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iso­bel francisco

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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

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