Friday, June 8, 2007


NEOPHYTE: The painting (FINALIST, 2004, The Sovereign Asian Art Prize)

By Joel Ferraris


[n] a new convert being taught the principles of Christianity by a catechist
[n] any new participant in some activity

It's a baby lying on his back and with a feeding bottle on his mouth.

Neophyte was a piece of art born as a result of anxiety. I am living in a time where unspeakable things happen to human beings as a result of greed, thirst for power, war, materialism, inequities, information overload especially about what's happening here and there which are truly unpleasant. These are just a few in a long list of things that I fear.

I was also once upon a time an active member of a fraternity in the Philippines during my university days. My country is by majority a Christian country but its campuses are abundant with these student organizations that were and still are sometimes locked in bloody frat wars resulting in deaths or incarceration of young students.

When I first came to Hong Kong to join my wife who's working as an IT consultant the problem of having children bothered me. This was compounded by the fact that it's hard to do art and survive as an artist in Hong Kong, where flats are small and to rent a studio means another hole in the pocket.

I do not have the monopoly in deciding whether to have children or not because, after all, marriage is a holy covenant between two individuals in the presence of our Almighty God the Father.

We had to live within our means and I have to utilize available resources, time and space to produce pieces of art. I later on had a studio, but NEOPHYTE was done in the living room of a flat me and my wife shared with another couple at the time before our first child was born. When they're all gone to work I start spreading the old newspapers on the floor and immerse myself to my favorite career till five in the afternoon. When our babies were born I have to relocate my art making inside the bathroom next to the exhaust fan.

The small spaces in a Hong Kong flat, the usual practice of moving from one flat to another and the absence of suitable walls for hanging pieces of art forced me to produce one with a modular composition. This is to allow the art piece to mutate and blend with the new wall spaces available. It could also be reconstructed into different combinations to produce another image. This idea was inspired by those Tetris brick games that were popular in the 80's. They were those 4-in-1, 6-in-1, 12-in-1 and many more.

This means that the prospective art collector would be able to buy several art pieces at the price of one! Furthermore the four panels could also be displayed individually or by groups. This makes the piece more interactive, allowing its owner the freedom to participate in its reconstruction.

The modular concept was also partly inspired by those overwhelmingly large video-walls. Another reason is to solve the problem about transporting large paintings that means more fees to pay.

The baby in NEOPHYTE seems to be sleeping. In his innocence, he is oblivious of the real dangers around him. These threats are looming behind the scenes and represented by those crisscrossing chaotic lines and randomly entangling those multicolored shapes. I just want to portray those slashes and lashes that life's hardships have inflicted us with. That's the reason why at first I don't want to have kids. I can't bear the thought about what will happen to them along their path to adulthood, with all those possible threats and dangers waiting like a beast in the dark.

By reconstructing the four panels into other images one has to follow certain colored lines and finally zero-in on another composition. And there are a number of combinations producing more than three images in this painting. These are MAN WITH RIFLE, THE CRUCIFIXION, INCUBATOR, PROTEST ACTIONS and many more.

The MAN WITH RIFLE represents the source of manmade threats. Man, in the name of freedom and self defense, became callous to the fact that in times of war and any form of armed conflict innocent civilians, especially women and children, are sitting ducks. And every fighter or soldier is an aggressor depending on which side of the fence he has sealed his loyalty. The baby here is broken into several parts as if to portray those dismembered bodies of victims of abortion, wars, child abuse, etc.

INCUBATOR is about those hospitals in Europe that installed incubators inside emergency rooms to encourage mothers to leave their newly born unwanted or neglected babies on these "artificial wombs".

In PROTEST ACTIONS the memories of life under the dictatorship made me worry for the future of my kids. I survived the years under a tyrant. I hope they, too, will.

If in NEOPHYTE I was depressed and disillusioned and in MAN WITH RIFLE I was afraid the third image, THE CRUCIFIXION, I felt relief. Here the foreshortened image of Jesus Christ on the cross is shown traced by burnt umber lines.

Redemption is a sweet thing. Love comforts the mind and the heart. A friend who helps to ease the burden is worth more than the wealth this world could offer.

The fear of having children in a hyper-fast city cast a shadow on most people today. But the truth is we were born naked, but an invisible bag of goodies to support our journey in life was already there thoughtfully prepared by our Almighty God for us.

What makes us worry is our lack of Faith.

Furthermore, the true essence of Christianity is to follow the will of God the Father Almighty to make possible the creation of harmony among families, to reunite enemies into brothers and put together those shattered lives. This means that the disintegrated body of NEOPHYTE will soon be whole again.

And who can explain the joy a child brings into our hearts?

( Neophyte, my entry to the 2004 Sovereign Asian Art Prize, was included in the TOP 30 FINALISTS)

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