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Joen Sudlon


A Prayer in the Dark

Alee Garibay

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” 

Anne Frank 

Linangan resident artist Joen Sudlon defines his art and his life by the play of light and shadows. Panaad (Panata / Vow), his residency exhibit, features an exhaustive exploration that reflects deep introspection, even conflict. In these recent oeuvres, he shines the light on the people, things and values he holds dearest, as well as some aspects of himself that he has never confronted before. 

Through frenetic sketches and bold experimental forms, he pushed his creative comfort zone to come to a breakthrough in his process. He alchemized the depressive mood of this pandemic-induced isolation, channeling it to a sketching frenzy, mining the darkest recesses of his soul to extract the gem of self-discovery in order to be reborn. The lockdown set the pace and tone for this series of works. His residency was interrupted when the quarantine was imposed and couldn’t return to the residency in Cavite. When he was locked up in his brother’s apartment in Quezon City, he took it one day at a time, lighting a candle, brewing a cup of coffee, drawing a line. Each day is a chance for rebirth. Each breath a proof of the Divine’s faithfulness. His prolific exploration produced quite a large body of works, only a handful of which are presented in the exhibit.

Four distinct series defined the collection: Panaad - a continuation of his depiction of Santos and religious imagery in which he ponders his own beliefs and the nature and limits of his devotion in works such as Bakas (36 x 24 in.) and Pagtanggi (12 x 12 in.); Kubukusan - vignettes featuring still lifes and portraits of people living through the pandemic; Pag-alaala - a series of candle drawings, lit and unlit, in memoriam of his mother and the countless others who have succumbed to the virus; and Paglaho - a series of monochromatic portraits of Covid-19 front-liners and victims using oil paint inspired by Picasso’s blue period. The rest of the works were done in graphite and charcoal. 

Panaad is a vow for resurrection. It is the continuous striving to be one’s best self, in spite of the obstacles one currently faces, even if it is one’s self. Panaad is alchemy, the transformation of material, transmuting form from the ashes, using dark to define the light. Lighting a candle one at a time, Sudlon confronts and overcomes the darkness around and within him. Art is his devotion. Through creating art comes his transformation. As he explored new materials and broke creative barriers, he also burrows into the fractures and crevices of the soul.

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