Like Water

Alee Garibay’s Room With a View

Alee Garibay’s landscapes have, as of late, come with the contradiction of portraying interiority. This began with  Kapitbahay, a series painted in 2015 for a two-man show with Renz Baluyot. More recent solos show a similar retreat towards the internal, depicting unmade beds, shelves and tables in disarray, or the curious gaze of an animal companion. In a way, Garibay uses her painting practice to make sense of the chaos and claustrophobia of modern life.

Room With a View is no exception to this trajectory. By depicting what is outside Garibay’s windows, we can sense the many rooms she has called home over the years. Through these seemingly flat surfaces, we are invited not only to cohabitate with Garibay, but to step inside her skin and better understand how home is but an extension of one’s body. And like the body, a home can resist or rebel despite one’s best efforts to belong within its boundaries.

Alee Garibay, Light-footed, oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches, 2018.

Siyudad (oil on canvas, 36 in. x 60 in., 2018) frames what appears to be an anonymous skyline, wherein Garibay softens the blighted urban landscape with the haze of oil on canvas. Using this media, she portrays the multiple layers of a city while reflecting on how a place that can be so unforgiving and alienating will eventually be called “home.” Similar narratives are repeated in Landing (oil on canvas, 36 in. x 60 in., 2018) and Tanawin (oil on canvas, 72 in. x 96 in., 2018), where the scale of the canvases seem to contradict the deeply personal narratives informing the works. In all three paintings, Garibay uses perfectly mundane views of Marikina, Quezon City, and Manila as channels to a far more complex inner landscape.

Alongside, Garibay runs a parallel narrative by exploring portraiture as landscape. Works such as RubyLight-footedStudio, and Dungaw (oil on canvas, 2018) place key figures from that period at the center of the frame. “This is me as I searched for meaning/myself in/through others,” she wrote in her artist statement. Unlike portraiture, the works are burdened with the same haze that blankets Garibay’s depiction of Marikina in Siyudad, and rather than show her subjects faces, what we see are impressions, figures that can only be accurately identified through Garibay’s memories. Through the hazy view offered by hindsight, she looks back on an often restrictive existence with forgiveness and acceptance by likening her experiences to the more feminine, intuitive spirit moving through the concrete shell of a patriarchal world. In this way, painting becomes a means and method of adapting to her environment, “like water taking the shape of it’s container.”

Yet, it is also through the complexity of home and identity that Garibay’s struggle with painting is revealed, with works like Studio (oil on canvas, 72 in. x 96 in., 2018), Himbing (oil on canvas, 36 in. x 48 in., 2016), Ruby (oil on canvas, 48 in. x 72 in., 2018) evoking the unique place artists occupy within the precarious conditions created by capitalism. Subjected to the uncertainty all freelancers face, a painter’s household must bear the burden of being both a place of work and a place of rest: hardened by the menial tasks of making a living but softened by the emotional labor of making a home.  Within Garibay’s profession, this already blurred line between rest and work is only further muddled by her having recently become a mother – a role that makes every waking moment a time to work while testing the very elasticity of time.

With these thirteen works, she asks: can we make ourselves at home in a moment? In a person? Can a moment be a place? Is space, like time, more elastic than it seems? By recreating these places through paint on canvas –  revisiting in her memory how they appeared and felt, and the views they opened up to – Garibay hopes to arrive at a clearer perspective.

Written for Alee Garibay’s solo,Room with a View which opened at Art Cube Gallery in Makati, Metro Manila, on April 13, 2018.