Miguel Sison: Taking a Parisian apartment apart
- Cid Reyes () - November 28, 2005 - 12:00am
The appeal of Paris to artists is the stuff of legend.Though the art scene has now shifted to New York, it is still Paris that remains to most of us, artists in spirit, to be the most magical of cities. Indeed, two Filipino artists have made it their home for over half a century. The late Nena Saguil lived and worked in Paris, since the mid-Fifties to her death in 1994. Still very much alive is Juvenal Sanso who famously said: "My roots are in the Philippines. Let’s just say that the branches are in Paris."

Currently on view at the Ricco-Renzo Galleries are the works of another Filipino artist smitten by the city of Paris. An architect by profession, Miguel Augusto Sison had the good fortune of having lived in Paris for a year.

Intriguingly, Sison’s first solo exhibit is billed simply as "Apartment," and is exactly what the title implies: images of his private habitation in Paris. As such, the paintings focus brazenly and hypnotically on the most commonplace objects in place. Thus, Sison puts the art in the word "apartment," while taking the pictorial space apart, revealing its indecipherable mysteries, and eloquently defining an object’s shape under the artist’s scrutiny and gaze.

Reducing his apartment’s space into sections, the artist was fascinated by the purified assertion of an object’s presence. In three paintings depicting an ordinary chair, with a jacket slung on its back, the artist distills both his presence through his ironic absence and the moment of equipoise when he trained his gaze on the imperturbable chair. Each painting in this suite of "Apartment" paintings is encased in a real-life experience, suspended in time and memory.

Sison underscores the drama of complacent views, such as a glimpse of Parisian rooftops and garrets framed by a window. In paintings like "Landing," "Stairwell," and "Window," the artist deconstructs reality into rhythmic and geometric patches as the viewer vicariously merges his perception of interior and exterior space. Dissolving into abstraction, these paintings manipulate our sense of space, imparting a morose and brooding, indeed menacing, quality that speaks of man’s isolation of spirit. Indeed, these paintings recall to mind the Paris of Roman Polanski’s The Tenant and Frantic. The first is a harrowing narration of psychic dysfunction, the role of the tenant played by the director himself. The latter is a Hitchcockian whodunit, with its pop-frenetic chases and falls from vertiginous rooftops. The Parisian skyline is the gray canvas which becomes the entire atelier of hoodlums and criminals.

Unsettling, too, is the gray saturation of Sison’s canvases, all spectral light settling on walls and doors, floors and pavements. It is not the gray of a cloudy sky, suggestive of impending rain, but the gray of an enclosed, impenetrable space, hostile to light. Sison’s choice of coloration is consistently spare and ashen. According to the artist, these apartment walls are in fact painted white, which reflects the prevailing light and the time of day. No doubt the artist favors a reductive palette, with laconic shades of olive greens, washed-out ochers, and blues drained of luster. Indeed, the retina perks up at the sight of a striking red-orange that allows a chair, a writing table, or drapery to show some festive light.

Sison’s compositional sense is particularly strong, depending mainly on an almost architectural severity and the penchant for the use of depth and perspective. Wedged between walls and windows is a formation of other apartment buildings, a network of conflated geometrical shapes and discernible grids. The paintings are a contrast of jazzy, jumbled forms and a serenity of symmetry, exemplified best by a painting titled "Armoire," with its simplicity of structure and startling vacancy. Hanging from a doorknob is an umbrella which springs to life with a complex flurry of stripes and floral forms.

Interestingly, the "Apartment" paintings were inspired by the "Window" paintings of the great French artist Matisse, whose works are filled with a limpid Mediterranean light. Though it is not an interior painting, the title of a famous painting by the French master – "Luxe, Calme et Volupte" is a perfect description of the qualities of the art of Matisse.

What Sison did was to turn the art of Matisse on its head. The Filipino artist painted Paris as he perceived and experienced it. Indeed, in "Paris Observed," its French author expressed it pointedly: "It is possible to live in Paris for years without getting to know your neighbor who lives in the same landing, and yet within a matter of days you may be on friendly terms with the tobacconist who sells you your cigarettes or the waiter of a restaurant where you have eaten more than once… The visitor to Paris does not feel invisible, as he does in New York, nor the object of a welcome, as he does in Venice. Paris is a city where people can behave just as they wish… Each visitor forms an impression of it which reflects his own tastes and interests. But one thing everyone is bound to discover in Paris – a respect for nonconformity and freedom of spirit."

True enough, these are the qualities that characterize Sison’s "Apartment" works.
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Sison graduated in 1993 from the Parsons School of Design in New York, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, major in Sculpture. He furthered his studies in the same school, and, in 1997, received his Masters in Architecture. "Apartment" is on view at the Ricco Renzo Galleries, 210 N. Garcia St. (formerly Reposo St.) Bel Air II, Makati City.

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