Purple beaches and pink moons
(The Philippine Star) - March 2, 2013 - 12:00am

My hands are coated in glitter. Gold glitter, to be specific. They came enclosed with an invitation to Melissa la O’s show, “Supernature.” While I don’t claim to be privy to the high-jinks of the Filipino contemporary art world, I’m quite certain that invites to art openings usually don’t involve metallic flecks.

Then again, Melissa — or Mel, as she is known to friends and to her late French bulldog, Gogo isn’t very typical. The artist, who at this moment “thinks” she is a painter, arrived at this current juncture via another discipline. “I had been practicing architecture for years, during which I was using art to inform and shape my ideas for buildings,” she shares. “I felt there was something missing, which was the outside — the outdoors in some cases — whether immediate or in my memory.”

The feel of crumbling plaster

In 2008, she began working on images and printing rather large photos of things that caught her eye, from trees that lined certain Parisian streets to cherished spots in her own apartment. As she recounts, however, some of them lacked the “emotional drift,” a term she used to articulate the work of the Scottish artist Peter Doig. “I painted over the photos and eventually they turned into paintings.”

At some point, her Munich-based friend Alex Müller came up with the idea of displaying the canvases in Germany. They even considered holding the show in an old apartment, recalling the feel of crumbling plaster in The Last Year In Marienbad, a 1961 French film directed by Alain Resnais. Instead a generous Berlin gallerist lent them his space, which in November 2011 became the venue of a fun-filled disco party.

“Supernature,” it seems, was conceived in more or less the same spirit. Stealing the title of a little-known 1977 dance hit by the French disco drummer Cerrone — it’s gloriously cheesy, very Eurovision and now part of my iTunes library, as it should be — Mel’s latest exhibit promises to “turn the gallery space into something guests can all occupy, engage in.”

Laidback dreaminess

Aside from food and music, on opening night there will be camping cots in custom-quilted covers printed with galaxies. “It’s like being in my studio, where my friends and I lie on the cots for hours, talking, laughing, hanging out, eating, drinking amongst the paintings and watching them change in the light.”

Stocked with tomes about the English Turner Prize-winning painter Chris Ofili and the French stylist Carine Roitfeld as well as copies of The World Of Interiors, Mel’s workspace is testament to both her trained eye and her love of pop culture. 

While the song Supernature envisions a future in which the use of artificial chemicals in agriculture has caused creatures down below to emerge and take their sweet revenge against mankind, “Supernature” the art exhibit is definitely more light-hearted. Most of the paintings are huge in scale and very physical, with colors that evoke prints on clothing left way too long in the sun, kind of like what Chon, Ben and Ophelia wore in Oliver Stone’s Savages. It’s a little surf, a little low-res My Little Pony. You can walk into them and their laidback jungle dreaminess. 

“I have no concept, seriously,” Mel admits. “I paint purple beaches and pink moons. My stuff is so bad. Maybe my theme is ‘bad.’” Or perhaps bad-ass? Whatever it is, it should be refreshing, interesting and, just maybe, even covered in glitter. 

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“Supernature” by Melissa la O’ opens on March 6 at Finale Art File, Warehouse 17, La Fuerza Compound (Gate 1), 2241 Pasong Tamo, Makati City. www.melissalaoworks.com

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