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