Picking Apart Kirk Dijamco's Beautifully Twisted 'Intrusive Thoughts' With the Artist Himself
Kirk Dijamco hasn't gotten a lot of sleep lately. Insomnia can break just about anyone, but not him. In the wee hours of the morning is usually when the ugliest demons rear their even uglier heads. Fortunately, that special period between 2:00 a.m. and dawn is when Dijamco is at his most productive.
It's not just the insomnia that keeps the artist's brain running. There's the adjacent obsessions that were either caused by or born out of it; the beautiful and dark and twisted ideas; the profound quiet that awakens creativity; and the unaddressed trauma or gloom or exhaustion or the complicated familial relations that he's trying to make sense of.
"Hopefully, na-exorcise ko lahat," he tells me.
That's what Dijamco's current exhibit with the Indy Paredes-led Gravity Art Space, an art commune of sorts along Mother Ignacia in Quezon City, does: trying to make sense of it all. It's his second solo exhibit, after participating in 13 other group shows last year. Intrusive Thoughts is quite literally about just that. It's a grand meditation on dystopia, depression, and the volatility of life after hedonism—or rather life after coming down from its peak. This is not to say that he's done with pleasure, but he has learned to reel it in a little bit, so to speak.
Last time we hung out was in Poblacion, Makati for The Big Little Art Show with Vintana Gallery. At the time, Dijamco was exhibiting with Argie Bandoy, Lourd de Veyra, Kiko Escora, and Manuel Ocampo, among others. It's hard to stand out with a crowd like that, but he did. I distinctly remember seeing "getting kicked out of eden was the best thing that ever happened to him" and telling myself that this was some new language. A language I really liked.
"getting kicked out of eden was the best thing that ever happened to him" (2022) by Kirk Dijamco, Oil on Canvas. It sold for P49,999.00.
The hues were heavy and so were the lines. They were romantic yet exhibited somber tones, kind of a distinctive brand of social realism. There was a nice theater to the subjects—the women holding the adam-prototype guy down, the snake peering in, the forest caving in—that revealed layers of resounding subleties, shrouded in angst, attitude, and grief. The piece felt as though it was rebelling against the great dullness of paradise. I thought that was pretty punk. I thought that was interesting.
Even more interesting was the conversations that came with that meet (the tragedy of the times, the social contract of the artist with the world, the snobbery of the high art scene, the new-wave galleries that we appreciate, etc.).
"Before kasi, may pagka-hedonistic 'yung tema. Pero na-realize ko, 'pag masyadong hedonistic, you get to a point na nadadala ka ng hubris mo e," he claims. "Ganoon kasi 'yung hedonism: maapektuhan 'yung mga taong mahal mo, mga taong supposedly importante sayo sa gingagawa mo, mapapabayaan mo sila. Mapapabayaan mo din ang sarili mo."
Dijamco is a dystopian impressionist, he says, but what does a dystopian impressionist do exactly? He toes the finest of lines, such as the ones that separate a love for a dignified life and a love for the idealized comfort of death; the need for pleasure and the need for suffering (both of which are needed for creation to thrive); and the maniacal method and acute randomness that puke out such lush imagery.
"'Yung mess kasi, you just make something out of that mess, diba?"
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"Hindi ko naman sinadya ang body of works na ito. Noong nakita ko lang sila, sabi ko, 'Okay, pwede kayo magsama.' Hindi kasi ako sanay mag-work nang may tema. 'Yung mess kasi, you just make something out of that mess, diba?" he notes. "Ang hirap din kapag masyado mong ginugol 'yung sarili mo sa kanye e. Mabu-burn out ka din talaga."
He's not burned out quite yet though. For Intrusive Thoughts, his first solo exhibit of the new year, the artist tackles subjects like morality, family, collective faults, and shared sorrows. Dijamco takes me through his work himself.
We start off at "2 AM." Here, the artist invokes the controversial 17th-century French writer and nobleman Marquis de Sade (yes, that de Sade, who wrote Justine and The 120 Days of Sodom and whose ideas of perverse sexual preferences gave way to sadism). With each painting comes a small text. For this one, it says: "De Sade, L.V.T., The psychology of our fall from wholeness." What the impressionist does here is portray the internalized pain that eats man up. It's beautifully grim.
"Writer siya na divisive figure. Sa kanya nanggaling 'yung word na masochism. Sa kanya din nanggaling 'yung concepts ng eroticism na hindi masyado maganda," he explains. "Bale, dito, may mga problema na nacho-choke ka e. Hindi ka makatulog. 'Yung iba, battle with spirituality. Kinakain ka ng sarili mo. Wala ka namang choice kung hindi harapin."
"2 AM" (2022) by Kirk Dijamco, Oil on Canvas
Ang sinasabi niya lang ay that kind of evil sits inside all of us, and we just acknowledge it.
He faces his own heroes, too, in this show. In "A Small Transgression Provokes An Avalanche Of Evil Until The Forces Of Good Arrive," we can see where Dijamco gets his inspiration from. The hooded figures are lifted from the painter Phillip Guston and his own ideas about the banality of evil. Dijamco would come to admire the artist because of his love for abstraction.
"Kasi nag-start siya abstract e. Midway, nag-shift siya sa hooded figures niya. He was shunned for that ng mga contemporaries niya. He was white at may association syempre sa alam mo na."
He adds: "Hindi niya naman prino-promote 'yung Ku Klux Klan. Ang sinasabi niya lang ay that kind of evil sits inside all of us, and we just acknowledge it. If we look at dictators, we can see na lahat sila may nangyareng masama sa kanila along the way. Namatayan, nag-fail, etc."
