I’m really happy that my “Bulul” piece (acrylics on paper) and two small bulul studies done in my “fuzzy” sketchbook, have found a home with Elsa Valmidiano. A few months ago, Elsa published “Bulul” in her website, Slicing Tomatoes, with an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, “The Last Hunger.” I was honored to be one of the many pinay artists featured there.

Bulul (or bulol), also known as tinagtaggu, is the name for indigenous Ifugao carvings (often appearing in female/male pairs) that represent, and embody,  Philippine ancestor spirits that are placed near rice fields as protectors and symbols of fertility. Raised in the U.S., I grew up far from Ifugao rice fields, and these paintings are my way of trying to envision and understand this expression of Philippine culture.

True to what I’ve heard about studio visits, I learned something useful in the process. I learned the extent to which the presentation of your art on a website can influence the viewer’s perception of the art. My paintings appear in a portfolio page as  “thumbnail” images that make the art look small; Elsa was surprised that the piece was in fact much larger than she envisioned it.

“Bulul” (JVengua)
"Bulul" by Jean Vengua
“Bulul.” Acrylics on watercolor paper. 30 x 23 inches. 12/2017.

Also, studio visits can spark ideas. When I brought out the bulul studies and showed them, I suddenly realized that I would love to make some linocut prints of bulul. I’ve been turning that idea around in my thoughts ever since, and will soon try some experiments.

Two Bulul Studies. Ink on sketchbook paper, 1/28/2018. Jean Vengua.

Bulul are usually carved in wood, ideally narra wood. I wonder if their ancestor powers can transfer over to paper which is, after all, made from wood. In any case, I like the idea of these bulul standing gentle watch over whatever home they enter.

I’ll be holding an Open Studio at 641 Jefferson St. in Monterey on Sept. 29/30, 11-5pm as part of the 28th Annual Monterey County Artists Open Studio Tour. Stop by our gala opening on Friday, 9/21, 6 to 8 pm, at the Walter Lee Avery Gallery, Seaside City Hall, 440 Harcourt Ave., Seaside CA.

2018 MCAOST 28th logo with tagline






Isobel Francisco

[Warning: some images NSFW]. Isobel Francisco is a Filipina artist whose work is beautiful and disturbing. I’m writing this as an initial engagement, without having read any interviews or reviews of her work. The nude and clothed, or partly-clothed figures seem to float in some watery quagmire, or perhaps in dreams, where the subjects seem suspended, or almost ready to float away on a current. They might be drowned bodies, or they might be lovers resting after having sex – it’s hard to tell. Clothing and furniture are unmoored from their domestic roles and locations, and the environment (much like the Philippines itself) is unstable, unpredictable.

“Dive” by Isobel Francisco.



“Dollhouse” by Isobel Francisco

Positions of dominance and subordination, too, are overturned and viewed from various perspectives. The constraint of clothing unravels like thread, or traps limbs; and yet all these bodies, ready to be released from gravity, also seem enclosed by the frames of the paintings themselves, or perhaps caught in some tide of rising rivers and climate change (As I write this, my relatives in Provident Village, Marikina, are clearing out mud and water from their home after the most recent, devastating typhoon and flooding in Manila).

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“Frail Politics” by Isobel Francisco

Something almost apocalyptic seems to emerge in these paintings. I’m thinking of how apocalypse is sometimes evoked by reporters with a kind of subtle glee, almost a hope that with chaos, a new order (even if anarchic) will come about; anything that would change the existing rules. There is a sense of violence even in the faces of those who are bound, waiting for their revenge. There is also a kind of voyeurism; the subjects sometimes staring at another figure, or looking directly at the viewer as if just curious, or as if to challenge.

Isobel Francisco_Bull
“Bull” by Isobel Francisco

Many of Francisco’s works also seem to be scratched, drawn-on, and gouged, adding to a sense (in some of the paintings) of struggle, or  wear — as if the paintings have been abraded by dragging them along concrete. No subject is unscathed in this artist’s vision. This is apparent in “Armour” where the subject holds her scarf up to her nose, as if to protect herself from her violent (or vile) surroundings.

Armor-by-stainedpaper_Isobel Francisco
“Armour” by Isobel Francisco.

Colors range from urban garish–metallic orange, turquoise, reds overlapping earth tones–to pale, watery colors of blues and fleshy pinks, beiges, and browns. While some of the images are violent (see “Sever I” and “Sever II”   or Shade I, II, and III on her website), there is, in Isobel Francisco’s paintings, just as often something oddly approaching a sense of peace, maybe even ecstasy, in self-recognition, in the possibility of floating free. This work is both vulnerable and unflinchingly tough; it looks back at you, speaking with a truth that is vital for this era of violent disruption and change.

