Janet Balbarona’s Paparazzo with a paintbrush

Janet Balbarona captures the zeitgeist of her generation in Rollercoaster Relationshift Ride—a story of hookups, breakups, and love connections set in smoke-filled clubs and flickering lights. Her depictions of relationships are stroboscopic in effect: they freeze moments in the frenetic, partying lifestyle of today’s hip, cool crowd.

With anthropological curiosity, Balbarona documents modern mating rituals and fucked-up relationships. She is a chronicler of the “true now” and one will find the sexual fluidity and openness of the 2000s depicted in predatory glances over bottles of beer and DJ rigs, open-mouthed kisses, men loving men, women loving women, and mornings after.

Cavorting on her canvases are the adult versions of Blur’s “girls who are boys who like boys to be girls who do boys like they’re girls who do girls like they’re boys.

”Like a paparazzo with a paintbrush, Balbarona catches hipsters, scenesters, and fashionistas in the wild—their natural habitat being Manila’s “happening places.” Smears of oil-stick color on otherwise gray emo backgrounds mimic party lights caught through a digital camera.

Her subjects are dressed in the prevailing street style found in current issues of fashion glossies and online lookbooks: boots, reincarnated Doc Martens; skinny jeans; plaid shirts; asymmetrical drape-like tops, shredded and torn; black plastic glasses; and bonnets are rendered in paint instead of pixels.

Balbarona herself, with her side-shave ‘do du jour, is a member of the fashion set and when she paints, she paints in style. “Going to paint” requires the same effort as “going out”—she must be dressed for the act of committing color to canvas, hence the multitude of suitcases and shoes competing for space in her studio.

Rollercoaster Relationshift Ride is based on true stories—contemporary realities—whispered in Balbarona’s ear or shouted over the throbbing bass blasting through speakers. In vino veritas indeed, or, in this case, bottles of San Miguel Light and Red Horse.

Being privy to the tangled web of relationships and Facebook clusterfucks ironically helped Balbarona out of her own depression. Misery loves company and the artist, for the first time, goes beyond autobiographical references in her work.

Forced out of the cocoon she spun for herself, the artist discovered a crazy, chaotic milieu populated by people thrown together in tumultuous intimacy. Steeped in late-night confessions and conversations, Balbarona found herself “belonging.” The secrets, beginnings, and endings freely shared by the “it” crowd became fodder for the artist, who was amused and captivated by the beautiful—and sometimes ephemeral—intensity of modern-day love affairs. She was no longer alone.

Rollercoaster Relationshift Ride possesses the collaged, unfinished feel that is signature to Balbarona’s paintings. She is a voyeur intent only on the action that defines the moment:

an embrace, a caress, a meeting of lips.

As an adjunct exercise in documenting the “now,” this show includes a collection of small portraits that pays tribute to Manila’s culturati—people who waited for Balbarona to emerge from self-imposed exile and begin painting anew. Rollercoaster Relationshift Ride is Balbarona’s triumphant return from her personal hell. She is a phoenix dressed to kill rising from the ashes.—ll

Rollercoaster Relationshift Ride will open on Friday 6PM March 18, 2011 at Blanc Peninsula Manila. For further enquiries, please call/sms +63920 927 6436 visit www.blanc.ph or email info@blanc.ph
Janet Balbarona - In A Relationship
Janet Balbarona - If Ever I feel Better

“Peeling Peaches for the Sharpest Tongue” Janet Balbarona’s Second Solo Show

“Peeling Peaches for the Sharpest Tongue”
Janet Balbarona’s Second Solo Show

Drawing on the bitterest, rawest experiences of alienation,
frustration and loss, Janet Balbarona deconstructs and lays bare her
most intimate, pivotal moments in a series of surrealist
self-portraits that are at once tense and thick with emotion, and yet
tempered with a strong sense of self-consciousness and conspicuous
calm. Balbarona effectively creates this complex, uneasy tension in
the stark contrasts between the immediate illusion afforded by the
bright, fanciful colors and general dream-like interweaving of images,
and then the more sinister allusions evident in each individual icon
and in the artist’s sober depictions of herself.

The paintings in “Peeling Peaches for the Sharpest Tongue” continue on
the autobiographical narrative arc of her first solo show, jumping off
from her departure from Manila for Beijing. As she recounts in a kind
of visual allegory the bittersweet failings and disappointments of her
“second round” or second chance at life in a completely foreign city,
her works reveal an increasing withdrawal into a kind of isolation.
One of the most emotionally-charged paintings, “Dear…,” conveys a kind
of loneliness, despite the presence of another, underscored by a clock
reading four in the morning and a dagger pointed up at the artist’s

As a whole, however, the idea of loneliness and isolation is most
obvious in the fact that whereas the artist would once typically
portray people around her with a sentimental detailing of faces and
fashions, now she remains the only solid inhabitant of her world, with
a small handful of attachments that are allowed a vivid, if merely
temporary existence alongside her.

