The revolution in spray paint

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

The beauty of a work of art lies not so much in the production process as in the intended effect the artist wants to evoke. We never focus on the brand of paint, canvas, pen, or camera that was used by the artist.

We forget that the Mona Lisa is just a collection of oil pigments or the Statue of David is just a block of marble. It is only when we discover how these masterpieces were made that we become truly fascinated by artists and the skills they possess.

Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder and everyone seems to agree on what works of art deserve recognition and what should be thrown to the bonfire. In one legend, a German officer visited the apartment of the painter Pablo Picasso in Occupied France. Noticing a photo of “Guernica” (Picasso’s anti-war ode to a Basque city that was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War) the officer asked the artist, “Did you do this?”

Piccasso was said to have replied, “No, you did!”

“Guernica,” of course, was known for its harrowing portrayal of suffering in times of war. Images of mangled bodies, a weeping mother, and burning buildings rendered the painting an apt commentary of the world’s transition into advanced forms of warfare. The message is never lost among the shapes and distorted figures that make the painting beguilingly grotesque.

People share a common criteria for judging art even without the faculties of a critic. Of course, there is no sense in a recent exhibition featuring a banana taped to a wall. It could have been a crude satire of the elitism that has tormented the world of modern art, but it did make people evaluate the way art should be perceived.

Given that we judge a work of art based on the meaningful connections it builds, shouldn’t all art be scrutinized by what the artist wanted to convey?

Art is a form of social communication. It tells us about current realities and how these are buried under symbols and how easily we overlook what clearly lies under our noses. This principle has always been the central motif of artists like Salvador Dalí, whose surrealist paintings describe the hypocrisies of a rational and orderly world; Oliver Stone whose controversial film Natural Born Killers, presents mankind’s predilection for violence; Allen Ginsberg, whose haunting poems offer a bleak yet poignant picture of the American Dream; the Inquirer’s Gilbert Daroy, whose editorial cartoons present present Phililppine society as a hodgepodge of grotesque characters; and the activists of Panday Sining whose works steer us back into the realities that we have chosen to ignore.

We could just as easily brand Panday Sining as a group that knows nothing but destroy public property and all the good things that the city government of Manila has set out to do. It is easy enough to call single out the group for its brand of activism, which involves spray painting the city’s walls and infrastructure with anti-establishment messages. By declaring them persona non grata and having them arrested, Mayor Isko Moreno’s administration effectively branded them as rebels who are fighting a lost cause.

But isn’t art always rebellious? It is the only domain in which people are afforded the freedom to point out what is essentially wrong in a system that reproduces oppression and normalizes the idea that life would be good if we turn a blind eye to the horrible handiwork of those in power.

Taming the members of Panday Sining only confirms the notion that art separates those who use spray paint to confront the world as it is and those who refuse to leave the comfort of illusions.