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MAGNIFY AND REJOICE

Abstract expressionist Edwin Wilwayco retells a classical biblical canticle

Published

By JOSEPHINE FATIMA MARTINS
Portrait by PINGGOT ZULUETA

Edwin Wilwayco and his Magnificat Opus 3, Oil on Canvas, 2019 (right)

Edwin Wilwayco and his Magnificat Opus 3, oil on canvas, 2019 (right)

Edwin Wilwayco’s ongoing devotion to music as an influence are established in his Magnificat compositions, demonstrating with great drama that spirituality, faith, and myth-related religious narratives, can be visually translated away from traditional realism into modern abstracted forms that allow for expansive interpretation.

“Magnificat,” also the title of the series, is taken from the honored biblical canticle, “Song of Mary,” which relates a scene from the Visitation where Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, receives a visit from her cousin Mary who is pregnant with Jesus. The Magnificat is one of the eight most ancient hymns within the Marian Christian tradition with roots that reach back to foundational pre-Christian belief celebrating Mary.

In regard to musical influence, Wilwayco gives thanks to Johann Sebastian Bach who composed his own “Magnificat” from the Latin text in Baroque for the Feast of the Visitation.

Exploring spirituality, as Wilwayco is doing with “Magnificat,” with abstract painting has always been an important point of working for abstraction expressionists. Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, and others engaged religious faith, world myths, and esoteric spirituality to create diverse compositions that encouraged contemplative and meditative visual responses and reactions.

Spiritual abstract art, including the paintings of Wilwayco, is meant to move the viewer into positions of personalized emotion, by way of shifting color, repetitive and alternating line, and layered texture, hoping to reach an otherworldly sublime tonality. Abstract painting, in this way, is the visual equivalent to musical movement, as is heard in Bach’s work.

Formally, Wilwayco’s “Magnificat” series remains in his solid oeuvre, which is an excellent fusion of spontaneous action painting, lyrical line, and layered color field exploration within recognized Mid-century abstract expressionism. What is new for him is the purpose of the series. These paintings offer a powerful visual meditation to complement the Song of Mary. Magnificat is dense painting, heavy in oil material, and diverse in line quality, harmonizing and counter-pointed, evoking an abstracted Baroque mood following the polyphonic personality of Bach’s music. The paintings function as alternatives to traditional realist Theotokos icons, being abstracted representations of various artist at work realist and intangible aspects of the Madonna, and also as a visual opinion of the Visitation itself.

Magnificat Opus 6, Oil on Canvas, 2019 (left) and Magnificat Opus 8, Oil on Canvas, 2019 (right)

Magnificat Opus 6, Oil on Canvas, 2019 (left) and Magnificat Opus 8, Oil on Canvas, 2019 (right)

Looking at Wilwayco’s “Magnificat,” the narrative of Mary is rendered as a vague conception based on physical and emotional condition that is the artist’s response to Bach’s composition. The paintings begin the narrative with vibrant and thick washes, splashes, and bursts of energetic greens, bright yellows, with darker shades in Magnificat Opus 2 and Opus 3—in these green paintings the feeling is that of arrival, something has come to Mary.

Moving forward in Wilwaycos’ Magnificat Opus 4 to Opus 9, the color tones shift to bold bursts, splashes, and lyrical lines of hot colors: yellows, reds, oranges, with touches of blues and white lines over a dark underpainting. Here the narrative of Mary advances to a passionate element expressing glorious emotions.

Magnificat Opus 14, a deep red painting, with a blue and white wash dividing a sea of red on both sides, presents a dramatic point in the narrative. Magnificat Opus 15 to Opus 17 are a visual return to earth toned colors: brown, red rust, softer yellows, and various shades of white. In these paintings the emotive quality returns to a lower relaxed position taking the viewer back down to a grounded level, away from the high energy of the divine.

Another marvelous composition is Magnificat Opus 29, rich in layered paint material in which the oil itself is the subject allowing the painting to release its energy in a sculptural manner—a feeling of wanting to explode away from the canvas. In Magnificat Opus 37 and Opus 39, the low tone green, almost lime, juxtaposed with shades of mauve and pink evoke a dominant earth-based femininity that matches some depictions of the Virgin Mary, and is also a departure away from of customary blue coloration.

With “Magnificat,” Wilwayco stages himself firmly within the liturgical artistic arena—the paintings in the series work together to relate, in a general abstracted manner, the Song of Mary. By eliminating realism to tell the story, the colors, textures, and lines are open to individual contemplation and freedom of opinion similar to the use of stained-glass in glorious places of worship being welcoming and inviting to all people, liberating the viewer to think for him or herself.

Wilwayco’s “Magnificat” offers an inventive, progressive, and egalitarian representation of a conservative biblical subject that is much needed in today’s volatile world, and follows the traditions of the great abstract expressionist artists of the past who investigated the spiritual through paint.

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