Taking off from a large-scale eponymous work he presented last year, Melvin Guirhem explores the stage of public life and
Taking off from a large-scale eponymous work he presented last year, Melvin Guirhem explores the stage of public life and how it inevitably extends into the corners of privacy in Entablado. For the artist, each of us plays or is assigned a role heavily determined by our social and economic conditions, which are shaped by people in position. Some of those roles may be benign; others, however, may call for the utmost exercise of responsibility and freedom, if only to break the cycle of systemic violence and oppression.
Amid the grandiose patterns and details of his works, Guirhem casts a meticulous and unforgiving eye on the seduction and corruption of power, concentrated through privileged channels such as organized religion and the state. Resembling the tapestries that once adorned the halls of castles and churches, his works are the labored, hand-made constructions of someone from the margins, willing to expose the implements of consensus and control, the bastardization of the social contract, and the visible threats of harm that keep citizens in check.
Notable in Guirhem’s essaying of the fraught complexity of our intertwined lives is the physical process of cutting, applying, and sewing fabric onto canvas to build the work, adding painterly elements to complete its look. Sourced from ukay-ukay (secondhand) stores, the pieces of fabric, certainly, have formal qualities such as color, pattern, and texture, but they are also invested with the lived histories of the nameless people who wore them at some point. Now, the garments become the very material in which Guirhem’s figures conduct their actions within the painting’s proscenium.
Entablado uses symbolic imagery to expand the paintings’ evocations so that these may reverberate in the different aspects of human relations, in which the scales of power may never be balanced. Caught in the crosshairs of an everyday war, the figures in the works are involved in the constant recalibration of those scales, in the tug and pull between good and evil. Guirhem’s vision is sweeping, delirious, and Biblical, opening up to the fevered theater of our grand dreams and determinations.
Words by Carlomar Daoana