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Artist at Work: An Element of Play

For Sam Penaso, performance art is more than just a medium.

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Text by Hannah Jo Uy
Images by Pinggot Zulueta

There is an undeniable element of play in the artistic process of Sam Penaso, one that has never wavered or lost its luster throughout his prolific and widely varied career. The Bohol native has presented a number of his paintings, sculptures, and performance art pieces across the Philippines as well as in Japan, Thailand, Austria, Germany, Singapore, New York, and Abu Dhabi. Indeed, for those that know him, to call Penaso a multi-disciplinary artist is an understatement.

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For his first show for 2018, Penaso presents “Linear,” a collection which serves as an embodiment of, rather ironically, the artist’s non-linear approach towards art. Pertaining to the sharp silhouettes within his abstractions, his affinity for the line, is in no way a reflection of rigidity as Penaso continues to surprise audiences in new and unexpected ways.

Despite showcasing a concoction of works in various mediums, there is a strong cohesion between the paintings, sculptures, and installations, as each piece carries the same controlled force carefully wielded by the creator.

His indulgent use of bright colors, a trademark at this point of his career, juxtaposed with numbers and letters, pay homage to his early beginnings. In this collection, however, Penaso shares his exploration of new dimensions, figuratively and literally, through his sculptures.

Linear, acrylic on canvas, 2017

Linear, acrylic on canvas, 2017

His interest in sculptures began when he encountered metal scraps discarded from old cut and welded designs around his old neighborhood. “I ended up buying it,” he said, “and I studied how to make it into a sculpture, which I have continued to do until today.”

These scrap metals were lovingly adopted and resurrected into wall bound and standalone sculptures, which can be viewed at the gallery today. The wall bound works, in particular, break free from its natural monochromatic shades as he imposes his signature exploration of color through crystals. Except this time, Penaso deliberately illuminates the crystals to heighten and enhance the hues. By adding this element, Penaso entices viewers to view the piece as being more than the sum of its parts, as he lets the light pierce through the spaces to project unique shadows that further adds mystery and drama to the sculptures.

The installations reveal Penaso’s more humorous side as he presents a miniature version of his performance art persona from the Stripewalker series, through a toy previously showcased at an earlier exhibit in Secret Fresh. The carefully placed replica is surrounded with the leftover acrylic material he liberally used to develop the very paintings being exhibited on the wall. A cheeky nod to the “linear” moniker, once again. It’s an amusing and comical look at the man behind the works, in a matter that almost invites the viewers to partake of the process.

Astronomy-welded, metal, 2018

Astronomy-welded, metal, 2018

The spontaneous quality in both the sculptures and paintings are undeniable. Penaso does not attempt to deny his tendency to jump from one medium or style to another: “It depends on the concept,” he says, simply. “I just like to explore different things.” Beyond his carefree attitude and polygamous relationship with various genres, Penaso is unaware of where his fancy will lead him. The only guarantee that Penaso shares with no hesitation is his undying love and passion for performing. “I can never leave behind performance art,” he admitted. “Even though I know there is no money to be had there. In fact, most of the time, we are the ones who have to spend for materials we need for our performance pieces. But the true satisfaction that comes with it—that’s priceless. That’s something that money can’t buy. Add to that the feeling of being applauded and appreciated by the audience and they shake your hand as they congratulate you.”

For Penaso, performance art has become more than a medium. It has, in its own way, become a source of inspiration as he eagerly explores more ways of presenting topics and issues that are close to his heart, in novel and unpredictable ways, often with his own body as the medium—a mentally, creatively, and physically challenging task. Of late, Penaso’s performance art echoes his observations of recent events. In his last performance for SIPAF 2017, Penaso says his piece revolved around the topic of EJK. He brought a number of makeshift and representative weapons, and baby chickens in various colors, which is traditionally placed on the coffin of those unjustly killed to disquiet the soul of the perpetrator until justice had been served.

Penaso continues to evolve, expand, and explore unchartered territories of his own creativity, driven by his reflections as an individual, an artist and a member of society, all leading to a unique cocktail of unpredictable artworks.

‘Linear’ is on display at the Art Cube Gallery, Makati, from until Feb. 1.

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