Words are of little importance to Geraldine Javier. The dialogue between her paintings and their audience happens beyond the realm of language, the visual experience evokes sensation without touching on words. Her paintings lock your gaze, turning your attention inwards; time slows. Paint is pliant in this artist’s hands, transformed from liquid substance into a multitude of textures and forms, from eerily exquisite marble to soft warm cotton worn with time. Brushstrokes are fine, precise, deftly controlled. The manner in which the she handles her materials offers clues about her temperament and personality. Her work exudes calculated restraint and discipline. The artist does not surrender to intuition; she plots out her strategies before getting on with work. Born in 1970, in Makati City, Geraldine Javier took a degree in nursing before becoming an artist. Through her conceptually oriented training under the seminal Roberto Chabet at University of the Philippines (UP), Javier, like many of her peers, has acquired the predilection for making art which emphasises intellectual engagement over immediate emotional response. She belongs to a new generation of young Filipino artists whose interests are variegated and extensive, and who, unlike their social-realist predecessors, are engaged in pursuing the personal and the idiosyncratic. These voices from the periphery express powerful individual narratives influenced by international media and local pop culture. Their works are charged with tension and provocation, combining cool, calculated sophistication with raw urban grit -“the general low-end third world stuff.” Film and photography are Javier’s immediate source of references. Some of her most vivid memories of childhood include afternoon sessions in front of the television watching classics like Knife in the Water by Ingmar Bergman, or local films such as Kisapmata, Itim, Insiang and Himala by Filipino directors Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, whose sensibilities evoke those of old, moody European films. “There are only a handful of characters, some scenes may appear to be slow and dragging, but to me it is where tension is more palpable. What I like most in these films is that they are emotionally charged, in a subtle way, unlike the screaming melodramas we have now.” Inspired by war movies and images from newspaper clippings, Plaster Saints depicts a series of religious icons and dolls that hold different significances during the different stages of our lives. “What has always struck and haunted me, amidst the death and destruction, are images of icons trapped in the rubble and toys smeared with blood. I find the sense of loss incredibly palpable in these scenes. Angels and dolls are two of the most familiar images, especially to a Filipino Catholic. They are symbols of innocence, purity; I chose to depict them weathered by use and time, a testament to living. I hope to reassess the value of these icons in our life – from our childhood to adulthood, sort of a companion and an embodiment of our joy, despair, hope; something that will provide comfort and assurance in our many emotional needs.” Images of death, misery, dysfunctional relationships, and emotional violence are recurrent themes in Javier’s work. Her world thrives on complex, viscous thoughts and intimations, silent tensions and implosions. The images she creates offer the paradox of recognition and uncertainty. Her paintings make you concentrate, look at things twice. The eye combs through the image; it seems familiar, yet something is amiss. A sneaking feeling creeps up on you, like a shy creature, and tells you there is an unsettling presence lurking behind the moodiness. There is an air of inward brooding and alienation, an uncanny feeling akin to photography’s ‘punctuum’, as coined by Roland Barthes to mean a sting, speck or cut, ‘a prick of the image’; a disturbance or arresting element in an image that catches the eye’s attention, unsettling and unnameable. The sense of the uncanny in Plaster Saints is created through a series of subtle alterations - inflections, nuances, slight twists designed to prey on the senses, conscious or unconscious. It could be in the lighting, melancholic sepia tones, or the menacing contrast between shadow and light. The framing and cropping of the image also affect the way our eye will read it; a devious tweak in scale, enlarging or reducing, deliberately pushing an image deep into the background or pressing it right up against the forefront of the picture plane, accentuates visual tension. “ Every painting I make has a story but this story is a vague one, and it only lasts while I am painting; it doesn’t make sense at all once I’ve completed the work” You need time with Javier’s paintings. They are still images charged with an unhurried energy, silent, harbouring secrets of their own, awaiting the onlooker to unravel their mysteries. They do not ask the audience to bring the images to life in their imagination, but to see the life that is in them. They resonate with personal histories, of how they came to be, and how they are now marooned in this suspended space. Looking at Javier’s paintings also connects us to another kind of past. Her work sets off a host of visual triggers that stretch deep into our memories. Like a chain of tumbling dominoes, it takes us back in time, through the history of art, literature, film and photography. An angel sighs, she looks forlorn, resting her head to one side; the image echoes the doomed air of pre-Raphaelite paintings or late-Victorian literature --“the disturbing pallor…the thin oval face with an expression of suffering”. We envision mausoleums, hear church bells ringing in the distance and feel a melancholic weight in the damp air. The excursion through time, genre and emotions is endless and exciting. We retreat into the world of McGuffins and film noir, cross over to Hitchcock’s malevolent realm of murder mystery or B-grade horrors where Dracula and other creatures of the night might reside. The mise-en-scene of this painted world is engrossing; emotions get tangled up in our visual experience. Her paintings seem poised to unleash childhood phobias, disturbing memories and thoughts, inner violence and veiled hostilities that inhabit the deep dark crevices of our minds. Such is the authority Geraldine Javier has over her creations that they lure us into believing that something is stirring; the thoughts that occupy us are too far from words to be something we can control.
By: Adeline Ooi
Lives and works in Manila, The Philippines