Briccio Santos’ latest sculptures “The Sentinels” at Leon Gallery International embody auras of protective force
…..storm clouds are here, from rifts to land
mayhems shall pass not, for here we stay, steadfast
the Guardians have come
– Briccio Santos, 2024
This is the mystical prose Briccio Santos’ writes for his latest exhibition at Leon Gallery International—an appropriate opening for the multi-hyphenate artist whose works span a multitude of art mediums.
In varying sizes, from reliefs to standing sculptures, artist Briccio Santos (b. 1949) presents a one-man exhibition “The Sentinels” at Leon Gallery International, Makati from February 13 to 29, 2024. The sixteen pieces, illuminated with curated lighting by specialists from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, evoke the forms of guardians, conceptualized during the challenging period of the pandemic.
Santos shares on his work,
“When I look at it there’s a kind of the presence because of the intent itself. There’s a background, a narrative… I wanted to have this amulet to protect us.“
“I feel these guardians were a symbolic force to counter something that’s beyond human control. I guess there’s a very strong cerebral component to creating this form. Plus the creative.”
Sculptures with stylistic camouflage
During the uncertainty of the pandemic, the artist took refuge in the open island spaces and fresh ocean air of Boracay—a choice that was essential to his artistic process. “The Sentinels” were first conceived in the artists’ outdoor gallery. Made of metal and colored with industrial paint, the sculptures began with sketches, then smaller models, until evolving into looming forms.
Santos began his forays into sculptural work in 1978, then in the form of symmetrical wood. As he transitions into metal, he states on his current sculptural show, “I went back to this very forcefully during the pandemic, after three years of conception.”
As we emerge from the pandemic after three years, the timely exhibit presents forms that represent resilience against the uncontrollable. He describes his motives to create,
“I’m interested in forms that accentuate the ineffable, paradoxically from the constructs of reality…. These original constructs, ‘The Sentinels,’ were created to guard and defend the integrity of place in the context of time.”
Santos reflects on how the sculpture reflects how our world today shifted because of the pandemic,
“It’s complex in a way because if you look at the different sides, the profile changes—like a camouflage. The pandemic itself was something part of reality, a surface without everybody being aware of its implications. When they see it today it’s like nothing happened, life continues. But if you really think about it, after two or three years, we’re only coming out of it now.”
A multi-hyphenate artist
After several years in Boracay, Santos has moved to spend more time in his studio in Cavite. Within the high ceilings of the converted warehouse, there is a vintage cream Mercedes Benz W115. In one corner is the filmmaker’s collection of old cameras. He shows us one camera he used while filming in 1993 in Russia.
Within the warehouse is a smaller studio where the artist refines his brushwork. Easels hold paintings of his kinesthetic, multi-dimensional forms on canvas, echoing styles of the early Cubist movement.
Besides visual work, the artist also writes. He shows us a copy of his 2021 book of essays, aphorisms, short stories, and images, “Contemplating the Ineffable”. He tells us that he is set to hold another exhibit in the summer at Archivo 1984, a continuation of the book that juxtaposes analog and digital photography.
The painter, photographer, sculptor, filmmaker, and writer is world-renowned for his thematic and avant-garde use of many mediums. I recall seeing his work at the Singapore Art Museum, “Heritage Tunnel” in 2018. The tunnel used mirrors that encircled bookshelves, creating the illusion of an endless tunnel. I recall my surprise at seeing the books with titles like “The Young Marcos” and Rizal’s “El Filibusterismo” only to find that the artist was Filipino.
Overall, Santos has had 28 solo exhibitions spanning painting, photography, and sculpture. To name a few, his early work includes “Chairs” (1976) at Intercon Galleries and “Carnival” (1977) at Ayala Museum, as well as more recent exhibitions such as “Viral” (2011) at Silverlens Galleries, all the way to “Hypothesis” (2018) at Archivo Gallery.
Besides visual art, his contributions to the landscape of film in the country have been remarkable. He is known for his films, “Ala Verde, Ala Pobre” (2006), “Ala Suerte, Ala Muerte” (2008) and “Anino ng Setyemre” (2007).
In the mid-’70s, after returning from living in Germany for 10 years, he was among the first artists in the Philippines who pioneered independent filmmaking with “Damortis” (2005), “When Heaven Wept” (2017), and the documentary “Journey to Madness” (2005). In 2018, he was honored a major retrospective of his photographs and films in Madrid, Spain, by the Circulo Bellas Artes de Madrid by Casa Asia.
With such achievements in filmmaking, Santos chaired the Film Development Council of the Philippines from 2010 to 2016, promoting film preservation and restoration, till establishing the official Film Archives mid-tenure. He was also knighted as Chevalier dans l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur by the French President François Hollande. Besides a French knighthood, he was also given an Italian knighthood in 2016, by the Ordine Della Stella D’Italia by the Italian President. He is currently the president of the Film ASEAN Foundation.
Despite all these accolades, Santos is undoubtedly lowkey, barely mentioning a single achievement.
While describing his time in Munich, Germany, the artist recounts the times he snuck blue jeans in through the Berlin wall. He hints at the country post-war, full of free love and legendary nightclubs but not without its political riots and East German police.
What he does recount in detail is the lack of technology at the time. He tells our team, all south of 30, that despite these circumstances in the past, perhaps now we have been dealt more difficulties.
Harkening back to his sculptures at present in Leon Gallery, the artist Briccio Santos tells us,
“This might be for those that might resonate or seek relief to feel protected… like a modern day abstract amulet or anting-anting.”
In our world now full of distractions and flurry, maybe we need “The Sentinels,” these abstract amulets, to protect us more than ever.