever be predictable about Ernest Concepcion is his constant unpredictability, and his never-ending search for the great unknown, which continues to propel him forward.

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