The mys­te­ri­ous deep

Filip­ina artist Bree Jon­son takes her en­quiry into the hu­man psy­che a step fur­ther in Writhing.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Art - By ROUWEN LIN (oil on can­vas, 2017). (oil on can­vas, 2017).

BREE Jon­son is more than a lit­tle like her paint­ings – or is it the other way around? She’s ar­tic­u­late, has a wicked sense of hu­mour, laughs eas­ily. But pare away the sur­face, peel back the vivid colours, and there’s more than meets the eye with artist and paint­ings alike.

Writhing, her se­cond solo in Kuala Lumpur af­ter The­rion Mythos in 2014 (and her sixth solo over­all), com­pris­ing oil paint­ings, sketches and an in­stal­la­tion piece, fea­ture a never-end­ing sup­ply of adorable sea anemones wav­ing their ten­ta­cles lazily, draw­ing you in like they do with their prey. So ven­ture just a lit­tle closer, and then per­haps just a lit­tle more, but watch out, their ten­ta­cles might sting!

“Life as a teenager was very de­press­ing for me,” says Jon­son, 25, when asked about how she got into vis­ual art. But some­thing clicked when she was sent to the coun­selor’s of­fice (at school) to sit for a psy­cho­log­i­cal test of sorts.

“I had to look at paint­ings and draw­ings and other images, and then make up sto­ries for each one. It could be a paint­ing of a sad girl, or a dot in the mid­dle of the page, or just black ev­ery­where ... but good art brings your sub­con­scious to the fore. It wasn’t all good art dur­ing the test, of course, but it was what got me in­ter­ested in vis­ual art,” re­calls the Mani­l­abased artist.

In her new se­ries Writhing, now show­ing at OUR ArtPro­jects in Kuala Lumpur, Jon­son has sea urchins scat­tered around her oil paint­ings, their spikes con­trast­ing with the blobs and happy colours and de­cep­tively cute anemones.

“The sea urchins here sig­nify the un­known, the bar­ri­ers and dan­gers you will come across in life. They serve as a re­minder of our mor­tal­ity, re­flect­ing the feel­ing you get when you are un­der­wa­ter and see them ev­ery­where, and are mind­ful that you should not drift too near them be­cause you don’t want to touch them and don’t want them to touch you!” she ex­plains.

This point is driven home with a 50-piece wooden urchin in­stal­la­tion, scat­tered around the ex­hi­bi­tion space, forc­ing vis­i­tors to care­fully skirt around them.

“There is al­ways this chasm be­tween the sense of con­scious self and the mor­tal­ity of the body you live in. Does it re­ally end when you die? Th­ese are among the many ques­tions and is­sues I wanted to por­tray with this se­ries,” she says.

Jon­son, who pur­sued in­dus­trial en­gi­neer­ing in univer­sity (Ate­neo de Davao Univer­sity), has never had for­mal art train­ing. In­stead, af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 2012, she trained as an ap­pren­tice un­der a painter who had a pen­chant for sur­re­al­ist works.

“So that was how I started out, with paint­ings that were rather sur­real in ap­pear­ance,” she re­lates.

“But af­ter more read­ing, self­s­tudy and re­flec­tion on what I wanted to do with my art, I re­alise that what speaks to me now is some­thing more re­al­is­tic, more nat­u­ral. I am at a point where I want my work to be more representative of the world around us, rather than just some­thing from imagination ... although I do like to be play­ful about it!”

It is quite ob­vi­ous that her work has shifted from the sur­real to the more re­al­is­tic in this new body of work, but the viewer can’t help but no­tice as well that it is not just the play­ful­ness ap­par­ent in her ear­lier works that is re­tained in th­ese paint­ings. There re­mains a hint of some­thing darker half-hid­den in the depths, an un­der­cur­rent buried in each work that hov­ers be­tween mys­tery and inky black.

“I don’t re­ally want to say it, but now when I look back at my ear­lier works, it feels like I was just scratch­ing the sur­face then. It feels ma­te­ri­al­is­tic. Now I want to es­cape that ma­te­ri­al­ism and go deeper, add sev­eral more lay­ers to my paint­ings,” con­fides Jon­son.

Writhing delves deeper into her ex­plo­ration of the lay­ered com­plex­ity of the hu­man psy­che, where things are of­ten not what they seem to be.

Her oil paint­ings can in­deed be ad­mired on purely an aes­thetic level – af­ter all, what’s there to not like about a gor­geous un­der­wa­ter world – but there is just some­thing about the deep blue that beck­ons to you, draw­ing you closer to the whis­pers em­a­nat­ing from it.

By the time you re­alise that there is some­thing omi­nous lurk­ing in the back­ground, it might just be too late to with­draw.

It might be a lit­tle un­set­tling, some­thing a lit­tle dan­ger­ously hyp­no­tis­ing about it. But maybe there is nowhere else you would rather be.

Writhing is on at OUR ArtPro­jects, Zhong­shan Build­ing, No. 80 Jalan Rotan, off Jalan Kam­pung At­tap, Kuala Lumpur till June 24. Hours: Tues­day to Sat­ur­day 11am-7pm; Sun­day by ap­point­ment; closed Mon­days. Visit ourart­pro­ for more info.

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