Raul Deodato Arellano, The Island (triptych), oil on canvas, 48 x 109 inches, center height 60 inches, 2021
Published October 4, 2021
Raul Arellano in 2021:
On Expressions of the Unconscious Rejecting Expressions of the Concept
by Jojo Soria de Veyra
NSIDE his Calaca, Batangas studio, balikbayan Filipino painter Raul Deodato Arellano was drawing and painting without reference, emulating both surrealist automatism’s celebration of the unconscious and pareidolia’s salute to the conscious mind’s cognitive abilities. This was during preparations for Island, his first show at Altro Mondo Arte Contemporanea Creative Space in San Antonio, Makati, which opened last Saturday, October 2, in the gallery's Spazio Franco. Arellano has been excited with his new collection's paying tribute to that early 20th-century automatist method, acknowledging that it actually still works today towards making one wonder as well as feel challenged.
To be specific, while surrealism is often associated with a rejection of so much consciousness, Arellano is amused by his finding that the clichéd automatist act, or such an art school-ish exercise as exploring the canvas with various shapes, can still seriously massage the mind towards an inevitable sense of reason that’s almost detective-like or semiotic or simply symbolist in its natural trajectory. In short, it leads one to a desire for order. It would seem, then, that the relationship between surrealist automatism and a Mari Kondo-esque sensibility for comfort and reason is more symbiotic than immiscible. The one (surrealist automatism) leads to the other (reason), and perhaps, as by the habits of pareidolia, conversely.
Through this new exercise on more than six paintings, therefore, Arellano has allowed himself to see the connections between things that did not seem to be connected before, or between art history events that would often be presented as conflicting paradigms. And, voila! Inside this process, Arellano realized that the old surrealist automatist approach that’s supposedly the cliché that it is as per the categorizations of museum curators—an archaic modernist-period expression of the unconscious rejecting expressions of the concept, although that "unconscious expression" is still what motors the actions of living improvisers on park skateboards or jazz trumpets—actually still appeals to the mind very much the way a scattered Lego set or collection of jigsaw puzzle pieces on a floor today would. Even though these scattered 3D or two-dimensional abstract "objects" may be said to be generating new perceptions for an altro mondo mindspace (an "out of this world" mindspace), their entropic theatrics would nevertheless appeal as stimuli to man’s big nature to create new metaphors (including religious metaphors).
And so Arellano ends up seeming to pay tribute here to what have been called the post-surrealists of 1930s Southern California (the area where Arellano has spent many years of his life living in before finally coming back to the Philippines to farm and paint). These California artists, as it turns out, were some of those who exploited during their time the surrealist ambition for symbolist inevitabilities, either as rebellion to surrealism’s pretenses or as an awakening to its potential for man’s conceptual nature. A journey, then, from surrealism’s and Dadaism’s paranoia to a more accepting 1930s American pareidolia.
Of course, however, Arellano would not spell out for you what conscious narratives can be extracted from, say, Self-Portrait, a jumble of modernist shapes that also Picasso-esquely morph into verily referential shapes (two obvious human feet down there, a guitar up there where a guitar should be inside a torso shape, and then, good Lord, a literal cock near this emerging human shape’s groin!). But Arellano’s appropriation of the Cubist merging of the abstract and the referential―one could actually say it’s an appropriation of so many similar modernist outcomes―explodes here anew as the balikbayan artist’s paean, finally, to the complementary existence of two often divided areas of creative production.
Raul Deodato Arellano, Self-Portrait, oil on canvas, 60 x 36 inches, 2021
This coming together is elevated further in The Island (see our studio photo of this show's title painting at the top of this article). It's a triptych mainly featuring abstract grey shapes inspired by rocks at a cove or lagoon. While the horizontal format of the typical triptych may be said to have been appropriated here in order for the artist to pay homage to dreamscapes, it at the same time cannot avoid coming out like a plan for a kind of death-life/living allegory.
To the artist the piece has become an allegory of the three stages of life, beginning with the panel on the right where life is conceived, followed by the middle panel's visual metaphor for a birth taking place, and, finally, the last stage in the panel on the left where things seem to have been taken by a black hole. Now, that is the overall concept. But you and I know that there's always more deviltry to be found in the teeny-tiniest details.
Notice, for instance, that the rock shapes on the panel at the right morph into human shapes, male they appear to be, shapes seemingly emerging as witnesses to a more referential female bather’s image in the panel's lower left. Are these male shapes masturbating? Whatever it is they seem to be doing, isn’t it an achievement that abstract grey shapes referencing inorganic rocks also function here as a palimpsest for memories of living shapes, and so on and so forth? Meanwhile, the triptych’s middle panel boasts of an abstract central figure that resembles both bones dropped into a pile and water disturbed to jump into life by an efficient diver’s dive.
The entire piece could be seen as a chilling picture of isolation (that's actually everyone's reality), but erotic, too, at the same time. It could be a philosophical composite picture of death/s . . . but indeed also of life. [d]
Raul Deodato Arellano, Earthbeat, oil on canvas, 36 x 60 inches, 2021
Raul Deodato Arellano, Submission of Man, oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches, 2021