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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Janet Balbarona "Peeling Peaches for the Sharpest Tongue" @ Blanc Makati

“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 or visit,

Peeling Peaches for the Sharpest Tongue will run until March 12, 2010.

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