‘Violent Camote’: Roxlee Paints the Explicit Crudeness of Life

May 16, 2024

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By 

Elle Yap

Violent Camote is the new exhibit by filmmaker and painter Roxlee. Being shown at Gravity Art Space from May 3 to June 1, it features a collection of paintings from the artist made between 2021 and 2023. 

Paintings in Roxlee's "Violent Camote" exhibit at Gravity Art Space. Photo by Elle Yap.
Paintings in Roxlee’s “Violent Camote” exhibit at Gravity Art Space. Photo by Elle Yap.

Roxlee is best known for his work as a cartoonist for the comic strip Cesar Asar between 1980 and 2000. He is also influential in the realm of animation and filmmaking, being a founding member of Animahensyon and Sinekalye. Beyond that, he also founded Cinema Regla, a “guerrilla media outfit” focused on independent art made in the country. 

Humanity Untamed and Unrefined

This history of advocating independent art shows up in Violent Camote, as the artist debuts paintings reminiscent of similar artists in the past like Ralph Bakshi, who has a similar background of gritty, boundary-pushing art.

As an exhibit, the paintings featured in Violent Camote give off a great combination of cartoony and indigenous-adjacent styles. The artworks are colorful and bright, and Roxlee draws his figures in large, expressive poses that convey the emotions of each work well. 

The paintings contain consistent motifs across them in their use of nudity and nature. A lot of them have a humorous, surrealist bend that seeks to express a visual joke in the simplest terms possible. 

A painting of a woman and a tree in the middle of coitus. Photo by Elle Yap.
A painting of a woman and a tree in the middle of coitus. Photo by Elle Yap.

As an example, a painting portrays a woman getting cunnilingus from a tree, and the hilarious thing about it is that the tree seems to have eyes, and is looking down at the woman with a mix of apathy and confusion. 

Other Paintings of Note

A painting by Roxlee for "Violent Camote." Photo by Elle Yap.
A painting by Roxlee for “Violent Camote.” Photo by Elle Yap.
Orange painting by Roxlee for "Violent Camote." Photo by Elle Yap.
Orange painting by Roxlee for “Violent Camote.” Photo by Elle Yap.
Two people twerking. Photo by Elle Yap.
Two people twerking. Photo by Elle Yap.
Two people having coitus. Photo by Elle Yap.
Two people having coitus. Photo by Elle Yap.
Red painting by Roxlee for "Violent Camote." Photo by Elle Yap.
Red painting by Roxlee for “Violent Camote.” Photo by Elle Yap.
A woman surrounded by semen. Photo by Elle Yap.
A woman surrounded by semen. Photo by Elle Yap.

It’s a vivid artistic choice, and it applies to many of the paintings. There are at least two paintings that could easily be interpreted as semen heads surrounding women. Another has two women twerking each other, but their buttocks have turned into lips instead. One painting can be interpreted as people with cameras for heads engaged in doggystyle. 

Altogether, they create a demented collection of paintings that provokes a visceral reaction to its viewers in its restless representation of crudeness. 

New Horizons to Experiment

The exhibit also contains an audio-visual component in the form of a short film shown in an old CRT television screen. The film showcases different locations throughout its runtime, including an old bar, an art exhibition, and an old theater. 

In comparison to the colorful and jokey nature of the artworks, the film has an apocalyptic feel to it, with Roxlee capturing the abrasive and decaying city environment around them. There’s a portion of the film where a man dressed in indigenous clothing calls himself god while walking down the hallway of a dark movie theater. 

The short film where a man wears a garbage bag to an exhibit. Photo by Elle Yap.
The short film where a man wears a garbage bag to an exhibit. Photo by Elle Yap.
A portion of the short film in the movie theater. Photo by Elle Yap.
A portion of the short film in the movie theater. Photo by Elle Yap.
A portion of the short film where the figure calls themselves god. Photo by Elle Yap.
A portion of the short film where the figure calls themselves god. Photo by Elle Yap.

The heaviness of the film makes you look twice at some of the paintings in an attempt to reconcile the brash nature of the film with the playful nature of the works. And it does connect in certain ways, from the playful nudity, the almost worshipful use of trees, to the use of cameras as they surround many of the figures. 

Societal Commentary For Ugliness

It feels like commentary on society’s attitudes with nature and the natural—more importantly, on its obsession on perfection. The works puts them up to task for being unable to represent the inner workings of each human being without removing the unsavory parts of the picture. 

A painting by Roxlee of two figures in a forested red backdrop. Photo by Elle Yap.
A painting by Roxlee of two figures in a forested red backdrop. Photo by Elle Yap.

Even the humorous visual sex jokes have a deeper intent towards it. It contributes to Roxlee’s uncompromising normalization of imperfection in our bodies. The exhibit as a whole can be viewed in that lens, as an independent artist pushing against beauty standards to show the humanity in our crude imperfections. 
Violent Camote works on multiple levels, whether as commentary on society’s attitudes towards imperfection or as a series of humorous visual gags. However one takes it, it’s a memorable body of work from an artist decades into their career still pushing boundaries.

Related reading: ‘Black Paintings’: Shadows of Beauty in the Darkness

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