Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Junyee, the artist whose time has come

Rare auction finds, his works—whose themes have now become urgent—go on the block June 15

Junyee's 'Stairway 3,' (estimate PhP480,000 - 500,000), signed and dated '23' (2023, lower left), Soot on metal sheet, 91.4 x 61 cm (36 x 24 in)
Junyee’s ‘Stairway 3’ and ‘Seedbed’ will go on the block at Salcedo Auctions’ ‘Finer Pursuits’ auction on 15 June, live and online starting at 2p.m. His first solo exhibit in Taipei, ‘In Darkness, The Stars,’ opens at the Xia Jing Shan Arts & Culture Foundation on June 19 and runs through July 10.

A naturalist with an ecological conscience, the artist Junyee lives in Los Banos in fulfillment of his desire to remain close to nature. A university town with an aesthetically appealing backdrop of forests, a tropical mountain ecosystem and natural springs, Los Banos nurtured Junyee’s fascination with natural forms. Besides, the place rekindled memories of Junyee’s formative years in his grandfather’s farm in Agusan. There he spent time around vast mangrove forests and  learned to swim in the great Agusan River and Lake Mainit .

A multi-awarded sculptor and installation artist, Junyee  belongs to the trailblazing years of postmodern artmaking in the Philippines, with a handful of brave Postmodernists like Santiago Bose, Robert Villanueva, Lani Maestro, Judy Sibayan, Genara  Banzon, Shop 6,

Junyee uses endemic, organic materials and biodegradable found objects as reflections on the continuity of life in space, in the biosphere, in nature. Rocks, roots, twigs vines, dried pods, banana fiber, grass, seeds, husks, bamboo, and coconut shells find their place in his narratives and primordial installations.

In 1982, Junyee received  an invitation to the Paris Biennale, he was joined by conceptual artist Ray Albano, Johnny Manahan and Nonon Padilla. This was a historic participation, after the country’s 10-year absence from international biennales. For this, he re-mounted his work Wood Things: dried banana leaves and stalks and spikes from kapok pods. Hundreds of these “ bugs ” covered a floor, creeping up to the ceiling. Recognition came at last. Invitations to biennales, awards, exhibitions and international collaborative projects followed.

Junyee’s ‘Seed Bed,’ (estimate PhP 330,000 – 380,000, signed and undated, (on the edge by the flat end), hardwood, 21 x140 x 15 cm (8 x 55 x 6 in)

In Seed Bed, a hardwood portion of a log Junyee draws upon nature’s cycle of evolving and decaying over time. He creates from a primal place. The piece challenges our perceptions of the importance and transience of art and celebrates the ever-changing nature of life. Seed Bed is  transient and yet it is permanent. It is a powerful validation  of an empty space.

His soot on metal sheet works to be exhibited in Taipeh later this month demonstrate the power of using soot powder  from charred or burnt organic material against the white background of inorganic  material like metal sheet. They are dark and light mystical  compositions. but  they are profound in that they make us better appreciate the complexity of the natural and manmade world around us. Despite their different qualities: soot and metal sheet, coalesce.

It is telling that his work is now receiving belated mainstream recognition, as these themes he has been addressing since the 1970s—have become particularly urgent today.

Evidenced by the growing attention  his works are getting now, Junyee has secured his role in the  development and awareness of Site Specific Installation Art and Organic Spatial Interventions in the country. No longer will he be underplayed.

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