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Tracing a life through drawings remains Charlie Co's constant act of remembering. In an ArtSpeak Online hosted by Ateneo Art Gallery, Charlie Co talks candidly about his art practice, referencing his exhibit at the Ateneo Art Gallery and his current works. It is available at AAG's Facebook page.
As far as Charlie Co could remember as the youngest child, he was always drawing an imaginary world surrounded with imaginary friends. In fact, he says that before he executes a drawing, there is already a visual image in his head. But, of course, he makes some changes in the process.
The artist, who has just turned 60, simply reminds us that whether you're healthy or sick, "don't waste time. Create, create, create!"
A Visual Diary
On view online at the AAG website until February 28, 2021, The World According to Charlie Co: Drawings and Works on Paper is an exhibit primarily of Charlie Co's powerful drawings, mostly in pen-and-ink, colored pencil, or crayon. Arranged by themes such as travel, illness and recovery, bar scenes, power and politics, war, faith and spirituality, the exhibit opened in February 2020 but was cut short by the March coronavirus lockdown.
Co's drawings serve as a chronicle of his life, a visual diary of his inner state of mind as well as his response to what is happening around the world. In drawings of the personal and the political, the trajectories of a life that reflects a Catholic upbringing, desires and disappointments, health struggles, and "the perils of greed and economic corruption."
Having overcome some serious health issues, his hospital drawings are almost too painful to look at, where the artist documented his hospital stays through the years. The act of drawing, one could say, has literally kept him alive, in spirit and will power.
In Co's words, "a painter is also a visionary, helping people understand what is going on in his environment by creating something visually powerful."
The artist repeats certain motifs in his work such as crows, clowns, gazebos, roses, puppets, the circus, and the game of chess. His use of fiery hues of red, blue, orange, and yellow reflects the flare-up of strong emotions towards his subject matter.
Other familiar images include the sugar cane fields of Negros, the bandstand, and the Queen of Peace Church in Bacolod, and masked revelers. Such images provide a whimsical counterpoint to ominous works layered in surreal visions, foretelling the forces of evil, war, and destruction.
An early work, Man and Nature (1981) presents three towering and elongated figures facing a yellow-orange orb with a human figure at its center, the foreground desolate and filled with blackened tree stumps and tiny human figures. It suggests rising above the destruction, and looking towards a brighter future, represented by a large orb of bright colors.
Gate (1993) presents a man in red polka-dotted shirt sitting near a distorted arch filled with holes and faces peering out. Behind is an area that looks like a dumpsite with human figures. Their backs are turned away from the viewers. Embedded on the base of the gate are childlike faces. One can also see black clumps of dark matter floating around.
A dense work, PAL 101 (2015), is filled with famous buildings and landmarks, entrances, passageways, arcades and stairways; at its center, a couple huddled together with their eyes looking straight ahead. Are they planning to travel the world? Or are they reflecting on it? Memories of the past and the future intermingle, and where one ends or begins remain unmarked.
The Moon Boat that Celebrates Love, Hope and Dreams (2015) offers a moon boat ride with thick swirl of waves propelling it forward. It is filled with figures playing music, women dressed in gowns in an atmosphere of frivolous gaiety that contrasts with its black-and-white rendering.
A Bacolod Artist
Based in Negros Occidental, Charlie Co (b. 1960) studied fine arts at the Philippine Women's University and interior design at the Philippine School of Interior Design. He co-founded the Black Artists of Asia in Bacolod in the 1980s, to draw attention to the plight of the sacadas. He is also one of the founding members of VIVA EXCON (Visayan Island Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference), the longest artist-run biennial in the country, now on its 30th year.
A recipient of the Thirteen Artists Awards, Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1990, Co also received the Jurors Choice, Philip Morris Award in 1999. In 2005, he co-founded the Orange Gallery in Bacolod City that has expanded into the Orange Project art gallery today.