Tapaya's large acrylic paintings, which suggest a kind of social-realist folk fiction, explore a caliginous dreamworld of taciturn creatures and opulently garbed, barell-bellied lords. He banks on folk as well as retrogressive subjects and styles them in the current temper. He does not merely appropriate memories or legends but attempts to bring them to an ornery life.
In The Gossip (2011), the pale and botched face of a top-hatted man dominates the panoramic painting. He seems to be giving out a smile but upon closer inspection, his more obscure face is clandestinely confiding to a shadow. The vines that abound twine with an old sage's beard. It drifts and reappears, making for a spectral and unimposing over-all impression. The shapes are firmly contoured and speedily rendered rugged, with a tensed palette of gray, pale blues, flesh pink, yellow and muted red-orange.
Around this painting, women and ghosts whisper with contempt or malice while a man is receiving them sacrilegiously. Each image hold together the hive of gossip. Notice the little figure on the lower right bending over, agonizing to release a secret, in failed irony to keep it, for the vines in turn roll out a stream of hushed revelation. The figures get bigger, and vision more scattered—as light passed through a prism—while gossip is feasted over.
The geometric layers supports indistinct little characters in episodes—a barber cutting hair, a woman carrying fur and a man peering out through a telescope infested with flies. Mutually, as the layers thicken, so do the meanings. The elaborate and enclosing strokes visually represent the gossip that we share from secrets that we possess are the ones that possess us in turn. In terms of narrative content, the work is evasive—unless you fancy reading every folk archetype and myths referenced here—but it is so skilfully composed and painted that, once you started looking, this hunt for gratification falls on the wayside.
The numerous studies filed in his studio tells us that the painting was scaled up from stream-of-consciousness sketches he regularly makes. The artist is trying to point us in another time and place when stories like the one he envisaged, usually kept intact the morals of the country folk. Or were treated as an omen, often a bad one. We often find that they might have done some good. For upon the bright traditional world of our ancestors, upon our fertile but uncultivated legends, now fell the seed of Rodel Tapaya's works.
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