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July 09, 2013

REUBEN CAÑETE, PH.D.

Roots are not in landscape or a country, or a people. They are inside you.
– Isabelle Allende

The idea of Landscape painting arises from three major sources: the personification of Nature as an extension of a supernatural force (such as the Daoist yin-yang or Immortal themes of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Shintolandscapes); the visual pleasure of rendering the outdoors, often as an extension of ownership and power (Italian, English or French pastoral landscapes); or the realization of the land as a metaphor of nationhood and collective identity (Dutch and German landscapes).  Landscapes, therefore, are charged with political and ideological meaning that lie parallel to”or encoded within” the vista of earth, sea, sky, mountain, river, flora, fauna, and humanity that animate it and gives it its peculiar aesthetic. Formerly wedded as background scenery to Buddhas or Madonnas, landscape has, since the 16th Century, emerged as a predominant significant technical and practisanal concern for artists, who see the seemingly eternal grandeur of its view as an ideal foil against overly fussy portrait patrons, or fragile still life subjects. 


Landscape in Philippine Art is often seen as following the third source, which reiterates the tropical topography as an essential stage from which one could locate Filipino life and social intercourse. This is where one can locate the ricefields of Fernando Amorsolo, whose idealized depiction of dalagang bukid lasses and swarthy farmers and fishermen spoke of the virility of Filipino nationhood; or for that matter, the dense foliage of a riverbank bamboo grove depicted by Dominador Castañeda; or a towering canopy of fruit trees in the pulo by Diosdado Lorenzo. Contemporary Filipino artists locate their landscape production within often ironic and Dadaist contrasts with environmental degradation and urban miasma, and it is within the Modernist temperament of irony mixed with nostalgia that we locate the work of forty-year old Jucar Raquepo.


In his current exhibition Back To Landscapes, Raquepo’s capacity for appropriating Pop Art with surrealist overtones extends from his former haunts of kitschy dogs-playing-cards and telon freakshow posters to the merged landscapes of the Philippines and Canada (where he recently completed the ArtsHealth North Residency program in Ontario), one accomplished through his re-imagining of landscape as postcard image. In the 20th Century, the landscape photo-postcard was always a cipher of place-ness and topographic ownership: tourists would send home postcards to their loved ones with texts that often read: “Wish You Were Here. This vicarious claim to a place is deeply rooted in the economy of imperialism and travel that made tourism possible, and makes it today’s biggest industry aside from energy. In our jaded postmodern eyes, the mid-20th Century postcard also conveys nostalgia for a simpler time when terrorism and airport gridlock didn’t exist to frazzle our nerves. It is this longing for a fictitiously pleasant past that animates Raquepo’s landscapes with theentfremdung of the present.


This can be seen in his comingled landscapes of Philippine tropical and Canadian wintry scenes, such as the famed belltower of Santa Maria, Ilocos Norte with a railroad track somewhere in Ontario; or bahay na bato in Vigan with the frost-covered backwoods of the wintry north. Even when depicting Canada in its entirety, the UP Diliman Fine Arts-educated Raquepo injects a contradistinctive humor, as when he depicts a fastfood truck advertising hot French fries buried deep in a snowdrift. The famed control tower of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX to the globetrotting Pinoy) also gets a closeup, taken from a parking lot filled with Seventies cars. However, it is Raquepo’s impressionistic depictions of Philippine tourism sites, such as the lighthouse at Cape Bojeador, or a banca somewhere in the Visayas, that shows his own nostalgia for the local outdoors as noble and nationalist. Perhaps it is this longing for the tropics of one’s domicile that sets Jucar Raquepo’s spatial depiction of the Philippines as not so much alienated as it is conflicted with the reality of its condition.

Reuben Ramas Cañete, Ph.D. is currently Associate Professor at the Asian Center, U.P. Diliman.