The Bad, the Dark, and the Ugly: The Beauty of Andres Barrioquinto’s work
His latest exhibit, “Life is a pigsty,” is a natural evolution of his beautiful portraiture in 2018—an interrogation of the interplay between the sexes
In the past years, few artists have made such a lasting mark on our local art scene as Andres Barrioquinto. Few have also ventured into the interplay between beauty and ugliness as originally or as introspectively as the painter. “My works are an honest expression of nature,” he says.
One of the thrills of seeing his work is watching the saga of his psyche unfold. His latest exhibit at Provenance Gallery—“Life is a pigsty"—seems like a natural evolution of his beautiful portraiture in 2018, an interrogation of the interplay between the sexes. Where the series delved into the masculine and the feminine gaze, with women surrounded by lush natural images, and men depicted savagely, “Life is a pigsty” seems to be where nature equalizes both genders as they grapple with time and nature’s own savageries. This is an exploration, Barrioquinto says, of the ugly side of life, mid-life issues and frustrations. You see this philosophy in the striated lines across middle-aged faces in the portraits. “I did portraits of old people because their faces are manifestations of how life has treated them. Because if you would notice, old people are always trying to restore their younger selves. They’re trying to make up for lost time,” he says. “This show is about how people would wake up in a life they don’t like at the onset of their middle age, which is between 40 to 60.” Tragedy, he continues, is interesting. And tragedy is so evocatively performed in his surreal portraits which, in the past, have merged different influences—from west to east, Baroque imagery to Japanese woodcuts. Such diverse influences have only attested to the artist’s skill and range.
Despite such various influences, one’s staying impression of his work lies in his detailed and human figuration: boldly-drawn lines and the perceptibly political implications of faces both evil and beautiful. “It’s a display of visual traction as the flesh struggles against bleeding into the spectrum of lines that I have drawn so boldly. It was a reflection of how my environment was inflicted with the violence of evil men.” These are the faces, Barrioquinto says, of displeasure. Caricatures of people he has encountered in his life. Despite the ravages of time on the faces of his subjects, the artist maintains that outward appearances only reflect their inward significance.
“Life is a Pigsty,” however new and modern the series feels, actually serves a style the artist is only revisiting. “It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time,” he says. “It just so happened that it looks good in expressing the new works and concepts I’m doing right now. In his new-old work, the beautiful and ugly express themselves in an intricate dance—in much the same way depictions of men and women in his previous work engaged in an embrace both savage and curious.
Because the work is so intriguing, one has to wonder about the artist’s formative years, and how they may have shaped his current art—but with Barrioquinto, there seems to be no provenance story, given that the artist continually chooses to live in the present moment. “I would say that my formative state is continuously ongoing because I am constantly evolving as an artist,” he says. “Both my early expressionist style and my beautiful series are equally influential as both have inspired artists from opposite sides of the spectrum to produce works resembling elements and characterizations from my highly individualized styles.”
What has stayed the same despite the artist’s ever-evolving series, is his stunning portraiture which is both beautiful and dark, tense and harmonious. It is also important to note that in his latest work, the artist has also taken to personally hewing the frames that hold his own portraits. They are intricate projects and artworks in and of themselves: black frames with cloudy curlicues that frame the portrait of a mysterious dark-eyed woman as she sits surrounded by evocative peacock eyes; or classically detailed white frames that border a man’s striated and weathered blue face. The irony is not lost on the viewer—the black frame is a stark contrast to its beautiful subject, just as much as the white frame—a connotation perhaps of innocence and youth—frames a subject beaten both by time and life. In his latest work, the artist is not only showing you his paintings, he is giving both emotional and intellectual cues as to how to approach them.
Despite this intriguing poetic vision, the underlying first cause of his work seems to be the natural consequence of nature on men and women. He carefully details their own evolution as time happens to them. Nature, it seems, has the last laugh, enduring longer than humans and their games. His work “shows the perspective of the sexes toward each other.” He continues: “my beautiful series are portraits of attractive women surrounded by flora and fauna. This is how men perceive women, while my expressionist work depicts men as savage brutes in the eyes of women. My works thrive on the tension of contrasts within these two.”
Because his work seems to be implicitly political (whether the work delves into gender politics or serves as an indictment of the patriarchy), the artist also has a vision for Philippine art, which has been shaped by his travels to different museums in Europe. “I think museums are the base of a country’s cultural self-identity. And here in the Philippines, there aren’t a lot of museums. We have more malls than museums. And I think that if we fix this problem, it can create a domino effect. It can lead to a massive change in the landscape of Philippine art. This will lead to better art materials, better art institutions, and better artists.”
It seems then that Barrioquinto is a complete artist—one who evolves not just in his art but also in his vision of his own country, as well as in his vision of the Filipino artist in the greater scheme of things—in his local milieu, and his position in the world at large. Few artists in this day and age, at least in this writer’s experience, venture outside of themselves and their own art (which is a lifetime preoccupation that really doesn’t have any other duty than to serve itself). But Barrioquinto is innovative in more ways than one. “I am innovative in all the facets of my work. A proof of this is my sphere of influence over artists, whatever I do.” His influence is broad and far-reaching with his iconic imagery overlapping and bleeding into the work of young and emerging artists.
One can’t help but be excited by his next series, his next portraiture, and his next project. “I’m cooking up something new,” he says. “I’ve never been this excited when releasing a new series. I’m actually revisiting what people call my “Ugly” series. Definitely some shows abroad as well, but I will keep silent in the meantime.”
In the meantime, we have “Life is a pigsty,” as well as a monograph which serves as a compendium of the artist’s oeuvre. The book project, published by internationally-acclaimed publishing house, Rizzoli New York, showcases the artist’s evolution and staying power. “They just trusted me with all the assistance I needed,” he says of his publishers, “they’re confident with my body of work and trust me completely.” It’s a well-placed trust for an artist who, unlike his portrayals of his latest subjects, only seems to get better with age. Perhaps this eternal flirtation with youth has something to do with the fact that Barrioquinto isn’t afraid of taking risks and making mistakes. “Beauty is a mistake,” he says, “and mistakes are beautiful.”
Story by Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta
Photos by CJ Reyes
Special thanks to Raul Francisco, Joanna Preysler-Francisco, and Emilio Dizon
Shot on location at Provenance Gallery