08 Oct FIERY APPARITIONS
By: Gina Fairley
Lynyrd Paras delivers his third solo exhibition Against My Blackhearted World with a passion and sincerity that we have come to expect of his work. Confronted by this group of seven paintings, one bears witness to a kind of psychosocial world symptomatic of the erosive decay of contemporary urban life, what could be described as a weathering of the spirit. These are deeply personal paintings.
This is not a new foundation for Paras, whose first international solo “Boxed Noises” (TAKSU Kuala Lumpur 2008), centered on the invasive sounds of the city, its proximity, propaganda, gossip and our facility for filtration. These new paintings have a similar emotional charge and disjuncture as the earlier works; however, the noise of the last show has been replaced with the sting of fire and charred emotions.
Fire is a dichotomous symbol. On the one hand, fire is an agent of destruction and its ferocious intensity is a metaphor for the ‘hot-tempered’. It has the apocalyptic overtone of war, or hell and yet, fire also banishes darkness. It gives us light and warmth. Love is metaphorically connected with fire and its engulfing pace when we use the phrase ‘burning passion’. Fire also has a cathartic quality and in the Hindu faith it symbolically cleanses and purifies. It is said that ‘one of the reasons why [Hindus] burn their dead…is so that the soul does not feel the pull of the physical association and does not remain bound to its previous life…[it] helps guide the soul on its onward journey.’ (1.) The same could be said of burning sugar cane or bushfires that regenerate new growth.
Paras’ paintings oscillate between this darkness and light. The last painting made for this show, for me, is a transitional piece that points to that sense of renewal or disconnection from the physical. Titled “Apoy ang paligid…nakakasilaw [Everything around me is on fire…it blinds me]” (2008), the violence of the image, which is echoed in its brushwork, is balanced by the mute melancholy of the sitter’s expression. At 6 x 4 ft there is no escaping the tensions within this painting – as the title suggests – engulfing the viewer with its blinding inferno, but there is also a sense of peak and knowing that with the cinders comes a calm. It has the pace and the passion of youth.
More successful in its use of fire is the painting “Sirain mo ako…mananatili akong tahimik [Do whatever…I will remain silent]” (2008) where Paras uses the device of vomiting or expulsion to play off the cliché that words can burn or scar. However, this is not a combatative painting. The eyes are disengaged and capture an expression of exhaustion, of a spirit drained of hope. Text floats as thin veils of thought across the painting, the haunting residue that plagues ones conscious.
While there’s sadness within this painting, light is cast across it illuminating the face against its inherent darkness. Like most of the works in this show there is a push/pull or tension in Paras’ portraits, not only in his use of light and text, but in the gesture and movement of the paint. Here the whispy pull of the flame draws our eye upwards, leaping out of the frame of the painting. It is counter to the gravitational drain as tendrils of white paint earth the image, dripping from the canvas edge with Basquiat-like expression. This mark-making has the irreverence of a global-grunge style popular in contemporary painting that works against an equally fashionable photo-real renaissance, and yet the handling of the paint here is entirely seated within Paras’ individual style.
We see it again in “Ngayon sabihin mo, pano mo pa ako masasaktan? [Tell me how much more could you hurt me?]” (2008) and the self-titled painting, “Lynyrd…” (2008). Washed in black it moves between control and chance structurally but also metaphorically caught between public and private space. This oscillation is central to the landscape of emotions that Paras explores across this exhibition.
By its very palette “Lynyrd…” translates as the darkest painting in the show. Yet, there is great illumination within this scene – the figure of ‘Lynyrd…’ is bathed in light and emerges from its inky field. It is about the purging of one’s blackness, of hurt, and in that gesture plays the same role of regeneration as does fire. “Lynyrd…” is a double portrait and can obviously be read as the artist’s alter-ego – bouncing between one’s ‘dark side’ and an inner calm. Paras handles this subject with great maturity. The schizophrenic layering of personas is literally rendered as a kind of surface texture where the viewer reads the artist whose misty doe-eyes return our gaze. One become caught, intrigued by their stare. These are far from introverted or shy paintings rather they possess the conviction of inner strength.
It connects with a smaller painting in the show, “Ang dilim…hindi na muna ako pipikit [It’s too dark…won’t shut my eyes for now]” (2008). Here a ghostly apparition consumes the canvas and, again, locks the gaze of the viewer with its eyes. It is a kind of mute communication that is filled with emotion. Is it fear, exhaustion or empathy? Like a walking nightmare, sleep depraved and ghostly, the figure floats before us in space, its whiteness emerging from the gallery wall. It has the intensity of insomniac vigilance that reduces us to a mere shadow of ourselves, as its title suggests.
The face is textured tattoo-like with text that is overlaid and abstracted. I am reminded of the Chinese painter Xiao Hong whose large cropped portraits are in- filled with semi-transparent societal descriptors to the sitter’s character. With Lynyrd’s paintings, however, it is not so much social framing but rather psychological ramblings, emotions that can be read like an open wound. This is a riveting painting.
While Against My Blackhearted World is an exhibition of great emotional challenge, it does not overshadow its audience with darkness. There is strength in its fire and illumination that pulls the portraits from their murky backgrounds, at times with a clumsy unease, but with a sensitivity and conviction in who they are. Paras’ figures have great humanity. They are not wooden or wrapped in social ideals or art fashion.
This is painting at its best.