Obemio’s Dreamscapes Pay Tribute To Botero
Painter Roel Obemio mines deep into his personal journeys to make poignant evocations of his formation as a man and artist as he pays tribute to Fernando Botero, the Peruvian master known for voluptuous figuration in his paintings and sculptures.
In “My Tribute: A Botero-esque Journey,” which will open Oct. 18, 2023 at the Art Lounge of The Podium in Mandaluyong City, Roel Obemio pays tribute yet again to Fernando Botero, the Peruvian master whose voluptuous figuration in his paintings and sculptures is ubiquitous around the world. Until his passing only last Sept. 15, Botero was the most recognizable and most cited Latin American artist, and it is only proper that another Latin artist from across the other side of the Pacific should render him homage.
Obemio’s tribute exhibit to Botero displays his own robust imagination and fine sense of color and composition. In the lead work of the exhibit, “Homage to Fernando Botero,” Obemio renders an image of the Peruvian master as a child. Botero’s figure is depicted in the trademark Boterista aesthetic of rotundity. In fact, he appears much like Obemio in person, and one cannot escape concluding that Obemio has constituted himself as the naif alter ego of the master. Not surprisingly this work is used as the chief poster for the exhibit.
Botero’s is really an experiment in volume, an aesthetics of curves and plenitude. Renaissance art, as a revival of Classical art, emphasized the curve as the most artistic of lines, so that the most popular art genre became the Madonna and Child, or variations of it. This is because the infant anatomy is characterized by curves and rotundity. And like the curvaceous infant, the Madonna, or any other Renaissance rendering of the female figure for that matter, is voluptuous, sporting rich, robust curves that complement the child’s. Similarly, the putti (plural of “putto”), are a favorite of Renaissance artists: they’re representations of winged infants such as cherubs and cupids, infant angels in the nude adored and doted on by adults. In “Homage to Raphael,” Obemio does a wonderful reinvention of the famously cute putti at the foot of Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna.”
Although Botero’s rotund figures may appear whimsical and delightful, the Peruvian did not shun employing them to depict hard subjects such as Peru’s long history of internal conflicts and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Obemio, who started as a children’s book illustrator, is not about to go that far, but rather, he mines deep into his personal journeys to make poignant evocations of his formation as a man and artist while making simple social commentaries here and there, as in the funny acrylic-on-canvas “Tolits,” his social criticism of gossipy Philippine men (the neologism is the male equivalent of “Marites,” the Philippine female gossip-monger.)
But by and large, “My Tribute” is dominated by very personal works. In “Homage,” Obemio as naif alter ego of Botero appears as a boy artist in specs with small palette and brush who gazes at the viewer. The viewer in effect plays the role of the blank canvas in which the artist is about to make the first stroke of a potential masterpiece.
The same self-iconography appears in many of the mixed-media-on-paper works in the series: In “Homeward Bound,” he’s with a backpack biking along a lane flanked by shrubbery with trees in the background as tall as his dreams; in “Moonlight Sonata,” the bike is at the foot of a giant tree where he’s nestled and lying as in bed and playing the flute while gazing at the crescent moon above; in “Paper Boat 2,” he’s sitting on rocks beside the sea, gazing at the sea, contemplating the horizon; the same rockscape appears in “Lighthouse,” where he stands on a promontory with the eponymous tower behind him, gazing at the sea outside of the frame.
Included in the series is a female figure similarly situated in various versions of reverie. In fact two paintings are titled “Reverie”: in one, her profile is in the foreground while in the background is a door opening to a dreamy view of the moon; and in the second, she sits between parted curtains gazing at the moon.
All of this should indicate that Obemio has gone from depicting child’s daydreams and whimsies into something more mature and profound although no less playful and dreamlike. Probably he’s drawing from the resources of childhood daydreaming to reinvigorate his present existence jaded by adult disappointments and failures. Most probably he’s channeling his inner child toward his art and life so as to recover his original innocence and reacquire a fresh sense of optimism and challenge. Ultimately, Obemio’s dreamscapes reaffirm that old adage cited by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats: “In dreams begin responsibilities.”