Flowers for X: Patricia Eustaquio at Yavuz Gallery

Written By Junni Chen

23rd Nov 2016

Category: Review

Patricia Perez Eustaquio does not mind crumpling up the petals of her painted flowers.

Flowers for X presents us with a slew of seemingly delicate and beautiful flowers, rendered in pale pink, grey, and black. They are printed on flowing silk, splayed across the white floor of the gallery, and painted on circular canvases that are hung up on walls. The flowers limp and droop: these are not, strictly speaking, images of fresh flowers, but flowers that have seen better days. They are, it seems, tired, listless, and—for lack of a better word—floppy. The petals seem to fold, timidly, into themselves.

The artist, Patricia Perez Eustaquio, at Yavuz Gallery. Photo: Yavuz Gallery.

It is a marked difference from Eustaquio’s work presented at the Singapore Biennale 2016. There, her work features an orchid that is proud, sprawling, almost rampant in the way it commands a whole wall to itself. In contrast, Flowers for X, Manila-based Eustaquio’s first solo show at Yavuz Gallery, almost feels wistful. But it is in this exhibition that Eustaquio has more space to introduce to a Singapore audience a more coherent thesis on her art practice. Commanding the space of the gallery on the second level of Block 9, Lock Road, Eustaquio artfully arranges her works, which use different materials to capture the poignancy of dying blooms. This exhibition features a mix of hard and soft materials: the cloth on the floor contrasts with the hard, marble-like spears that rest against the wall. Yet, the works all seem to be driving towards the same point: the ends of the spears are shaped into petal- and leaf-like ends, underlining an undercurrent of fragility beneath the cold, hard spear.

The Hunters Enter the Woods, 2016 Oil on aluminium 300 × 540 cm (installed width of diptych). Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Photo: Singapore Biennale 2016.

Patricia Perez Eustaquio, Flowers for X, I, 2016. Oil on canvas. 152.5 cm in diameter. Photo courtesy of the artist and Yavuz Gallery. 

What does Eustaquio want us to see within the image of the crumpled petal? It is a motif that she often repeats. Against a wall, a single black cloth is draped over an arc, leaving the black cloth to hang, like a damp rag. It’s almost a circumambulation around the very same theme. “I chose to focus on the flower because flowers have such a deeply rooted symbolism in our social, political, and cultural histories, and yet they can be so banal or invisible”, Eustaquio writes to us. “I think it is a great metaphor to all things we like or want at some point. And at another, [we] may discard [them] because they are ephemeral in nature, or because our tastes have moved on to something else.”

One of Eustaquio’s more arresting works in the exhibition is the series of painted medallions that are mounted along the walls. Similarly titled Flowers for X, and numbered I, II, IV and IV, these works display her prowess in painting. It seems almost an unexpected turn away from her previous works that seem to operate more in the language of sculpture and installation, yet one cannot forget—Eustaquio graduated from the University of the Philippines with a BFA in Painting, Magna Cum Laude no less. Art history has always seen the seemingly inextricable pairing of painting and flowers. Perhaps this is what drove Eustaquio to reopen the notion of the “still-life” in her exhibition, and with it, the practice of painting. “In art, the still life portraying flowers were once the most celebrated thing, and yet as tastes go, the still life is now the tacky outdated side of art, or no longer ‘contemporary’ in terms of current tastes and so on. In a way I suppose, my work tries to play on tacky and precious and challenge how we perceive things, using the flower as one of the main subjects.”

Patricia Perez Eustaquio, Flowers for X, II, 2016. Oil on canvas. 152.5 cm in diameter. Photo courtesy of the artist and Yavuz Gallery. 

Patricia Perez Eustaquio, Island, 2016, plaster cast and black salt, dimensions variable. Photo courtesy of the artist and Yavuz Gallery. 

In a way, the series Flowers for X walks between this fine line between the precious and the banal, presenting works that can perform this about-face in a dizzying, almost unsettling manner. As I stopped in front of Flowers for X, II (2016), I wondered if I was looking at a beautiful flower touchingly arranged—or an irreverent bunch of wadded up tissue paper, flung thoughtlessly on the ground after someone has blown their nose on them. It is hard to make up one’s mind about the paintings; it’s almost as if we have to hold our breath whilst approaching them. I am not sure what the trick being played here is, but it works. We want to take the painting seriously, to rave about its allure, enchantment, and sad, faded, glamour—but we can’t. The tissue paper remains in the picture, as much as the flower does. It is their Janus-faced quality that brings a hard edge, and a deeper depth to an otherwise pretty show. Here, seduction is only one coin-flip away from the boring and commonplace.

“My art practice explores materials, materiality and the vanity of objects.” Eustaquio continues in her correspondence with us. “I try, through my works, to explore how our appetite for things, for objects, create an entire mechanism of supply and demand, of fabrication and consumption. Objects aspire to become certain forms, forms that make up our visual culture.” Art history narratives will tell us of the vanitas tradition, a genre of still-life painting made to remind viewers of the ephemerality of beauty, and the ultimate futility that emerges out of chasing it. But to state that Eustaquio’s works continue in the thread of the vanitas would be to miss the main vein of her works. The moral message (if there is one) is that the object, and the form that it takes, can essentially (and ironically) be anything we want it to be. If the vanitas teaches us that beauty is fleeting, Eustaquio teaches us—or at least, teaches me—that this very beauty can be re-found at the bottom of a rubbish heap at the side of the road. And so it is that Eustaquio drapes cloth over arcs; she makes lilly-headed and gold-trimmed spears out of found plastic objects and PVC pipes. She prints her blooms on silk dupion and throws them over the ground, in a tumble, over the floor of Yavuz Gallery.

Exhibition view of Flowers for X. Photo courtesy of Yavuz Gallery.

Patricia Perez Eustaquio, Untitled (Blooms) I, 2016, digital print on silk dupion, printed in England, 136 x 300 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist and Yavuz Gallery. 

Patricia Perez Eustaquio, Untitled (Spears), 2016, epoxy paint, PVC pipe, found (plastic) flowers/objects, gold aluminium wire, dimensions variable. Photo courtesy of the artist and Yavuz Gallery. 

There is no doubting that Eustaquio made a beautiful show. It was a harmonious exhibition, well-arranged and pleasing in every sense of the word. I could find no aesthetic fault in it; all-in-all I found myself wishing that I, myself, could conjure up such objects of ineffable beauty. And yet, as I stepped out of the gallery into the hot afternoon sun, drawing out a packet of 20 cent Fairprice facial tissues, I looked down.

The petals of a blooming flower, printed on clear, cheap, purple plastic, were looking happily right back at me.

Flowers for X is on show at Yavuz Gallery, Gillman Barracks till 18 December 2016. Admission is free. More information may be found here

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