Pandoras-Aquarium-by-stainedpaper_Isobel Francisco
“Pandoras-Aquarium” by Isobel Francisco

Thinking About #Art Beyond #Capitalism

I’m reading an interview by Caroline Woolard, “Caroline Woolard Defines What it Means to be a Solidarity Artist,” and checking out the “New Economy Coalition,” both of which I found after writing the paragraphs below:

I sometimes wonder what would happen if I — to whatever extent is possible (which may not be much) — were to opt out of any attempt to be a part of the dominant art market system. I’m an outlier, anyway: while I have an advanced degree, it’s in English, and I’m returning to art-making as a woman of color over 60 who does not have an independent source of income — so I’m certainly on the margins. But, at least in regards to art-making, the idea of just moving beyond capitalism would seem laughable. It’s everywhere, and like a virus, it responds to change by mutating to new forms and swallowing resistance. It seems that it would be impossible to move beyond it in terms of basic survival. What would happen? I’d have to continue with my freelance work, which supports me as well as my art work. I don’t support myself through making art or writing poems, anyway.

But the other things that we often consider requisite for success in the art world — patrons, sponsors, collectors, the black folder portfolio, the requisite series, the maintenance of an easily identifiable style, shaping the art toward eliciting increasingly higher prices  — in short, playing the game; why not just give up on that, and instead, think about and/or work towards a different paradigm?

Well, wtf: one report says that artists who do achieve “success” usually retain it for only 4 years. I’m willing to work hard for my art and my writing; but I’m past the age where it would make any kind of sense to work my ass off on the gamble that 4 years of recognition would gain me another 4 or more years, and maybe an income that I could live on. And in any case, why work to shape my art to be acceptable for a system that gives so little to so few in return?

Although I’m not, by most standards, “successful,” I do want to continue making art. And although art-making is a very personal and rewarding process in itself (rewarding enough that it’s worth the anxieties that sometimes well up around its process), I don’t make art just for myself — I feel part of a social fabric, interdependent with others: a community, humanity and the earth/animal world. So I want my art to be seen, and I would never isolate myself in that regard.

But also, this idea of looking “beyond capitalism” for a paradigm that would work (even as I am a product of capitalism and imperialism — late capitalism, I think, collapsing in on itself, decaying into fascism, living within it, even depending on it) — would present some initial challenges, for example: 1) I have no idea what an art practice “beyond capitalism” would be, or even what I would want it to be;* so it would take some thought-work and research, and maybe discussion; and 2) I’d have to overcome a mindset about how art and artists fit into the world, a mindset that I know full well is ingrained, programmed in.

I don’t know if I’m going to do any of this. But I do know that the issue — this sense that I’m going about it all wrong — is pushing me to find another approach; it has come up again and again, and with increasing frequency, in my life. It’s not going to go away.


* That may not be entirely true; I’ve read about and discussed other paradigms, but have never been confident that they would work. But perhaps “confidence” isn’t what’s needed now…


2018 Art Events

Some local art events that I will participate in this year:


Babylon Berlin & George Grosz

George Grosz_John the Woman Slayer
George Grosz. “John the Woman Slayer.”

Just finished watching the period detective noir series Babylon Berlin. Oh my. Didn’t see THAT ending coming. Wish I had read up a little on Weimar Republic history, first — but the storyline was still gripping, even though the many twists and turns of the plot left me a little puzzled and occasionally aghast. I recommend it (but don’t watch it with children around).

George Grosz. Eclipse of the Sun.

The brilliant period settings and characters remind me of George Grosz’ scathingly satirical pre-WWII paintings, complete w/butchers at their bloody trade; crippled, begging, WWI veterans; prostitutes in action, communist revolutionaries, greedy elites, escapist cabaret culture, and everywhere the poor and dispossessed. Grosz’ images — ranging from cubist and futurist to his acerbic drawings — are too often disturbingly relevant nowadays.

George Grosz_Nobody Cares About Them
George Grosz. Nobody Cares About Them.

Like the indigent soldiers he often portrayed, Grosz was a veteran of WWI, and his wartime experiences left him a life-long pacifist and activist who was very critical of German nationalist society, as well as any society that promoted violence and war.

