Undoubtedly one of the most gifted artists of his generation, Glenn Bautista believes in total creativity. Wide-ranging in his production, he has distinguished himself in painting, whether in oil, pastel, or watercolor, in printmaking, particularly lithography, and in sculpture, freestanding or relief. He knew his artistic vocation from an early age — he was born in 1947 in Orion, Bataan — and he has since pursued his career with a single-mindedness of purpose.
Thus, he graduated with a degree of Fine Arts from the University of the Philippines in 1969, and on a scholarship grant, took further studies at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California where he graduated with honors in 1971. He has recently come back from Germany where he specialized in lithography at the ‘Kunstakademie’ in Dusseldorf and experimented with new materials and processes.
Bautista’s recent shows cover his artistic production for the last three years, with most of the works done in Germany. It is significant here to note that during the time he was there, he won an ample measure of critical recognition as his works have become part of the permanent exhibit at the Galerie Art 204 at Rethelstrasse, Dusseldorf, in the company of the works of Josef Beuys, and the masters Chagall, Dali, and Miro. His one-man show at the Gallery Genesis this September attests to his prolific expression and consistent excellence and includes works in various media: paintings in pastel, mixed media works, collages, and works on handmade paper, photographs, lithographs, and cement sculpture.
Glenn Bautista started in the mid-Sixties as a painter of religious subjects and portraits. From the start, however, his art bore the stamp of his spontaneous originality which is the constant characteristic of his work. His early paintings of religious subjects done in the idiom of transparent cubism, more curvilinear than geometric, and which had a luminous stained-glass effect, endowed the traditional subjects with a new freshness and spiritual insight, While these early works were orthodox Christian, the religious aspect of his art acquired an increasingly eclectic character, drawing in elements and concepts from Asian religions to create a spiritual synthesis and unity of religious worship.
In the Seventies, the imagery of his art moved from the religious to the surreal, as in his Inner Light Series, 1975 in oil on canvas, with titles such as Buried Time, Aquascape, Firefly, Transience, and Woodscape. It is, however, important to note that the surrealism of Glenn Bautista draws its original principle from his religious works. The sacred aura and luminous presence of his earlier works became gradually shifted to another context, this time the surrealist vision.
How are we to define the specific character and quality of Glenn Bautista’s surrealist vision by which it distinguishes itself from the work of other surrealists? In terms of quality and feeling, it is, as we have earlier mentioned, drawn from his early religious consciousness. Thus, whether the subject be interplanetary outposts in a desert space, or trees and organic growths, it bears a spiritual presence beyond the original religious source. This abstractized religious quality is conveyed through the style itself, and, to a large extent, by the pastel medium as it is used by the artist in his individual style. In his hands, pastel assumes a rare suppleness, which, however does not preclude the clear and precise articulation of detail, the aura, spiritual or magical, is the effect of his exquisite control of light and tone. It is indeed surprising what a large tonal range can be accommodated within a small format of twelve and one fourth inches square. Often, light shines from within the forms like mysterious and beckoning Grail. It may flood valleys and gorges in a soft radiance that contrasts with the raggedness of the cliffs rising around. Light falls, like cascades, like torrents, like silent water down the slopes or the steep inclines of unknown mountains. With the light, color modulates from the purple to rose to orange with shades of gray, as the hues are brought out in all their original vividness and in their entire range of expression.
Because of the intense concentration of imagery in a small format, along with the artist’s mastery of his technical means, and the flexibility and suppleness of his handling, many of the works achieve the macrocosmic dimension in their visionary scale. A small work — significantly, a square field with its equal sides — contains features on microcosm, which, in their rich and intricate interrelationships, project infinitely into a vast macrocosm, the multiple universe of endless space. The tonalities of light and dark when put into service of the linear perspective of surrealism create a trajectory into infinity, above and beyond the painting’s visual field, particularly since the artist does not mark a horizon line but telescopes, structures and crops the boundless image within the confines of the ordering square.
In fact, in a number of his works, Bautista has modified traditional perspective of linear convergence into more complex formulations. In some striking works, the schema of perspectival lines is elaborated into a contrapuntal network of lines that touch at points, separate and recede in an irregular zigzagging movement. The pool or subterranean depth from which a light wells out and radiates from a series of concentric layers and softly articulates the environing shapes. Another kind of perspective is off-centered and asymmetrical, as in semi-circular low-lying valley or river basin that interplays with steeply rising cliffs or a flat desert. The point of view from high Olympian vantage points is omniscient, spanning an immense temporal and spatial distance.
