Style Living Self Celebrity Geeky News and Views
In the Paper BrandedUp Hello! Create with us Privacy Policy

Charlie Co is still counting crows

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 01, 2024 5:00 am

Charlie Co was here before, right before COVID shut the world down. His earlier edition of “The World According to Charlie Co: Drawings, Paintings, Sculptures and Mixed Media Work” was up at Ateneo Art Gallery in early 2020. The new edition is an eclectic spread of pastels, sketches, charcoals, oils, some new diorama sculptures and videos of Co time-lapsing his way through a massive canvas, brush in hand.

Co stops in front of a surreal work that was painted in 1985, a year after Nino Aquino’s assassination. A malevolent harlequin figure with a club is bursting through the painting; lying on the ground behind him is Ninoy on the tarmac. He thinks the piece is relevant again. “This is new to this edition. I sold this piece to a school friend 30 years ago… So when I saw the work again, I had to buy it back.” He points to a figure standing behind an archway in the orange-tinged landscape. “This is maybe me, an artist witnessing this happening. Documentation. That’s been with me a long time: this idea of an important moment, and as an artist, you captured it. You know this will be important for the future.”

Artist Charlie Co with reclaimed painting, “A Year After” (1985), at Ateneo Art Gallery. “The World According to Charlie Co: Drawings, Paintings, Sculptures and Mixed Media Works”” runs until June 15.

It shows something about how time ripples through Co’s work: his own documentation of it, his own conception of it.

Everything that exists in Charlie Co’s art filters through him first: the alarming crows, the chess sets, the bandstands and archways and floating figures, the masked revelers and paperboat hats. Growing up in Bacolod on his native Negros Island perhaps fed this interior, subjective view of things: his landscapes are filled with a mix of personal, Catholic, and perhaps Jungian or universal imagery.

“Dreaming Death” (2009)

You get the sense that he works spontaneously, but time is the not-so-secret ingredient, and a reminder: “You cannot see the image on a blank canvas right away. You have to dedicate all your life, because the white canvas will not show its image unless you are there all the time.”

Co often documents his diabetes and dialysis struggles in his drawings. Few artists do this: show their physical ailments on canvas. There’s Van Gogh’s white-gauzed ear in a self-portrait, maybe; or Frida Kahlo’s polio shown in her paintings; Andy Warhol’s gunshot scars shown in Avedon portraits. Co’s work goes straight to the daily struggle: him as a patient, enduring treatment. “It’s my way of healing, as in ‘art heals.’ When I would do my dialysis I’d get my oil pastels and (sketching the air) make myself very busy.” Today he’s feeling fine; he shows us a new pump attachment after his kidney transplant.

“Caliphate” (2019)

Earlier I’d watched a video of Co laying out “World Gone Mad,” a massive canvas commenting on COVID. During the pandemic, as a co-founder of Orange Project in Bacolod, Co and his team held virtual auctions, raising money and giving cash to artists. I asked what the biggest lesson was, living through all that. “You could see how big the hearts of artists are. So willing to help,” he says. “It shows the best and worst of mankind, in any situation maybe. Not just artists, but all people. It will show.”

Diorama sculptures have been added to this edition.

Crows often appear in Co’s work. The artist started seeing them a lot in Japan in the ‘90s, and they universally hold sinister meaning. The crows were “like a bad omen” but they came to reflect “personal things that happened to me.” The crow images evolved. He recalls how they sort of morphed into a more relatable human form: “When I was painting in my studio, my mom had a mynah bird that spoke in a human voice. I was painting, and the bird started talking. I said, ‘Sh*t! Now I can make my crows human.’”

“War Birds” (2006)

In Charlie Co’s world, all of his art exists on a personal timeline, which he can return to at will, “because the past is still you.” He says: “I think what I was saying, in keeping all my drawings, is when I get older, and I don’t have imagination anymore, I can go back to my early work: Ah! I did this!” 

“Bail Out” (2009)

And perhaps this awareness of time brings a sense of urgency. “This exhibition is important for me, because you’ll be tried mentally, emotionally, physically; you will be tried. I’m still using art as a way of moving forward. You can never tell the whole story until it happens.”

Art as a healing tool, once again. And the documentation there for all to see.

‘Matrix II’ and the women’s world
Sculpture by Julie Lluch at “Matrix II”

Also just opened at Ateneo Art Gallery is “Matrix II: Women Artists from the Collection of the Ateneo Art Gallery and Ambeth R. Ocampo.” Gallery director and curator Victoria “Boots” Herrera fielded works from 40 women artists for a second edition of “Matrix,” more than 20 years after the first. Names like Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Pacita Abad, Nena Saguil, Julie Lluch and Impy Pilapil now share the first floor gallery space with a new generation of artists like Yas Doctor and Annie Cabigting. The first “Matrix” was curated for Ateneo Art Gallery by Emmanuel Torres in 2002, the title referring to the womb—a vessel associated with nurturing, caring and healing. It’s also an environment in which things develop. Herrera hopes the “Matrix” cycle will now accelerate to new editions “maybe every three years.”

* * *

Catch “The World According to Charlie Co: Drawings, Paintings, Sculptures and Mixed Media Works” until June 15 and “Matrix II” until Aug. 3 at Ateneo Art Gallery. For more information, visit or email [email protected].