Pardo de Leon and Bernardo Pacquing on the Physical Properties of Paint

At MO_Space, Taguig, two artists project materiality through contrasting approaches to painting

BY Carlos Quijon, Jr. in Exhibition Reviews , Reviews Across Asia | 28 MAY 21

Two artists approaching painting from seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum – Pardo de Leon and Bernardo Pacquing – are brought together in ‘Measured by Images’ at the artist-run gallery MO_Space. The ludic quality of De Leon’s large-scale, trompe l’oeil landscape paintings is tempered by Pacquing’s modestly sized geometric works that comprise cardboard boxes which have been flattened, cut, painted and finished with string. This variation between Pacquing’s mechanical assemblages and De Leon’s optical illusions creates a visual rhythm that continually recalibrates our focus throughout the show.

pardo de leon color yield ii
Pardo de Leon, Color Yield II, 2020, 120 × 120 cm, oil on canvas. Courtesy: the artist and MO_Space, Taguig 

De Leon’s Whistling Field (2021), a diptych created by the vertical fold of a two-metre canvas, portrays a line of orange halves spanning a dry horizon. Gleaming between the drab browns of dead grass and the azure expanse of sky, the bright fruit joins heaven and earth like buttons. This sensibility for colour and the juxtaposition of everyday imagery recurs throughout De Leon’s practice. In Full House (2021), an alley between two concrete houses is filled with gigantic bell peppers. The depth intimated by the single-point perspective on the grassy ground is interrupted by the flattened, aerial view of the peppers. In Color Yield I (2020), a rectangular lavender surface is superimposed onto another arid terrain, extending to the steel sky in front of a copse of pine trees. In Color Yield II (2020), a gathering of rectangles populates the same landscape, a mosaic of pastels arranged from squat to slender.

The suggestion of multiple perspectives continues in the diptych Harvest of Thoughts (2021), which appears to present two versions of the same scene inverted. In one canvas, a verdant hill cuts the edge of a square wall of halved oranges; in the other, a rust-coloured landmass chops across a white brick wall. Seen side by side, the paintings suggest that behind the fruit lies a surface of bare stone, while behind the grass lies dry earth.

bernardo pacquing untitled 13
Bernardo Pacquing, Untitled 13 - After Antoni Tàpies Grey Paintings, 2020, oil on cut cardboard, 36 × 43 cm. Courtesy: the artist, Silverlens Galleries, Makati, and MO_Space, Taguig 

While De Leon’s canvases foreground how the visual effect of paint produces surface and texture, Pacquing’s assemblages project a more explicit materiality. Paint takes shape on cut cardboard mounted on black panels, and it is this layering of surface that creates the composition. The character of each work derives from the physical objects that make it. In the series ‘After Antoni Tàpies Grey Paintings’ (2020), a white-painted piece of cardboard is superimposed by another in pale flesh tones, linked together by a length of black string in Untitled 13. Paint itself assumes an acute materiality in Untitled 09, where a small, seamlessly painted strip of cardboard sits on another, laden with deeper shades of grey. The overhanging sliver seems to float against the black backdrop, while the lower piece intimates depth through the slight slant of an additional strip of cardboard. In this work, paint’s sheen calls out its own superficiality.

Pacquing is concerned with the tectonics of the support – the forces or conditions that cause materials to adhere to or overlap with each other. De Leon similarly foregrounds the effect of surface, using a language of interruption and substitution. Instead of allegory or metaphor, her images thrive in disturbing the depth of perspective.

bernardo pacquing untitled 09
Bernardo Pacquing, Untitled 09 - After Antoni Tàpies Grey Paintings, 2020, oil on cut cardboard, 39 × 37 cm. Courtesy: the artist, Silverlens Galleries, Makati, and MO_Space, Taguig

‘Measured by Images’ is an interrogation of the languages through which painting communicates visuality. While De Leon prompts us to refract the picture plane into multiple idiosyncratic surfaces, Pacquing asks us to embrace the flatness of the field. Both artists explore the extent to which colour, surface and texture can be rendered palpable, resisting the unity that is made seamless by the brush and the naturalised order of the picture plane.

'Measured by Images' is on view at MO_Space, Taguig, Philippines, until 6 June

Main image: Pardo de Leon, Whistling Field, oil on canvas, 150 × 240 cm. Courtesy: the artist and MO_Space, Makati

Carlos Quijon, Jr. is a curator and critic based in Manila, Philippines. Most recently he co-curated the exhibition ‘In Our Best Interests: Afro-Southeast Asia Affinities during a Cold War’ (2021) at NTU ADM Gallery, Singapore.