Word Art: Carlo Tanseco Highlights His Love for Magical Realism in This New Series Featuring Classic Books - Arts & Culture

“The book may be the same, but I guess the reader is changing as he matures.”

Coming at the heels of his successful Panapanahon, Paraparaan exhibit, Carlo Tanseco presents “Ex Libris,” a series that once again highlights the artist’s duality.

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“This term denotes ownership of the book, usually found in the first page after the cover where the owner places his/her name as owner,” Tanseco explains. “But I find the literal English translation of this Latin phrase, which is ‘from books’, the essence of this collection.”

The artist’s fascination with magical realism is highlighted in the form of novels that have made an impact more than once in his life. The books he had chosen to include in this show are, Garcia-Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Frances Burnett’s The Secret Garden. 

“I loved to read when I was younger, and these are books that I have always wanted to read again, not as a forced requirement in school, but as something to savor during my spare time,” Tanseco shares. “The problem is, spare time is a luxury nowadays, so I found a way to re-read these books in the guise of research for this show.”

He thinks it’s amazing how reading books now reveals so many details he didn’t recall and took on different meanings from my first encounter with them. “The book may be the same, but I guess the reader is changing as he matures,” he says.

Tanseco found revisiting the worlds in these books refreshing because he was forced to focus on the essence and symbols in each story. He also found how much he enjoyed getting  re-transported into the worlds of each novel when he played the audio versions while he worked on the paintings.

Magical realism stories have elements of supernatural, otherworldly, and lives existing between these and the real world. What distinguishes the genre from science fiction, which is usually set in a fully-fabricated world, is the ratio between real and supernatural.

They don’t attempt to explain the magical elements, but allow the reader to escape to these worlds, to be lulled into a sense of normalcy and familiarity then be gently drawn into a different world, just like Tanseco’s art.

“I like to establish through my art, what is familiar and real to the viewer to make it initially relatable and personable, and then I introduce something off-tangent or disruptive in contrast and counterpoint, yet maintaining a harmonious balance between them,” he says.  

The artist likes the fact that the setting is grounded in reality yet magical and fantastical elements occur. 

Another appeal of books to the artist is how much he has always liked cover art. “I always thought book covers make or break a book. So it’s challenge posed to me as well,” he adds.

Tanseco believes a major reason his Rizal Matchbox series, which depicted the familiar matchbox with our national hero’s iconic image on the front, was received positively, was the three-dimensionality of each painting’s design. “This inspired me to do yet another three-dimensional wall piece, but this time they would be novels and books,” he says.

His signature juxtaposing of a character on clean lines and patterns, reflective of his own mixed interests and unique combination of architecture discipline and free imagination, will also be prime features in this new collection.

When asked where he gets the inspiration for a series of paintings, Tanseco reveals that eureka moments strike him anywhere and everywhere. “There are visual signs wherever one looks,” he says. “Finding something that will stir the artist in me is actually serendipitous.”

For a visual artist, it’s quite surprising to learn that once hit with an idea, he records his concept in words, and usually on his mobile phone, given how randomly these occur.

“I’ve been doing this since I can remember—even with design. I later review and sift through these words that represent my thoughts and ideas and it is only then that I transform them into a very rough sketch—rough because I am primarily concerned with proportion and basic composition. And if I think it will work, then I transform it to a more detailed composition and final study.”

Carlo Tanseco’s new exhibit runs from May 21 to June 14 at the Modeka Creative Space (Modeka Art) in Makati. For more information, follow @carlotansecoart and @modeka.art on Instagram

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