There’s something new about Dina Gadia’s show that opened last night at Silverlens Gallery, but what it is is not easy to point out exactly. There’s a perceptible energy to the paintings, a violent force more spelled out. And while there are the usual Gadia hallmarks—the obvious comic book aesthetics, the juxtaposition of chaos in the idealized settings of nature or 50s nostalgia—the terror and humor on display are much more real. Is it because she has chosen the domestic environment as milieu, as opposed to the previous fantastical backdrops her monsters and damsels have found themselves in? Her show is called Situations Amongst The Furnishings and it displays both Gadia’s appreciation for banal perfection and her unease towards it. As to why interiors have become the new settings for her visual narratives it might be that she’s been engrossed with the website Apartment Therapy of late. “Nakakabaliw siya,” said the artist, who was wearing a floral print blouse at her show’s installation, as she fumbled with her glasses. “Gano’n yata talaga pag tumatanda, medyo nahihilig ka sa pag-decorate ng house.” It’s a typical Gadia response, never letting anything get too serious.
While comics continue to inspire Gadia, she’s expanded her source material to include the world of picture-perfect dwellings. (Has the decorating app Design Home also taken over her life? We forgot to ask.) To be sure, there were already telltale signs last year at her Never Landscapes show in West Gallery. In that one, the silhouette of a giant vase cast a dreadful shadow in an otherwise clinically-arranged room, a perfectly austere living space was violated by islands of black markings, and a man singlehandedly carried a huge nature painting with a broken frame. The artist struggling to find meaning and relevance—or at least contrive a sense of tension or find humor—in conventional beauty and the everyday. It is likely this struggle to imbue her art with “something to say” that has brought her to the works in her current Silverlens effort, her sixth solo in the gallery and her first all-paintings show. Here, a sense of aggression, or horror (or comedy?) becomes apparent, as a boulder is smashed against a grouping of vases, as dismembered body parts wrestle with lamp and armoire. Political and religious inquisitions creep in between lounge chairs and cocktail tables, and from the occasional text that may or may not serve to give the image context. Like the one emblazoned across a naked couple watching someone dive in a shallow pool: “A distressing possibility that surface is all there is.” While there is a perception that Gadia has disappeared into the sidelines of late, Situations Amongst The Furnishings is poised to bring her back into top-of-mind territory. We ask gallerist Isa Lorenzo what makes this particular show of Gadia a standout. “She has finally found the balance between her collages and her paintings, and she is finally owning it,” Lorenzo says. “And I think she also realized that text doesn’t really have to be a punchline, that it can be just an element in the composition.”
Gadia admits to having that nagging need for her works to go beyond being a fixture of beauty. It is many an artist’s burden, of course, resolved as they are that art, to be considered significant, must say something about the times, the world at large, or even just the artist’s personal conflicts. For Gadia, it is most often the relevance of the artistic pursuit against the backdrop of cruel times that she grapples with and tries to resolve in her canvases. This can be gleaned easily in one of the works in this new show, in the image of the man and woman awkwardly carrying parts of a crucifix.
“Ano yung function, kumbaga, ng art?” she tells us. “Ang dami na kasing nangyayari tapos mag-a-art ka pa.” She laughs. Considering Gadia’s latest works, pag-a-art surely beats drooling over somebody else’s pretty sofa.