Critics’ Picks

Lao Lianben, Begging Bowl, 2021, acrylic on paper, 19  x 14 1/4".

Lao Lianben, Begging Bowl, 2021, acrylic on paper, 19 x 14 1/4".

Manila

Lao Lianben

Blanc Gallery
145 Katipunan Avenue, St. Ignatius Village, Quezon City
January 30–March 3, 2022

Lao Lianben’s abstractions are both stark and sincere; through an intelligent use of texture, the subtlest indication of black or gray becomes scar, soot, or spirit. His compositions tend toward the monochromatic (the occasional pops of ochre or stone blue aside) and reference Buddhist literature and culture. The exhibition “Marking Time” gathers roughly 140 works on paper, a testament to the artist’s prolific output during the pandemic. While almost all the works in the exhibition were produced during various stages of lockdown, two earlier large-scale ones foreground the repetition that runs through the artist’s recent drawings. For Angel Field, 2018, Lianben filled an entire sheet with lines of equal length, creating nine rows of graphite markings that stretch across a section of the nearly eight-foot-long paper. For Tryst, 2019, a work of the same size, the artist created a wall of seemingly continuous pencil marks.

A number of serial works from 2020–21 include explorations of the artist’s take on the ensō, or imperfect circle, a motif drawn from Zen Buddhism and Japanese calligraphy, as well as the more figurative attempts of the series “Buddha Ear” and “Dead Buddha.” Perhaps most interesting among these is Lianben’s series “Begging Bowl,” which resembles figure studies or drawing exercises, ranging from realist attempts to capture the image of a bowl with a gently curving base, to more sharply rendered geometries, to gentle ribbons of color that merely approximate the dish’s silhouette.

There is a solemnity in the works that the display seems to overcompensate for. Instead of accentuating the calmness that the works aspire toward, allowing them to breathe and the viewer to partake of their solace, the density of the exhibition design imparts a sense of agitation, a feeling of anxiety stirring in the impulse to create amid distressing times. Perhaps this is an exhibitionary oversight; perhaps it is an existential unease that the meditative sensibility of the works fails to soothe.