“Hi,” greets the exhibit label. It’s painted yellow, like the rest of Open Space Manila for the past few days. Cartoonish heads make faces at you from the walls. Some are painted directly onto the surface, hundreds of others are inked onto paper and framed. Across the room, a grid of 72 black and white portraits is assembled in two massive frames, each subject gazing out with an expression of anxiety. By another corner are four abstract paintings. A staring contest with each panel leads you to the same conclusion: no matter where you look, you are given the distinct impression that you, too, are being watched.
Here’s the thing about Fur on Fire’s The Children of the Corn: it’s one thing to walk in and look around. It’s another to leave your expectations at the door. You’re not sure how to form an opinion when the artist’s last name is heard up in some very high business circles.
“I don’t doubt that,” says Enzo Razon, who isn’t fazed by the curious space he’s beginning to carve for himself in the art scene with this first solo show. This is a collection of sample works to test the waters, only running for three days. “It just makes me put more pressure on myself to make my work good,” he adds. “If the work is strong enough, then that’s the only thing that will matter in the long run.”
The works in question make no effort to hide their exploration of universality. The Children of the Corn—completely unrelated to the Stephen King story—began with an attempt at portraiture. “I started off trying to explore this very specific expression of confusion and bewilderment,” says the artist, who picked up photography while studying filmmaking at Emerson College in Boston. “I’m only just starting to reflect on why I made that choice: Donald Trump had just been elected. The anxiety was really tangible in the States.”
The abstraction of these expressions in ink drawings gives the show its name. Initially sketched without faces, the miniscule results resemble hundreds of kernels of corn from afar. “Corn is a crop that all major cultures throughout recorded history consumed,” he explains. The crop’s composition further inspired the project. “It’s the idea that you could be your own bubble universe, but still be part of something even larger.”
These faces are abstracted further in the show’s last segment. Four acrylic paintings take elements from the facial expressions made by the ink drawings—eyes, the shapes of mouths, and heads—and place them in different configurations. The exhibit’s elements, viewed in succession, condition the mind to search for the familiar. “When people are looking around,” he explains, “I want them to see the cues of another person’s physical face and embodiment, and to imagine a story about their experiences, past and present.”
Once the show’s time in the space is up, Razon decides to roll white paint over the yellow faces on the walls himself. Everything on display was sold the morning the exhibit opened. Beyond inklings of ideas he’d like to explore in the future, he indicates no plans beyond completing the commissions that have arisen during the show’s run. All of them will still use the moniker Fur on Fire—luxury and all its expectations, challenged. It’s something he intends to keep separate from himself. How effective it will be remains unclear.
“My most basic wish,” he says, “is that people feel that their own interpretations and individual outlooks on my work are as valid as anyone else’s.” And as far as he’s concerned, whatever you think of him or his art is entirely up to you.