ar t + design
STARING INTO AN OIL PAINTING by Isobel Francisco is like entering someone’s fever dream, naked bodies of men and women lying and contorting themselves amongst wrinkled sheets surrounded by frenzied colors. You’ve stepped into a private world of people’s pains, feelings, and frustrations, their most intimate and heated moments either when they’re alone or in the company of others, peering through their bedroom doors and nding them in the throes of passion, moments of meditation, or complete satisfaction. In Bottom, a relaxed man sleeps in a sensuous pose on a background of white and blue, fully submitting himself to the luxury of rest. In direct contrast, Matador is a furor of sexuality as the gure presents himself, pulling on his shirt with bared teeth, his zipper undone, and his hands framing his crotch. A burst of red cloth oats in the background as he forcefully seduces you into his mania. Isobel’s work immerses you into a urry of emotions, sublime gures with worldly desires.
Despite the surreal scenes of Isobel’s world, you feel that these people exist. They are not suspended in fantasy or just in people’s imaginations. They are experiencing reality but plunging deep into their senses, allowing us to indulge vicariously on our own desires and grievances.
Why do you choose oil painting as your main medium? I’ve seen that you’re skilled also in digital, graphite, and mixed media but most of your works are oil.
I started exhibiting with digital paintings. At my rst show, a few artists dropped by and comically fought over what traditional medium I should try out (acrylic, oil, watercolor). Several months later, my computer broke down and prompted me to try out oils, which I found easier to wield than acrylics. I have plenty more works in graphite (also combined with ink, charcoal, or oil) than I present online but either I don’t sell them or I forget to take proper photographs of them.
What was is it like coming from a background of studying Humanities to becoming an oil painter? Did you have any difficulty entering the art world as someone who did not study Fine Arts formally?
I never considered exhibiting at all until a friend invited me to join their group show, because I assumed that sort of thing was for classically trained artists from art schools. So I knew nothing about the fundamentals. But I was fortunate to run into professional artists like Jayson Cortez, Katrina Pallon, and Marius Black who helped me understand what gesso was, where to get art supplies, and how to stay awake to beat deadlines. Many art galleries in Metro Manila like Vinyl on Vinyl are also willing to showcase complete newbies, and these galleries gave me helpful advice. I just needed to ask plenty of questions, and I still do.
As a child, how were you encouraged to take up painting?
On the contrary, I was told over and over that there’s no nancial stability in painting. They suggested that I take up Animation after college as their way of compromise, though.
How do you balance working your day job as a copywriter/graphic artist and honing your craft in fine arts?
Doing grunt work in other elds helps break the monotony. The extra cash helps pay the bills, too. Sometimes I even offer to write for other artists as a form of leisure. I once took a leave off my day job for two weeks, and I couldn’t paint a single thing.
I noticed that your oil paintings such as
Matador, Bottom, and Plucked have a very sensual, emotional, feverish atmosphere. Do you deliberately strive to achieve a certain feel to your artwork or do you go with the flow and find that it naturally occurs?
Many of my works come out of exhibit themes, which the artists usually come up with themselves but sometimes the gallery provides on their own. But these themes always touch upon human struggling, and I always paint with a sort of struggle in mind—I suppose it’s a form of catharsis for me. I think it’s both deliberate in the sense that I prepare thumbnails for it while I’m preparing the surface material, and spontaneous in that I have no idea how it will turn out because I slap around paints using a palette knife.
Are there any mythologies, religions, cultures, or media that you’re influenced by?
My rst works were digital paintings of the decaying Virgin Mary, because she was—if I remember correctly—the rst one I ever drew as a kid. I was raised Catholic so I’m pretty sure there are traces of it here and there in my work. I usually deal with existentialist themes and how insigni cant human beings really are in the grand scheme of the universe.
Your works have realistic bodies, painted in psychedelic, bright colors, with a background of abstract paint strokes and sheets. What is your thought process in achieving this balance of, I’d say, realism, expressionism, and abstract?
I don’t think about striking any sort of “balance,” but since I often portray internal con icts with characters, I try to illustrate their emotional turmoil with bold chunks of color surrounding them. At the moment I’m trying to make my characters less structured and more “destroyed.” Sometimes I think this is because there are already many, many “pretty” portraits, especially in the Philippines where we are blessed with so many masters of realism, and I often get bored with “pretty.”
In your most recent group show, “The Fe(male) Gaze,” you present men as victims of patriarchy. Would you define yourself as a feminist? Has feminism influenced your artworks as well as yourself as an artist?
If by feminist you mean I believe both sexes deserve equal rights and opportunities to raise their voices, then yes. I know what it’s like to constantly look over my shoulder and to ght public or professional opinion, but I also see men who are expected to provide, to be forbidden from showing weakness, or to be forbidden from becoming victims themselves. If there are unfair standards for women, there are unfair standards for men as well. I think our culture is hurting everyone in it, and it’s high time we listen to all voices.
As a female artist in a dominantly Catholic and religious country, do you find yourself encountering any difficulties painting sexually-charged artwork?
I have yet to encounter any strong negative reactions towards my works, thankfully. Only a few paintings with very naked people get passed on from time to time (with some prospects stating they couldn’t display it in their house where they might upset guests). The only experience I can recall is when I painted a baby bleeding in various colors and some parents said it made them uncomfortable.
Sexual kinks aren’t exactly encouraged to be talked about or portrayed in Philippine society or media and yet, I’ve seen paintings of yours putting the spotlight on certain kinks. What made you decide to put a focus on societal taboos?
I don’t think, Oh this looks outrageous and
controversial so I must do it. For the most part I don’t see them as “taboos” or “kinks.” They just happen to be activities people other than myself enjoy or nd solace in, and it fascinates me, especially if it involves bodyto-contact and elevating the physical senses that enhance how they regard themselves or their relationships.
“My themes always touch upon human struggling, and I always paint with a sort of struggle in mind— I suppose it’s a form of catharsis for me.”
Isobel Francisco exposes the secret conflicts and fantasies of her painted characters
Caged Oil on canvas 40 x 30 in. 2015
Flight Formation Oil on canvas 4 x 3 ft. 2014