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Arts and Culture

‘Fly high’: Internationally acclaimed Filipino artist Bree Jonson dies, art world mourns 

Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo - Philstar.com
âFly highâ: Internationally acclaimed Filipino artist Bree Jonson dies, art world mourns 
Filipino contemporary artist Bree Jonson (left) was known for her 'bizarre and otherworldly' artworks (right), which included paintings, sculptures and a collaboration for a local fashion magazine (right).
Bree Jonson via Instagram

MANILA, Philippines — Up-and-coming Filipina artist Bree Jonson, known for her art about nature, recently opened a studio in La Union before she passed away at the young age of 30 over the weekend.

"Jonson's passing is undoubtedly a major loss to Philippine Art," León Gallery said in a Facebook tribute.

The renowned art gallery offers its sincerest condolences "to both the family, friends and those individuals who were deeply moved by Jonson and her art."

"Bree Jonson is primarily known for her unique visual language that explores the relationship between mankind and the environment," the gallery described Jonson.

"Her works act as a visual and critical commentary on the contemporary human experience in contrast with the idea of human nature itself. The result is a novel critique of our intuitive sense of anthropocentrism amidst our ever-expanding knowledge of nature and the world."

Likweise, Vitana.PH tweeted a tribute for Jonson.

“Sad day today in the local art scene. Rest In Peace and fly high, #BreeJonson,” the local art platform said.

 

The platform, which aims to market local art globally, described Jonson’s paintings as “bizarre and otherworldly.”

“The paintings of Bree Jonson have been called fables and enigmas. They show creatures in various states and activities,” Vitana.PH said.

“But her paintings are hardly exercises in faithful naturalistic resemblance. On the contrary, they show her studying then reimagining flora and fauna as her reflections on human relationships and experience. And her creatures are play actors in a visual drama about her own existence, her mortality, her body, and so on.” 

'We are all sad'

Born in 1991 in the Philippines, Bree received her Industrial Engineering degree from Ateneo de Davao University last 2012. She then went to Manila to fulfill her dream to become a contemporary artist.

“I already knew from the start that I wanted to be in the creative field. At various points in my life, I had written, played music, and drew, and my first passion is writing and literature. In fact, most of my sketches are rough lines and words, rather than fully fleshed-out figures,” Bree told ArtandMarket.net in an interview published last September 24, 2020.

“I wanted to drop out of university and I only stayed because of my parents. But because I knew what I wanted, I pulled off a ‘long con.’ After I graduated, I went to Manila under the guise of looking for a job and instead, enrolled in UP College of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines. Even though I quit after a semester, I continued painting.”

After a brief stint as a musician, Jonson focused on visual arts.

Inspired by Aesop’s fables and wildlife stemming from her mom’s job as a veterinarian, Bree’s opuses had been known for their “allegory and symbolism, beauty and horror” that often delved on subjects like cats, dogs, rabbits, wolves, and recently, sea urchins and anemones, which “act as visual lines of inquiry into the complex and darker side of the human psyche,” said Vitana.PH.

According to art consultancy platform The Artling, among Bree’s first solo exhibitions in the Philippines included:

  • “New Dogs, Old Vices” (2017) in Art Informal
  • “Argh! Screamed they who were sucked into the orifice” in Underground Gallery (2016)
  • “I Stared at the Abyss and the Abyss Stared Back” in West Gallery, 2015
  • “The Hounds of Eden” in Art Informal (2015)

She was active in exhibitions abroad, namely:

  • “Therion Mythos” solo exhibition in OUR ArtProjects, Malaysia (2014)
  • “Notes on Stillness” in Yavuz Gallery, Singapore 
  • “Writhing” in OUR ArtProjects, Kuala Lumpur

She also participated in group exhibitions such as:

  • “2,774 km,” YOD Gallery, Japan (2017)
  • “Smalls,” Underground Gallery, Philippines (2016)
  • “Exactly The Way It Happened,” Blanc, Philippines (2014) 

She was represented in group presentations in:

  • Art Fair Philippines (2014), (2015), (2016) and (2017)
  • Art Taipei (2017)

According to Art Informal, they have known Bree to be a helpful person. In fact, last Women’s Month, she participated in an art collective and auction for the benefit of domestic violence victims.

Along with other visual artists like Denise Heredia, Nicole Concepcion, Ciane Xavier, Gabby Prado, Cru Camara, Tyang Karyel, Mara Fabella, Tammy De Roca and Bea Policarpio, Bree created 14 artworks that center on the themes of "femininity and women empowerment."

Related: Women helping women: Artists come together for victims as domestic abuse rises during pandemic

“She’s been in such a positive headspace the past year. Happy,” Art Informal told Philstar.com in a text message.

“Her last exhibit was such a success which enabled her to go to LU (La Union) to build a studio… She’s such an easygoing person and always helps others. We are all sad.”

BREE JONSON
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