Contrast Tracing by Demetrio Dela Cruz

Painting (During) the Pandemic

One of the artists who have been engaging with the predicament of the pandemic head-on is Demetrio “Demet” Dela Cruz. While it is expected that artists articulate the reality at hand, what Dela Cruz has done is to create a response that brings together humor, pop culture, art history, and his masterful trompe l’oeil technique, resulting in highly-detailed and multi-layered works steeped in word play, associations, and startling juxtapositions.

His latest exhibition, Contrast Tracing, attests to the success of his tongue-in-cheek experimentations. Obliquely referencing “contact tracing,” which is the process of identifying and notifying people who may have been exposed to an infection (and which has unfortunately failed as an epidemiological strategy in the country), the show asks the viewer to trace the differences between two similarly looking works, highlighting their contrasts.

The source of this engagement were the highly popular “Spot the Difference” games printed on newspapers and magazines which people answered to while away the time. Now that many have suddenly found their schedule vacant by virtue of staying put in their homes, Contrast Tracing allows for a more leisurely look at the paintings, transforming the role of the viewer from an observer to one on the hunt for clues, shifting their attention from one work to another, promised with the satisfaction of being able to recognize the absent and the added elements.

Titled with the recognizable acronyms connected to the pandemic, which the artist has turned on their heads (for instance, “PPE” becomes “Paint, Palette, Emulsion” while “WFH” refers to “Work from Home Studio”), the works feature available materials, images associated with the artist such as his “holy cow,” and renditions of his own painting implements. They highlight how Dela Cruz’s attention, because of quarantine restrictions, has shrunk into his everyday reality as an artist confined to his studio, making do with what’s accessible.

Initially working on a mixed-media work composed of photo collage, adhesive tape, plastic, cardboard, silkscreen mesh, and even a stick of pastel, among others, the artist would then translate the resulting composition in an oil-on-canvas work, meticulously copying every detail (the impression of bottles on a cardboard, the abstract explosion of pigments on a mixing plate, a squeegee tied to a board), revealing the artist’s dexterous figurative prowess. As a form of play, he would add or subtract a detail here and there, so the viewer may do their comparison and contrast, between the assemblage and the painting.

Contrast Tracing proves that no material is insignificant to the artist, that even in restrictive times such as the pandemic, the imagination will channel available resources to express contemporary concerns. For Dela Cruz, the times call us to be introspective and pursue joy and hope amid the uncertainties. His works, as he describes them, “are not a view of the outside; rather, they’re from the inside—a journal, a personal record of thoughts and experiences of living through these hard times and using pandemic terminologies relevant to our everyday life.”

-Carlomar Arcangel Daoana

Boston Gallery

25 September - 14 October 2021

Address: Cubao Quezon City Philippines