Much of Balbarona’s work still relies on the set of highly specific
iconography, which both draws on each item’s accepted contexts and
metaphors in popular culture, as well as the artist’s own set of
meanings. The key image in this show, the ubiquitous peaches, takes on
the erotic implications of the fruit to convey love, lust, and pain,
but also employs the artist’s connection to China, where peaches are a
frequent, inexpensive commodity. With regard to the latter meaning,
the artist creates a very telling contrast between fresh peaches in
the anchor piece of her show, “The Second Round” (also notably the
only painting that employs imagery from her previous show), and
rotten, bleeding peaches throughout the rest of the series. Notably,
just as she tackles themes and situations that are at once uniquely
hers and yet are ultimately understandable as fundamental human
experiences, Balbarona employs very personal symbolism that is also
accessible enough for viewers—clocks, pressure gauges, candy canes,
daggers, and online communication icons—which encourages discovery of
one’s own stories within the fantastical structure of each piece.

Finally, for Balbarona, “Peeling Peaches for the Sharpest Tongue” does
not have a “formal” conclusion. She explicitly states that the
concluding piece, “Ricochet Part 2,” in which the artist depicts
herself as struck by several arrows save for the one that she is able
to catch mid-air, imparts neither tragedy nor redemption, neither
closure nor catharsis, only indetermination and an open end.
Confronted with the context of her own life as depicted in her art,
she offers an open ending and the possibility of continuation at the
end of the show, subtly emphasizing the fact that this is an
inescapable reality for her, which we, as spectators, merely glance
at, comment on, or observe quietly, before walking away.

-Yonina Chan

The exhibit opens on Monday 6PM, February 22, 2010 at Blanc Gallery
Makati. Blanc is located at Crown Tower, 107 H.V. dela Costa St.,
Salcedo Village, Makati City.  For more information, please call or
sms 752-0032 / 0920-9276436, email info@blanc.ph or visit


Janet Balbarona “She Kept It Bleeding ‘Til the Second Round”

Janet Balbarona

“She Kept It Bleeding ‘Til the Second Round”

by Yonina Chan

Caught in the fragile, fateful moment between holding on and letting go, Janet Balbarona’s first solo show attempts to piece together the remains of memory and emotion, each painfully carted from past experiences and gingerly assembled into surreal visual narratives that flesh out the experiences of anger, sadness, loss, and disappointment.

As with Balbarona’s previous works, the pieces in “She Kept It Bleeding ‘Til the Second Round” are unapologetically autobiographical. Largely expressionistic compositions depict actual events in hyperrealistic snatches, and inevitably reveal the complex workings of the artist’s inner world. People are portrayed with a sentimental detailing of faces and clothes, which suggests the artist’s attempt to process and preserve her relationship experiences through her idiosyncratic fixation on fashion. Conversely, other perceivably less important elements—hands, feet, bodies, furniture, backdrops—are left to fade away into open space.

In alluding to the underlying story behind each piece, various subjects—many strange, mundane, or just seemingly out of place—weave dreamlike into each other, implying a connection between them: a flood of Valiums, a cigarette studded deer, old typewriters, bamboo shoots and leaves (notably done in traditional Chinese painting style), baboons, and bandana-wrapped skulls, to name a few. While obviously alluding to very personal symbolism, there is nevertheless a playful sense of accessibility to each painting which encourages the viewer to surrender to their own fantasy and the impossible logic that the compositions afford.

While Balbarona previously held onto painful emotions or “kept it bleeding” as a kind of motivation for her art, she now considers her work moving towards closure and catharsis. In fleshing out her demons on the canvas, she captures a delicate and ultimately precious illuminating pause which underscores the images of confusion, indifference, tiredness, and pain, thus offering a sense of hope and possibility in a very subtle yet powerful way.

“She Kept It Bleeding ‘Til the Second Round,” opens on Monday, March 23, 6PM at Blanc Gallery, Makati. Blanc Gallery is located at 2E Crown Tower, 107 H.V. Dela Costa St., Salcedo Village, Makati. For more information, please visit www.blanc.ph or www.blancartspace.multiply.com, or contact 752-0032, 0920-9276436 or info@blanc.ph.