Thus, in these images of mystical evocation, the primitive archetypal past and the interplanetary future converge, as they reveal (and the artist has identified this as a central theme) underlying similarity of structures. The winding and tortuous mountain trails of what seems like an abandoned sky-city of Andes, Machu Picchu, perhaps, find a contemporary echo in the elaborate system of gas pipelines in a highly industrialized region, the Ruhr in Central Europe, for instance. For one, however, the images of ancient cities and ghost trails in inaccessible mountain fortresses often include the element of the organic, in the allusion to strong and ancient roots that reach down into the depths of the earth. On the other hand, the images of pipelines and what they signify of advanced industrial technology convey, in their formidable metallic structure a latent protest against dehumanization of man and decentering of his unique personality by the mammoth of mechanization. The concept of an inexorable industrial ‘‘progress’’ and the toll to the human spirit that it exacts coalesce in the powerful image of the bird’s claw with its avid and cruelly pointed talons that seem to spread out from a hard center of unrelenting steel.
In all the pastel works, however the sophisticated sense of structure the interplay of past and present and of the organic and mechanical the atmospheric space, and the quality of light blazing like a flare or softly phosphorescent-like marine forms glowing in a subterranean seas, are constant themes, of which the primary is the pervasive aura of spiritual presence the mystical, now abstracted from original context of religious orthodoxy.
The same imagery as in the pastel works occurs in the photographs which are instant constructions, usually of sand and found objects, combined with sculptural forms, photographed in site. Close-up photography lends the subject of shells, rocks, and leaves, chambered nautilus, and an occasional surprise, in a rearing head of Christ, the illusion of actual existence, because of the camera’s natural function of recording material reality. It is best to relate the pastels to the photographs and vice-versa, because such comparative viewing brings out keenly the way in which a subject undergoes a shift in meaning as it is transposed into a different artistic medium. In these works, the artist is intrigued with the variation of existence of a visual sign appearing in art. In fact, the same concerns and interests which may easily grow into obsessions, also find expression in the cement relief sculptures which give the subjects another, a third, dimension of existence, this time three-dimensional with solid mass and texture.
In both the pastel works and the cement reliefs, the format is square, thus pointing to a real interrelationship. The textured white fields of his reliefs correspond to the desert sands of the pastel works as well as to the fine beach sand in the photographs. It becomes clear that in Glenn Bautista’s works, sand is a medium, actual or illusory, which, like water, is an essential part of this surrealist vision which both conceals, submerges or blankets like snow at the same time that it reveals and exposes mysteries of the unconscious.
The artist rises to the conscious level and reckons reality in all its color and movement in his big collages that take off from posters and in his smaller works of mixed media that combine collage, line drawings, pastel passages and rubbings. Done in Germany, these show the contemporary First World urban environment impinging on the artist’s consciousness from all directions. The imagery of these works conveys the sophistication of cineclubs, theaters, and outdoor cafes the very structure of a well-ordered bourgeois urban milieu in the rubbings of fire hydrants, manhole covers, street signs with the immediacy of their textures, and in the vintage appeal of Chaplin posters in the context of European pop.
Not to be overlooked is a collection of small works on paper — particularly finely textured handmade paper from cogon and abaca produced in Baguio studio-workshops. On these, the artist has painted with pencil and pastel European landscapes of a more familiar and reassuring scale and on-the-spot renderings of elements of the urban scene: houses, doors, windows, interiors, with particular interest in their framework and structural features. In these he has consciously brought out the textural particularities of the handmade paper to become elements of meaning in the image as a whole. At times, one senses the superimposing of two planes of existence, the European and the Philippine in the medium and the image, at other times, these two planes originating from different cultural contexts and sensibilities, remain separate and apart.
But there is always and increasingly more in the art of Glenn Bautista whose artistic creativity is multifaceted and multidirectional. His lithographs, for instance, can challenge the best in the international scene. His surrealist works are true individual reformulations of that probing vision.
In his works, form and vision seem to vie with each other in their pursuit of new directions and discoveries in the vast unending field that is his artist’s terrain and which he explores in its dimensions of time and space and in its surface life and materiality as in the deep and subterranean movements and phenomena of man’s other self.
About the Author:
Studied at the College of the Holy Spirit and the Universite’d Aix-Marseille in France as a scholar of the French Government. She finished her Ph.D (Philippine Studies) at the University of the Philippines with the dissertation entitled “Protest/Revolutionary Art in the Marcos Regime”. She was the recipient of the Art Association of the Philippines Art Criticism Award in 1976. She also received the UP Chancellor’s Award on Best Research in 1996. In the same year she was a Research Fellow of the Japan Foundation in Tokyo. She is married to the poet Gelacio Guillermo and has two children, Sofia and Ramon.