SALT: Arianna Bongato’s Compelling Reassessment of Classical Painting

November 14, 2022



Rick Formalejo

Pateros-based contemporary artist Arianna Bongato held her first solo exhibition called: SALT which opened on November 5, 2022 at White Walls Gallery in Makati. She graduated Cum Laude from the University of the Philippines – Diliman with a Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Arts, Major in Sculpture.

In her exhibit, Bongato showcases her reductionist and iconoclastic approach in art-making which is a compelling reassessment of classical tradition in painting. She breaks the boundaries in classical arts. She turns the conventions associated with the naturalist school of representation–of proportion, beauty, and composition–into her own method of fleshing out new and possible portrayals where the materiality and validity of the art object in question becomes part of the narrative itself.

She has a keen eye to mimic the affectations of the classical tradition through her use of subjects and tropes. Bongato gets inspiration from neoclassicist painters like William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Their influence is visible in Bongato’s re-evaluation of the artist in ‘study’. It shows how they are being tied to the thematic and to other conventions in motif, perspective, and iconography as practiced in formal schooling. 

Bongato has an interesting way of reconstructing her paintings. She draws the viewers’ attention to the negative space, carved out from the scenery like a stolen artifact, like erasures in documents of antiquity. She uses a stark effacement of portions of the picture, as these marks bleed out across the borders of the canvas’ frames. 

This technique suggests notions of censorship. She uses blocks of white paint and gold leaf employed to cancel some images which implies an aesthetic more associated to oriental philosophies and traditions, particularly to Japanese values that adhere to emptiness and space. Bongato infuses this kind of exploration and storytelling in her works. The end-product either becomes a synthesis or a contradiction of each other. This can be seen in her subjects serving as representations of a dramatic yet conventional form. Her color blocking and framing, meanwhile, act as poignant expressions subverting these conventions. 

Bongato’s works fuse Classical and Baroque references with De Stijl-influenced compositions, utilizing formal techniques through abstraction and reduction in expressing a kind of visual economy. Her process challenges iconography and conformity by scaling down subjects into their prominent forms while incorporating negative spaces as placeholders. She believes that a new and multifaceted image is formed when certain features are veiled, erased, or hidden; conveying an idea beyond what viewers are accustomed to believe in the completeness and finality of representations.

Exhibition Notes by Cocoy Lumbao

Photos from White Space Gallery

Download this month's BLUPRINT magazine digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]