Friday, March 14, 2008

Ang Kiukok: On Pain as Beauty

In national artist Ang Kiukok’s 1960 oil painting Crucifix, there is pain that does not seem to fade even with some understanding of the work that Christ did not feel good in terms of the physical torment that he underwent. This is because Ang’s expressionist technique always led him to heavy symbolism that provides layer upon layer of critiques on the hardships of existence.

Crucifix, hinges upon the dehumanised feel of the painting. Every person in it looks mechanical while the objects are the ones that seem more organic. He played a cruel irony on the fact that the art of his time relied on a colder understanding of the human being as object. In Crucifix the human suffering is so undeniable and yet the artist refused to paint on its being such.

The severely angular look of the Christ shows a human perspective that seeks to understand God by way of dissection and by treating the Creator as some piece of clockwork whose parts needed to be memorized and catalogued.

The overall shade of the painting is very much geared to earth tones further emphasize the human condition. It is Ang Kiukok’s way of professing the fact that the Christian God is Who He Is because He did not put Himself apart from His creations and made the ultimate sacrifice for them. Lighting is brightest at the radial centre created by the head and chest area of Jesus which then radiates throughout the whole piece. Again, this is a loaded decision on Ang’s part and the idea emerges that nothing exists save from what Divine Providence allows. Even the Virgin Mary is depicted in a low light area to indicate that she is nothing if it were not for her relationship with Jesus.

Only actual lines are all that are and everything else is somehow made to conform to them. This symbolizes Ang’s fearlessness in facing the weight of the human condition. For a long time people shunned his realist-expressionist perspective, but even those people who found his art revolting had no choice but to accept the truth in his work: everyone lives with suffering one way or the other. Because as C.S. Lewis put it: “Pain is the chisel with which God fashions great sculptures from us slabs of stone.”