We can see in the artist's painting hooded figures who we can only assume are up to no good. We can also see that one of them is trying to catch up. Thus, accidentally, creating good out of this blunder. That's the stochasticity of morality for us. It's supposed to be comedic, Dijamco points out. We can say that it is.
"A Small Transgression Provokes An Avalanche Of Evil Until The Forces Of Good Arrive" (2022) by Kirk Dijamco, Gouache on Paper
"Naniniwala kasi ako na sa paintings, you're only in charge sa simula e. Halfway, iba na ang slate niya e. Kumbaga, kung open ka sa kanya, dadalhin ka niya sa magagadang lugar. You have to take paint on trust. I never bother with style."
"Ang naging dating dito, sa pagka-late ng taong ito, nag-serve siya, incidentally, as a force for good. Dahil late siya, hindi niya magagawa 'yung plano nila. Banality of evil 'to. Of course, may concept ng good and evil, pero 'yung randomness lang niya," he furthers. "'Yung mga actions ng tao, kahit hindi masama, nagiging masama 'yung epekto ng actions nila. 'Yung masasamang tao, hindi napapansin 'yung epekto ng mga ginagawa nila."
So far, the masks in this exhibit (more of which we'll talk about in a second) serve as liberation from bondage, we may argue. The subjects here express the flimsiness of the human spirit and the frailities of virtue and circumstance. The act of hiding is a shared element among these works. Fascinating stuff.
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We then look over to the right side of the gallery space, where we are greeted by a gigantic skull, aptly titled, "Skull (another tragic moment in human history)." Dijamco says that it's a pretty straightforward painting that he felt was a shoe-in for the exhibition.
Every artist has the weight of history on their shoulders, and he's no different. Apart from critiquing the heaviness of that and the human condition and all things dark and depraved, this exhibit is a journey into his own history, if we may. It deals with his personal life, from then to now, his faculties, inside and out, and his processes, from start to finish. But frankly, it doesn't even have to be that deep either.
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"Ito, sa totoo lang, wala lang. Nakaka-miss lang mag-paint ng bungo," he tells me.
There's a certain joy in rediscovering a thing we forget that we used to love doing. Dijamco's always painted flowers, faces, and, yes, skulls. He's trying to get in touch with that side of him again because that is the duty of the artist: to have an infinite belief in the profound within. "Naniniwala kasi ako na sa paintings, you're only in charge sa simula e. Halfway, iba na ang slate niya e. Kumbaga, kung open ka sa kanya, dadalhin ka niya sa magagandang lugar. You have to take paint on trust. I never bother with style."
Nor does his family. Like anyone who's taken on a more unconventional path in life, Dijamco didn't exactly get the approval of his loved ones for this, specifically his mother. That, too, is a source of frustration. It weighs on him, but that's what happens when we choose for ourselves. Some people, we're just bound to disappoint. This reckoning he reflects in "Blue Altar (Mother/Regret)."
Drenched in blue shadows, the piece tells us about the cruelty of indifference in many ways, and how regret is a burden we inevitably inherit from our own parents. But then again, we all carry our fair share of burdens. Our folks, in the end, deserve that compassion, as well.
"Blue Altar (Mother/Regret)" (2022) by Kirk Dijamco, Gouache on Paper
"I can save myself."
"Ito naman, making sense of my relationship with my mother. Medyo complicated kasi e. Recently, may nalaman akong mga bagay na hindi ko alam na nangyari. Iba sila sa naaalala ko. Iba 'yung story na sinabi sakin," he shares. "May malaking reckoning na naganap dito, na parang, 'Okay, hindi niyo din naman kasi kasalanan.' Parang in denial kasi siya na wala siyang hand sa nangyari, pero ganoon talaga. Denial at complicity."
Denial and complicity in his other relationships are prevalent in "Four Heads," too. This piece, on the other hand, is supposed to be an intimate look into the complexities and fallacies of tribalism. There's a feeling of empowerment and abandonment to this, one that the artist himself has had to reconcile recently. Dijamco remembers a group of friends who were pushing him into therapy, but had instead backed him into a corner, which he didn't like.
"It's the breakdown of relationships. Ito 'yung defensive strategy ko sa friends ko. 'You need help,' ganyan sila. 'Yung stubbornness lang. I know they mean well. 'Yung intention nila maganda kaso hindi siya tungkol lang sa intention e. Medyo na-feel kong nagpagtutulungan," he says.
Dijamco declares: "I can save myself."
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We end the tour with "Intrusive Thoughts," the namesake painting of the show. Here, we see the subject as a prisoner of his own devices. Its card reads, "Years of neglect and abuse made it hard for you to see how beautiful you really are underneath that mask." It perfectly encapsulates the mood of Dijamco's solo exhibit. The artwork leads us into a space for resolution. We can sense an acceptance that ultimately gives way to vindication. One must imagine him, well, happy, I suppose (I just had to do a Camus reference, right?)
Sleepless nights, in most cases, give us the most time to think simply because enlightenment, in reality, doesn't require any actual light. Minsan, sa gabi lang talaga tayo naliliwanagan. That's the thing with intrusive thoughts: how they spawn and how we respond to them is directly proportional to how we understand the anguish that defines ourselves and our very actions.
"Hindi mo naman kasalanan kung ganyan ka e," Dijamco says of the eponymous work. "You always end up hearing the positive things from people you don't expect. Random people. Immediate family, hindi nila nakikita basta-basta 'yung [struggle]. Sa mother's side ko nga, resistant din..."
Ano magagawa ko? Dito ko nahanap 'yung peace of mind ko e."
The Intrusive Thoughts exhibit runs at the Gravity Art Space in Mother Ignacia, Quezon City until February 4, 2023.