Places of Endearment – Rollie Yusi, 20 Aug 2011

The theme of place and its private ramifications has found the recent paintings of Rollie Yusi in her latest exhibition entitled “Places of Endearment”. Visiting and imbibing inspiration from that place has defined an artist’s work especially in the era of modern painting, as artists became aware and contended with painting outdoors, battling the elements and mustering skills in capturing the changing light. Past exhibitions of paintings by artist-painter Rollie Yusi were about the scenes of a place in the atmospheric French landscape in the South of France where she has frequented, and from which she has duly taken much from and endearingly given back through her work. She has acknowledged how the majesty of this place has played a vital role in the works of the great Impressionists and then the Fauvists, from which she sees her new works taking root. It is not surprising to be affected by the genius in the learned technical discoveries of these great artists in liberating standards and preconceptions of what is beautiful. The soul and style of an artist has evolved from simply making mimetic copies of a scene to personal and inventive interpretations, based on fulfilling the demands of a pictorial structure; and the fulfilment to express mood and feeling through exaggerations in form and color.

The twin paintings “Ang Kubo ni Adong sa Dampalit” and “Adong’s Lair in Fauve” is a marked turning point in the new suite of paintings. The works are about the Philippine landscape, a sudden change of focus for the artist, “I decided to paint the places and things I love in my home country, the Philippines”. “Ang Kubo ni Adong sa Dampalit”, worked with acrylic medium on canvas, is painted in the naturalistic painting style the artist has fastidiously mastered. It is a beautiful serene painting evoking nostalgia, holding the viewer’s gaze with the secrets at the tip of its tongue waiting to be revealed. The crafting of the work is also extraordinary in its perfect usage of technical deployments: the right amount of texturing is used, the blending of color for atmosphere is done with ease, and surety and the opacity of the medium is duly controlled to suggest the necessary nuisances of the scene. The artist has noted on the shifting themes of her work, “I realized perhaps I should re-attach myself to older, more native roots than pursue external things”.

“Adong’s Lair in Fauve” is a variation of the exact scene portrayed in “Ang Kubo ni Adong in Dampalit”, but executed in a surprising Fauvist tradition. The blue skies are radically in pinkish violet and rendered in haphazard, almost agitated manner, making the brush strokes and marks assume lives of their own. The flicks of paint are almost in primary and undiluted hue, which mix in the eye when seen by the viewer, a la Impressionists and Fauves. Obviously the scene is sentimental, and the artists tells of how the ‘kubo’ was the focus of childhood experiences with close friends about a voyeuristic prank which happened in that place, and, as most of us experience in our youth, a collective mischief that binds friends together. The artist speaks of her motivation for her nostalgia, “My first initiative was to look for old pictures of Dampalit in Malabon, Rizal where I was born years and years ago. I thought what better place to start with than re-visiting the places of your childhood.”

Taking up the brush in 1974 while enrolling in classes in the College of Architecture at the University of the Philippines, the artist also worked with well known American artists Joyce Pike, Barbara Nechis, Mary Ann Beckwidth and Jane Jones, known for their excellent work in watercolour and experimental techniques in acrylic mediums. Rollie Yusi set about to consider a ‘style’ that put together both her flair for form and a strong drawing hand in her possession, coupled with a predisposition to a fine wildness in exploring a bright and colourful palette. “A more debilitating matter was choosing a style I wanted to use”, the artist contends, and “I wanted a style that would make mine look contemporary and yet, forgive the euphemism, possessing a semblance of stability. When you get to be my age, one seeks new perspectives on the familiar.” This stability the artist is looking for is in regard to her observation of two styles that had momentarily interested her– looking for a middle ground that falls in between. These movements, in her regard, are the realism of the works of the old masters that have already disinterested the temper of the modern artist; and the figuration-based work of the Abstract Expressionists that almost obliterates any notion of recognizable form. An epiphany on a style came about during the artist’s looking into the works of the Impressionists and the Fauves. In a bit of irony, Yusi found herself led to one of the landscape paintings entitled “Winter Landscape I” by Wasily Kandinsky, regarded as one of the originators of abstract painting in the modern century but painted during a brief Fauvist interlude in the artist’s pictography before leading into his breakthrough work. Rollie Yusi’s “Homage to Kandinsky”, in acrylic on canvas, is almost an exact replica of the original, a study on the strategies employed by the Fauve mind. There is no indicator it is a cold day in winter in the scene: painted in yellows, pinks and blues; except betrayed by the absence of town folks and barren trees lining the roads en route to the yellow home at the center of this neighbourhood. Hence, the making of paintings after another painting done by another artist has always been a method of modernist painters, in an act of paying homage to, and in learning to provide solutions to visual problems.

The “piece-de-resistance” of the suite, in Rollie Yusi’s own reckoning, is her variation piece on Fernando Amorsolo’s iconic painting “Young Mountain Girl”. Given the self-explanatory title “Recalculating Amorsolo’s Mountain Girl x 20” and done in acrylic mediums, it is a stunning Fauve rendition of the naturalistic scene painted by one of our National Artists. The choice for the object of variation is based on the artist’s regard for the Amorsolo’s masterpiece as “a rendered testimony of our common Filipino heritage,” and not just for its trademark “rendition of color and backlighting.” In so doing, Yusi combines the Fauve tradition of which she has found a close kinship with in terms of a “stylistic framework”, quoting the 1930s German expressionist-artist Erich Heckel and the movement “Die Bruck” or Old Bridge, whose ideals Heckel exemplified and became an important proponent of.

The artist states her position, “My vision is similar to the ideals of the Die Bruck: to manifest an expression of my innermost personality and feelings mainly through the uninhibited use of strong colors with audacity but confined within the social constructs of the Filipino experience.”

A speculative opinion on why the artist had chosen the “Young Mountain Girl” of Amorsolo is perhaps the artist sees herself as the frolicking young Filipina carefree in these rural fields. She embodies the artist’s romantic reflection of her self-image harkening to the innocence of her youthful years in Dampalit. In the artist’s interpretation of the scene in Fauve could be read as a realization that she has realized she has grown wiser, mature, confident . . . a coming to terms with her own modernity that has brimmed at her cup of passion and artistry. She was once a young woman frolicking in the fields of Dampalit, now a strange and modern world, and she is no longer a stranger to its wiles and deceit. Now a grandmother to six beautiful children, she is the epitome of an artist who breathes art in, taken and exhaled. It is also easy to romanticize she has led a secret artistic life beneath the fulfilment of her roles of domestication plus demanded by the tyrannies around her. A poem she wrote exemplifies her unique artistry, “Being an artist is like being in love / Riding on the wings of the Muse / The seeker follows her passion / Though it leads to tribulation and disappointment.” This suite of paintings has already taken Rollie Yusi to a new figurative place her Muse has taken her, and its arrival is one of wonder and endearment.