Monday, May 30, 2011

REVIEW: The Land of Eternal Bliss by Whoop

Ronac Art Center, Friday March 25

One has to admit that the line between street art and fine art is so blur these days that one can’t even find where it was the last time one saw it. The last time I searched the net regarding a fine artist (I have bought several pieces of his works in a gallery), I found out that he has started designing limited edition toys! Meanwhile, in a casual evening in Manila (one of my 2 days 2 nights trips), I went to a designer toyshop and suddenly found myself in a gallery in preparation for a solo exhibition of a street artist named Whoop.

Though the name sounds like what one will say when a mistake was made, the paintings and the toys were definitely not. Whoop (real name is Omar-Sam Ramos) was there working when I was shown around. What really took me off guard though was the toy, Mr. Brain Freeze. It doesn’t fit the usual mold of a designer toy (a very good sign), this has no legs, no eyes, no hands, no mouth, just a mass of melting scoops of ice cream topped with a scoop of brain and a cherry-skull… the brain is bigger than the skull and the scoops of ice cream were also bigger than the brain. It was surreal and almost indicating the intense pain of a brain freeze. Interestingly, Mr. Brain Freeze made his appearance in several of Whoop’s paintings.

When asked about Mr. Brain Freeze, Whoop kindly explained, “when I was very young, my family was economically sound. Then one day, fortune changed and we have to live in a squatter area. One afternoon, there was an ice cream vendor passing by. While my playmates were able to buy ice cream, I can’t and that was when it really struck me how poor my family was. To cope with the situation, I made believe that the ice cream tasted horrible and was poisonous.”

Digging deep into his childhood memories and injecting it with the awareness and understanding of an adult has infused the character/icon/symbol of Mr. Brain Freeze with a combination of repulsive symbols with pastel delectability. For Whoop, his childhood experience seems to be a rich source of meanings and imageries.

His paintings show bursts of microcosm and macrocosm of imaginary characters that reminds me of amoeba, protozoans, giant bees and Audrey (from Little Shop of Horror). All seemed to try to introduce the viewer to the world that he has created except one painting distinctively framed in bright red. Apparently, this painting entitled, “Castle of Illusion and the Chamber of Pain”, is HIS painting for the “year”. Though one can have a glimpse of why it is some sort of a diary/record of his life, only Whoop can fully decipher it. On the surface, one can see the (year of the) tiger walking out, while the rabbit is already presiding, or even the Manila bus hostage crisis played out with toy soldiers.
While it was not difficult to be attracted to the candy colors of the works, Whoop’s paintings also beg to remind the viewers to look beyond and revisit old memories and find new appeasements; The Land of Eternal Bliss.

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