Zombie woof: The art of Louie Cordero
- Igan D’Bayan () - July 28, 2008 - 12:00am

The reminiscences of a fellow Malaboner. Watching tricycles and jeepneys plying the Bayan-Hulo or the Gasak-Divisoria route, passing by with their quasi-heavy metal cum pseudo-religious iconography — Jesus Christ in that patented pose bannered with “In God We Trust” written in the AC/DC font, for example. The garish neon and silver paint streaking past places such as Floresco with its daily wake for the dead, fishponds, the former Ultravista that featured Bon Jovi cover-bands and sweet-painted ladies, and the dock littered with boats bound for Navotas navigating those brackish waters. The sakla stalls propped up at night as the sotang bastos comes riding into town. The harlequin colors of sapin-sapin. The cavalcade of Sto. Niño statues of all variants (there’s even one wearing Scottie Pippen’s Bulls jersey). The roads plagued by flood and high tide; the river decorated by floating shit and corpses where kids swim with relish. The absurdity, the pageantry, the stench of it all. All these have fueled the mind of artist Louie Cordero, whose “Absolute Horror” show is currently on view at Mo_Space, third floor, Mos Design, Bonifacio High Street, Bonifacio Global City.

“Laki akong Malabon,” Cordero says, adding that his life revolved around tricycle, jeepneys and Tagalog movies in the afternoon. “Kung ’di dahil sa Malabon hindi ko ito malalabas lahat eh. Doon ako kumukuha ng energy. Pag walang baha, ang ganda ng Malabon. May mga alleyways na since Sixties gan’un pa rin ang itsura. Puwede ka nga mag-bike tapos kumain ng lugaw at tokwa’t baboy.”   

Louie Cordero has taken one strange trip after the other, starting with his one-man shows in 2001 at Surrounded by Water Gallery (“Knowing Evil Will Prevail”) and Finale (“Transmissions”). From Mandaluyong to Fukuoka, Japan to Vermont to the City of Lost Angels. But this is the first time Cordero has incorporated fiberglass sculptures into his exhibition. Fiberglass boys in rock band shirts (Guns N’ Roses, Motorhead, Scorpions) crushed by paintings rendered in bright acrylics. One set of images feeding off one another, displaying an appetite for destruction, death at first sting, so to speak. The series is called “Smash the Cool (death by the most holistic influential utopian goals).”

“Eto ’yung homage ko sa subculture sa Recto, sa Cartimar ’yung bilihan ng fake na rock shirts,” Cordero explains. “I also collect jeepney stickers (that ply) the San Mateo-Antipolo route. If you observe them, the images and fonts come from heavy metal pero hinaluhan ng religious themes. I also go to San Mateo and watch the airbrush painters. Pumupunta sila sa bundok ng Montalban dun sila gumagawa, habang nakikinig ng heavy metal tsaka umiinom ng gin — parang kulto na.” The results are jeepneys in funky colors bound for the highway to hell or stairway to heaven or some place in between.

“The Individual (Flock of Wrongs)” — characterized by a flayed demigod, a pious painter and kitschy paintings in the background (a poodle, a pony, contrived poses) — was influenced by bad art or works by hobbyist painters that Cordero sees online (from the Museum of Bad Art website). “Gusto ko ma-achieve ’yung style na ganoon sa painting. Siguro in three years time ganoon na ’ko mag-paint (laughs).” A case of the artist trying to unlearn his fine arts education? “Mas natural eh. I watch craftsmen and portrait painters who (ply their trade) in the mall. Gusto kong ma-achieve ’yung ganung effect.”

“Cloud Panic” is one of the strongest paintings in the exhibition, what with its Dyesebel forming the shape of the letter “S” and stuntmen framing the subjects. “I have a book with pictures of Filipino stuntmen from the Seventies,” Cordero says.

The artist is fascinated in what the chi-chi, the hoity-toity would frown upon as the lowbrow aspect of Filipino life. Cordero has found a goldmine in shit — characters such as “Nardong Tae” bear this out. He uses the “baduy” as subject for his oeuvre, holds it in high-esteem the way traditional Filipino painters regard flowers, still life, and farmers harvesting rice. This non-conventional take on art — influenced by groundbreaking artists such as Manuel Ocampo and Jojo Legaspi, Robert Williams and Basil Wolverton, as well as comic genius and fellow Malaboner Nonoy Marcelo — has earned Cordero success here (he is a Cultural Center of the Philippines Thirteen Artists awardee in 2006) and abroad (he has mounted exhibitions in Los Angeles for Giant Robot magazine titled “Delubyo,” in Philadelphia and in Austin Texas; his works on paper are dealt by Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York, more shows in Singapore and Hong Kong). Everything becomes source for art: gore, spilled brains, Fangoria magazine, Clive Barker movies, Pinoy komiks, Kaiju monster toys, Michael Jackson album covers, etc.

One of his most striking works is the album sleeve-art he did for Radioactive Sago Project — characterized by Nora Aunor as diabolical skull, zombie heads, a scene from a Ronnie Ricketts movie, and the guys from Sago in barong (like a funky rondalla band in a Mang Kepweng movie) in all their ragged glory. He paints with The Boredoms in the background. Sometimes it’s a Spiritualized, Fantomas or Spacemen 3 CD. As long as there’s some droning in there.

The others images are visually-arresting. Motley-colored eaty shapes (carrying a Rickenbacher bass, inspired by the apartment Louie stayed in while in New York which was near a guitar shop), gigantic eyes back-grounded by a red-brick wall (inspired by Wacko Jacko’s “Off the Wall” album), and zombie head sculptures with mock-pine attachments made to resemble animal trophy-heads found in log cabins. Cordero says since he’s exhibiting in a furniture shop, might as well as create works that could be matched with the furniture (with a dose of irony involved, of course). The wall pieces are called “Origins of Man.” Maybe a commentary on how we evolved from zombies in the past and will ultimately devolve into zombies in the future because of our penchant for falling into a state of catatonia when shopping, watching TV or basically zoning out. The past, after all, is prelude, T.S. Eliot expressed in his poems.

The centerpiece of the whole show is “The Lead Brothers,” fiberglass sculptures of twins in green Catholic school uniforms with their jaws exposed like some anatomic model (an image inspired by Cordero’s Catholic school upbringing and his love for Clive Barker horror movies like Nightbreed); behind them is a cross made of mongo beans. Cordero loved eating ice buko on a stick crowned by mongo bits. He says, “Since high school dino-drawing ko na ’yan eh. I turned the image into a sculpture to stop it from haunting me. That’s how most of my works come about in the first place.”

Right now, Cordero is working on a project called “Golden Sepia Provincial High School” which deals with the time the American government laid its hand on Filipino public schools. Another one is “Dutch Boys,” which tells the story of five Filipino stuntmen who migrated into the Alps to find their stigmata. It will be told in paintings, sculptures, animation and music.

He concludes, “I am also working on a graphic novel involving a rugby boy who sees a zombie in barong every time he’s high. Pumupunta sila sa important events ng Philippine history — ’yung pinatay si Bonifacio. Parang Flying House (laughs).” 

Maybe in the future, Cordero will have a show at the Malabon biennale (a suggestion of his Japanese curator-friend), at Star J Plaza, or at the Hulong Duhat barangay hall. If Louie Cordero could exhibit a fiberglass zombie head at the CCP in all its oracular horror, anything is worth the trip. 

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Louie Cordero’s “Absolute Horror” is on view until Aug. 7 at Mo_Space, third floor, Mos Design, Bonifacio High Street, Bonifacio Global City.

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