by Kathy Zimmerer
"Untitled (Burnt Out Europe)", oil paint
"Junior Masturbator", oil paint
(Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica) Manuel Ocampo's current, wildly Baroque paintings are exhibited under the title Heridas de la Lengua (Wounds of the Tongue) in a show that also includes a mixed media installation.
Ocampo's imagery manages to be simultaneously ugly and beautiful, as though to echo an internal culture clash. Born in the Philippines, he moved to Seattle when he was in his teens and then studied art at CSU Bakersfield. His work embodies the inherent conflicts of a Filippino immigrant. Love for his native country, which endured centuries of Spanish rule, is wedded to his ambivalent feelings towards his adopted country and the pervasive American influence in the Philippines.
Overlaying the complex weave of his cultural confusion are the resonant threads of man's inhumanity to man. Ocampo mixes potent political symbols, such as the swastika, with sacred religious elements. The whole is tied together with scatological and sexual references. Like the Spanish colonial paintings he once recreated for a thriving market in fake religious imagery, Ocampo's work has a masterful painterly presence that gives his shocking symbols and blatant imagery psychological depth and tension. His figures act out their roles on a brightly lit stage or landscape, and the whole performance becomes a morality play gone awry.
Ocampo adeptly tosses together the sacred and proface in a mesmerizing fashion. Instead of a welter of ideas and imagery, his paintings are unified statements of passion and integrity.
In Pilipinas (O'Bathala), a black Satanic figure is restrained from a pink house labeled "Pilipinas' by a giant, dismemebered hand. Tossed around in giant turquoise waves, the pink house is surrounded by floating skulls and tree branches. Iconic and simple, this odd imagery compels the viewer to ask question. No answers are forthcoming, for Ocampo is a master at establishing an emotional limbo filled with turmoil.
The spectacular Die Kreuzigung Christi contains an ominous red-hooded figure who spears a Holy Bible framed by an elaborate cross. Revolving around this arresting vignette are various symbols, words and images that increase the mystery of this drama. Crumbling buildings deteriorate and fall down in the background, evoking the ruins of a war zone.
His startling Untitled (Burnt Out Europe) could be an updated take on Hieronoymus Bosch's vision of Hell. A winged Christ hovers over two swastikas as a death camp swarms with satanic figures. Ocampo's rich colors of warm crimson, grey, black, brown and gold are borrowed directly from the Spanish masters--and completes this apocalyptic vision of a world gone mad.
Ironically, Ocampo's nightmarish visions are rooted in reality and his frightening tableaux become uncanny icons to the brutality of the past and present. His paintings convey such an emotional intensity that his grab bag of leaded symbols, words and imagery are seamlessly joined together in a contemporary Twilight Zone.