He was prosecuted for “blasphemy” in 1928 after producing paintings that criticized the clergy, and eventually escaped to the U.S. in the 1930s after Hitler’s government declared him “degenerate” — probably in retaliation for his drawings and paintings that portrayed pre-war Berlin, and Germany’s culture as a whole, as debauched and degenerate.

George Grosz_Nachts

My Drawings expressed my despair, hate and disillusionment, I drew drunkards; puking men; men with clenched fists cursing at the moon. … I drew a man, face filled with fright, washing blood from his hands … I drew lonely little men fleeing madly through empty streets. I drew a cross-section of tenement house: through one window could be seen a man attacking his wife; through another, two people making love; from a third hung a suicide with body covered by swarming flies. I drew soldiers without noses; war cripples with crustacean-like steel arms; two medical soldiers putting a violent infantryman into a strait-jacket made of a horse blanket … I drew a skeleton dressed as a recruit being examined for military duty. I also wrote poetry. — George Grosz*

*Friedrich, Otto (1986). Before the Deluge. USA: Fromm International Publishing Corporation. pp. 37. ISBN 0-88064-054-5



Between the Lines

Thinking about borders, state lines, travel, and migration. Map is 1949 Texaco map showing CA, AZ, and Mexico. “Between the Lines” is 25 x 38 inches, acrylics and collage on heavy watercolor paper.

Between the Lines
“Between the Lines,” 38 x 25 inches, acrylics & collage on watercolor paper. Jean Vengua


Between the Lines_in WallApp_JVengua
“Between the Lines,” 38 x 25 inches, acrylics & collage on watercolor paper. Jean Vengua





Playing around with sfumato, organic shapes, flowingness. “Lachrymose.” #Acrylics & ink on watercolor paper. 25 x 38 inches.

Lachrymose_LG_JVengua 7-2018
“Lachrymose,” 25 x 38 inches. Acrylics & ink on watercolor paper. Jean Vengua 7/2018
“Lachrymose.” Acrylics/ink on watercolor paper. 25 x 38,” Jean Vengua




Level 9 Warrior

9th Level Warrior

I’ve been bouncing between writing a grant for a 2019 historical exhibit, finishing a painting, and tutoring grad students in one of my two freelance gigs. It’s not the best situation for keeping a focused mind, but I’m doing the best I can. Lately I’ve been using Habitica to help me keep focused on daily habits and work goals. It adds a bit of whimsy to the process; if I don’t meet my quota for the day, I “lose health.” If I do well, I get rewards that most gamers would be familiar with. I’m working on my 9th level, have some armor, a fancy helmet, a bardic cloak, and best of all, a big purple wolf as my companion and familiar. That, a walk, and a cup of kukicha gets me through the day…

Thanks. . .

It’s always great to hear when someone has purchased one of my designs on RedBubble. So, to whoever purchased “Ang mga Bundok” design (on a scarf), thanks very much! I hope you get much enjoyment from it.

Screenshot (137)
“Ang mga Bundok” (At the Mountains) by Jean Vengua/Okir

You can see more of my designs at: https://www.redbubble.com/people/okir

Easels, vertebrae, drawing, etc.

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“Feather Haptic,” oak twig charcoal (from a controlled burn) on newsprint. 3/18/2013.

Got my MRI results, and looks like I have an “acute” fracture to L4/L5 vertebrae (“acute” sounds scary, but in Dr. talk apparently means “one time,” not chronic) rather than “really bad” in lay-person talk). Likely happened while moving furniture, dragging, twisting my body, to move this huge easel that someone donated to me. Good news is that it’s healing now. Much less pain, no osteoporosis — although I have a bit of arthritis, not unusual for someone my age. Will start core exercises in 2 – 3 weeks to help fend off this sort of injury.

Also thinking about the fact that doing larger works involves larger movements. I tried doing large haptics on a table, but it made my back sore from bending over the surface. It’s easier to do that kind of drawing standing straight up. Repetitive painting movements involving just one shoulder can become an issue too, creating stiff/sore shoulders. I think of Trisha Brown’s performative drawings; it would be great to have the flexibility/stamina/training to do something like that. Could be interesting to try both left and right hands/shoulders for haptic work; see what happens. Then of course, one can go smaller, as I’ve mentioned previously. Aging is, after all, a process of getting physically  smaller, and — well, finally disappearing.

Or perhaps you get bigger, even as your physical frame gets smaller? As a woman and a Filipina, I feel I’ve spent enough time (so much!) suppressing and compressing over the years. Basta! I’d like to stretch out to my limits, or fly past them.