The figuration is delicate, painstaking and time-consuming, but ultimately resolute, clinging like dream. Jose Legaspi explores the medium of pastel, a variant of crayon, index of wax and therefore is frangible. It scatters, difficult to control, because the form it inscribes is neither opaque nor translucent; it is granular. The grains that cohere on a surface that is equally fragile must be diligently and religiously gathered, perspicaciously put in place. While the material may not have the density and rondure of oil as it is absorbed by canvas, pastel on paper achieves a wondrous tint, a stark monochrome that bedevils. Built up layer on layer of tones, from light to dark, the artist merely dabs the ridge or rim of the pastel, which he breaks every now and then to find a certain edge like the tip of the brush. He then contours using graphite to create a semblance of boundary and cast the unruly particles in an armature that is as flimsy. There is no stroke, so to speak, only smearing. On the other hand, the charcoal suite practically tarring the surface diverges from the pastel works. It is more risky, insolent, intemperate. The blackness that suggests a void oftentimes dominates the modest sheet of paper, its substance very deep and dense, like the night’s sky or a rich velvet of a horizon. In certain pieces, the mark of charcoal is cursory, just enough to singe the paper as it were and form the contours of a winding path, a coffin, a man bathed in flimsy light, the inclement sea, or the word “mama.” Having said that, both aspects of Legaspi’s works deepen the prospects of grisaille: they explore the porosity of the material and harness the kind of discipline necessary to generate the contradictions of memory, its tenacity and its transience.
In these images, the details are either carved in very sharp relief or sketched out like a rash. Either way, the structure of feeling for the self, its sheer presence, is pared down to bare instinct as belied by a stance or a stare, dappled with faint shadow, the source of light that is forever doubted and drawn.