Abstracting the countryside: Andrew de Guzman depicts Filipino sensibilities in ‘Melange’
Melange by Andrew de Guzman shows the possibilities of ‘indigenizing’ abstraction to suit the sensibilities and experiences of Filipinos living in the modernizing countryside
November 4, 2020
Written by Reuben Ramas Canete, PhD
Images courtesy of AADG Gallery
Abstraction and depicting the countryside are like oil and water – they don’t mix. However, given the right conditions, like mixing oil with heavy water (the kind used as a nuclear reactor coolant) in a high-pressure centrifuge, the result is a liquid where the oil is suspended evenly throughout the water in microscopic droplets. This act of combining two incompatible concepts, each originating from a different aesthetic sensibility, has been mastered by young abstractionist Andrew de Guzman in his series of works titled, Melange.
Based in the farming town of Pulilan, Bulacan, Andrew de Guzman has always been inspired by the cycles of agricultural planting, harvesting, and feasting that accompanies the traditional economy and lived experiences of the rural Filipino. Pulilan’s feast day offers more than fiesta bunting. It hosts the annual Carabao Festival where one witnesses the unusual sight of enormous beasts of burden, led by their owners, kneeling before an image of the town patron saint, San Isidro Labrador, in thanks for a bountiful harvest.
As an entrepreneur, cultural worker, and artist (finishing a Management degree at De La Salle University), de Guzman is well-versed in the sophisticated concepts of Modern Art. Encouraged by a trip to the Big Apple in 2008, de Guzman was inspired to commune closer with nature when he saw abstract works by artists like Jackson Pollock in rural settings in the upscale countries of Long Island. De Guzman was determined to replicate this idea in his hometown, with its rich chocolate brown loamy soil, slow-moving rivers, and repeating cycles of rural life swirling around him.
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The result of his musings is Melange, a French word that means “to mix.” Translating this into a series of energetic gestural swirls of brown, orange, red, white, and blue, the Melange triptych looks like a mass of whirlpools that twirl a forest of kelp within a deep lagoon. The swirling pattern of gestural paint strokes within the rectangular-shaped canvas is de Guzman’s way of distilling the process of combining traditional subject matter with modernist abstract devices. It is a curvilinear quality that he identifies with the energetic essence of Mother Nature, which can be found either in the very big agglomerations of galaxies that pinwheel in the cosmic vastness of space; or in the very small subatomic clouds filled with electrons and nuclei that constitute matter itself.
His philosophical musings of nature as energy personified can be seen in Harvest, where the act of harvesting is a joyous riot of eddies—of nature’s bounty, as well as the happiness of farmers who can now feed their families for another year. Libad fixes upon a rising series of orange eddies surrounding a triangular central patch—de Guzman’s interpretation of the raucous fluvial parade on the Angat River by fishermen in honor of Saint Peter. Then, there is Parada Grande, a long, vertical rectangle of brown swirls emerging from a darker brown ground, which documents the Carabao Parade’s progression through the town’s main highway. For children’s pleasure (and perhaps for those who can’t get’ abstraction), de Guzman covers a fold sculptural head of a carabao with gaudy swirls in Head of the Parade.
Melange shows the possibilities of ‘indigenizing’ abstraction to suit the universal aspiration for progress and development that those in the country wish to partake of, if on slightly better terms than being forced to squat in the city.