THE ROMANTICIST, MIXED MEDIA ON PAPER, 136 CM. X 110 CM. 2009
Stangely enough, the last look is always connected to that poignant action—looking back. The turn of the head while a foot steps forward, the longing for what was against the need to move on. Thus, with tension mounting, Maya Munoz exhibits a series of portraits titled The Romanticist. These hark back to the basic Aristotelian mandate of portraiture, to represent the essential. Except for the seething eyes in Things That You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her, the lack of facial details betrays no subtle emotions. There is only that grand gesture of the hands slightly upraised. This is what Dickinson calls the formal feeling—the last look, the moving on, and then the letting go.
Succintly Dionysian, the path hewn by the oil, acrylic, and charcoal on paper and canvas shows the randomness of the strokes. The white face highlight and the crimson lips are dripping in Things That You Tell Just By Looking at Her, as with the unfinished white roses in The Romanticist. The trail of the drips remain on the wall where the papers were tacked. The series bawls of modern expressionism with bold jarring colors in two-dimensional unapologetic flatness. The rawness of the intensity in each project manifests itself literally in the seemingly unfinished faces and figures.
Building on the myth of Orpheus who went in the Underworld to rescue his beloved Euridice, Maya Munoz augments the long narrative of tragedy by capturing these last looks in one great heave of strokes. But belying the flatness of the images is a rich history of time wasted and redeemed underneath the immediate layer. The artist paints over past paintings. In For Euridice, The Necessity of Dreaming, she paints over painted weather reports. In For Orpheus, The Necessity of Dreaming, she paints over concepts of time wasted. Bath time. Lunch time. Dinner time. All too human rituals that take up time, necessary and yet not, in the grand scheme of things. In the same vein, she paints over a self-portrait in There She Goes My Beautiful World. And then there is the Epilogue, her trash canvas, wherein she tests colors and strokes and then finally finishes it off with whimsical figures of white birds or doves and flowers as if heralding freedom.
The concept of these expressionist portraits as palimpsests clash. The time accumulated in the painting underneath the painting defy the immediacy of the strokes. There is a contemplative factor that just goes against the urgency of the emotions. Such is where the very foundations of tragedy and expressionism itself rest—in the battle between the pragmatic Apollonian and the feral Dionysian. Both comprise the full spectrum of human condition, according to Nietzsche, making it the highest art form. Tragedy rests upon the affirmation of the self through suffering. Pain humanizes and this is where Munoz capitalizes literally. By going back to the universal narrative of love lost in the form of Euridice, she narrates an exquisite tale of that most painful of loss—a love lost twice.
This is where the last look invites another look. We are asked to stare at tombs, really, of dying commitments, as we are obliged to look at sunsets. These are never farewells as the narrative is an old one forever continuing however the characters change. The colors scream, the lines scratch, the paint drips, the sigh escapes, the hands raise in relief or in denial, but one can never write thirty to this damned story.
By: Adjani Arumpac