Vincent de Pio's The Art of Making Sushi

Japanese popular culture is something that Filipinos are endearingly familiar with. From mangga to anime, to Yakult and Yan Yan snacks, to Doraemon and Hello Kitty, Japan exerts a strong influence on the Philippine psyche.

At the same time, however, the Land of the Rising Sun can also be exotic and mysterious. That the Japanese have also played an aggressive role during World War 2 also makes it challenging to reconcile their dual nature as the nation of Astro Boy and naval warships--of geishas, the kamikaze and the dreaded Kempetai.

This compelling cocktail of history and pop culture is the foundation of artist contemporary artist Vincent de Pio's recent work. Growing up on a healthy dose of Japanese pop, he later juxtaposed it with textbook entries on Japanese history to develop a oeuvre that explores the tropes and nuances of Japanese society while simultaneously opening up this rich and diverse culture to the current generations. Through this examination of the Japanese social milieu, de Pio attempts to explain the many supposed quirks and nuances we witness in Japanese culture, and tackles the challenge of reconciling the disparate ideas of Japanese society--the blending of the ancient and the modern, for instance. Or the interactions of Eastern Zen and Western philosophy.

These interludes are ripe for artistic exploration. And it is a concept that Vincent de Pio, the son of famed portraitist Gig de Pio, has wrestled with before. Now, he uses his own surreal interactions with Japanese culture and history as a springboard for his latest exhibition, "The Art of Making Sushi," which will open at the country’s newest contemporary art space, Art Underground on Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City. In this exhibit, de Pio is explorer, discoverer, and insightful observer of a culture he is enamored with.

He is imbued with an outsider’s sense of wonder, skillfully satirizing his own personal observations and experiences. A product of the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines, de Pio is one of the most sought-after artists of his generation. Having been included in numerous prestigious auctions abroad - including auctions in Hong Kong and Singapore - de Pio was originally captivated with painting classical women cellists in the pursuit of their craft. However, he soon branched out and pioneered the usage of Japanese historical and pop imagery--starting with an exploration of the role of the Japanese geisha.

From this initial push, de Pio dug deeper and became interested in other aspects of Japanese culture such as Japanese noblemen and ladies and inevitably the world of the samurai. This culminated in a critically-lauded exhibition called"Banzai!," held at Galerie Joaquin in 2013.

In "The Art of Making Sushi," de Pio goes deeper into the conceptual aspects of this approach, which ties in with the vision of Art Underground to showcase the best of Philippine contemporary visual art. The show opens on May 24,Saturday at 6:00PM and runs until June 4. Art Underground is located at 814 Balagtas Street off Shaw Boulevard, Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City. They may be reached through their landline at (632) 721-0745.

Vincent de Pio continues his examination of the inherent contradictions of Japanese culture--with a marked emphasis on its quirks. The titular piece, "The Art of Making Sushi," is a fitting example of this. Here, we see a chef wrestling with an octopus in a style very similar to yakuza tattoos. This mighty struggle is flanked by various pieces of sushi against a sky-blue background, indicating the eventual fate of raw materials like the octopus.

The artwork exhibits de Pio'sshokunin-like grasp of the subject matter and the conceptual underpinnings of his examination. As if to underscore the notion of transience, there is a smallanime-style Philippine tarsier in a kimono waiting on the horizon, anticipating the coming meal. It is a playful work on the outset but is nonetheless layered in deeper meanings of a Filipino’s exposure to aspects of Japanese culture including its cuisine.

The notion of Japanese identity - especially within the context of the Meiji period and the nation's opening to the West - is tackled in "The Search for Home." We see a typical Japanese family with their belongings on their back as if on some sort of journey, Surrealist elements of scenes of the nation's experience in opening themselves up to the West - such as US Commodore Perry's arrival at Yokohama - and the subsequent confusion and tension it wrought is depicted in surreal hazes that blend in seamlessly with the main subjects.

The allegory of transition is undeniable, and its powerful message is captured brilliantly through de Pio's nimble skill. But it is ultimately an autobiographical story of the artist’s own struggles to find stability in the home.

Indeed, de Pio is at his best when working with these messages and capturing the very essence of wabi-sabi in his works. A thought-provoking setting combined with an immeasurable talent in Manila’s newest contemporary art space.

Contact Details:
For more details, please call (63 2) 721-0745.


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