Ambiguity and Contradiction in New Relief Works by José Santos III

Born in Manila, Philippines in 1970, José Santos III has led numerous artistic lives. His early paintings incorporated mixed media collage and motifs appropriated from Western artworks, placed together in anachronistic compositions that seemed to resist the traditionally linear narrative structure of most European painting. In 2009, however, the artist abruptly changed paths, abandoning figuration—and paint on canvas—to pursue more concrete concerns, and turning his attention toward texture and material.

For his newest exhibition at Pearl Lam Galleries, Santos has created a body of clean, spare objects in epoxy relief that confound the divisions between categories usually considered to be in conflict, or even antipodal. Titled “2hide”—a wry play on the word’s twofold meanings as verb and noun, one suggesting the act of concealment and the other describing a skin that acts as a protective exterior surface—the show investigates a fluid conceptual space in which “inside” and “outside,” “hard” and “soft,” “front” and “back” are both interchangeable and simultaneous.

Abstract Reasoning (2014) presents a suite of four window frame-shaped wall works the color of bare canvas, or paper. Exhibited in a horizontal line, they quickly organize themselves visually into two distinct sets of partners, each consisting of a cast epoxy form and its impression, hardened into epoxy relief. But which of each pair was created first—which might be considered the object and which its imprint—is unintelligible. In Higher Ground (1-3) (2014), Santos III plumbs the disorienting possibilities of materials, loosely wrapping a series of boxes in ostensibly flowing folds of resinated fabric and and affixing them into three tall stacks. Perceived simultaneously as an arrangement of right angles and delicate pleats, the installation enacts the sort of visual ambiguity consistent throughout the artist’s work. Taken altogether, the exhibition intimates the subjective, even contradictory nature of visual perception.

Emily Nathan

2hide” is on view at Pearl Lam Galleries, Singapore, Nov. 22, 2014–Jan. 8, 2015.

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