Pinggot Zulueta’s ‘Obskura’: Amid environmental alert, a hopeful ‘Easter’ art of rebirth 2

Pinggot Zulueta’s ‘Obskura’: Amid environmental alert, a hopeful ‘Easter’ art of rebirth

Pinggot Zulueta adopts Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno’s declaration— 'Never despair … from black clouds falls clean and fertile water.'
Lito B. Zuluieta | Apr 07 2024

Australia-based Filipino artist Pinggot Zulueta’s newest exhibit of pen-and-ink-on-canvas works at Art Cube in Makati is titled “Obskura,” but there’s nothing really obscure about it. 

A newspaper illustrator, editorial cartoonist, and photojournalist in various press agencies before going back to painting full time, Zulueta (no relation to this writer) has run the gamut of idioms and styles — folk genre, social realism, abstraction, mixed-media, neo-portraiture, expressionism, etc.

But he works best in employing his no-mean graphic skills at socio-political commentary whose roots go back to his days as an artist at the Varsitarian campus paper of the University of Santo Tomas (UST), where he took up Fine Arts, and then as illustrator, designer, and photographer in various press agencies, and finally as archivist and “documentarist” of the visual arts scene in the country.

“Obskura” draws as well from well other influences on Zulueta — the literary (he’s friends with creative writers), the academic (at UST, students are made to do “academic” work, that is, to copy classic works of art), and others.

In “Obskura, Zulueta trains the spotlight on environmental concerns, that impact the young and the next generations.

The centerpiece, "Hereditas (Legacy)," depicts a young girl in a court dress with her face obscured by a large mass in burnt sienna; the work is a reimagining of the Infanta Margarita in Diego Velasquez’s famous “Las Meninas.” 

A quotation from young climate change activist Greta Thurnberg discloses the painting’s underlying message: “We can't just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow." 

"Reborn," which draws influence from Salvador Dali's work, is likewise rife with environmental concern.

Drawing from the influence of literary writers, Zulueta complements the painting with a passage from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”: "Once upon a time, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten." 

Similarly evincing Zulueta’s environmental concern is "The Earthkeeper," its message articulated by the quotation from Spanish writer-philosopher Miguel de Unamuno "Never despair, even being in the darkest afflictions, for from black clouds falls clean and fertile water.”

Vivid realism, nightmarish surrealism

 As in his previous exhibits, “Melankolia” and “Katharsis,” Zulueta mixes vivid realism and dreamlike, even nightmarish, surrealism; he melds the private and the public.

“Obskura” and the previous exhibits have drawn the artist back to the intimate corners of his life, evoking a melancholic temperament that intertwines both negative and positive sentiments in nearly equal measure. 

His private and public journey serves as a constant wellspring of inspiration, fueling his creative endeavors.

Through introspection, the artist finds solace and closure, integrating past experiences into the fabric of his life's narrative. 

By immersing himself in the distant echoes of his past, he achieves a profound sense of connection and harmony, reconciling history in both personal and public dimensions.

Merging the real and the symbolic, Zulueta continues to embrace a mainly monochromatic palette of black and white on canvas, save for the umber colors in certain works in “Obskura,”  to connote earth and nature. 

The largely monochromatic rendering magnifies the darkness of the canvases’ dire warning on the environment while also enhancing contemplation.

In “Melankolia,” Zulueta used a remark by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo that could apply as well to “Obskura”:  "Pain, pleasure and death are no more than a process of existence. The revolutionary struggle in this process is a doorway open to intelligence."

Existential issues, whether socio-political or environmental, continue to confront humanity, Zulueta seems to be saying with “Obskura.” But such challenges open a doorway to the use of one’s reason and intelligence. They afford one to be human and wise.