"Tahan” is the much awaited first solo exhibition Nick Navarro. The exhibition is a suite of seven mutely colored oil on canvas paintings of interiors that are simultaneously very still and yet highly charged. The paintings pertain to the reassuring comfort of the home, which in Tagalog, “tahanan”- is the place where we retreat to, to seek solace from the rest of the outside world; and at the same time, the invocation of the artist for us to not to worry, and to feel reassured - tahan.
The paintings bring us to the realm of the domestic, that as British artist Phyllida Barlow eloquently puts it is, “enclosed, charged in many ways, potentially highly emotional, in what domestic space contains: everything from great love, family, closeness; and yet is also the opposite - enormous frustrations, feeling boxed in, imprisoned.” Navarro, through clever composition, has evoked wide range of emotions that charge the spaces he paints. Through prudent use of light and shade, he successfully creates tension. And through the use of muted colors, he creates an atmosphere of nostalgia and sometimes, even loss. In Navarro’s instagram account, which is devoted to his work, we find the words “hiraeth” and “kenopsia” - two words, which the artist himself uses to describe the paintings. Kenopsia, according to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, refers to “the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned
and quiet. While “hiraeth” is a Welsh word for homesickness or nostalgia, an earnest longing or desire. Both words are evocative of the permeating mood of all Navarro’s works - a trademark which he has developed since 2017- a pivotal year when he almost quit art. From the frustration and self-doubt he endured then, his art took root, and grew. Navarro himself says “in suffering, we find comfort,” hence, the title “Tahan.” There is a reassurance that we will endure, and probably, like Navarro, thrive.
Bereft of its inhabitants, who charge these highly personal spaces with their habits and energy, the interiors become a sort of “still life” - a life on hold - something which we, under extended community quarantine, can all relate to.
However, the stillness in Navarro’s works can also be interpreted another way: as a supplication to be still. To suspend all your worries for now, and put them aside.
With titles like “Ang Muli Kong Pagtukoy sa Aking Hangganan” and “Ang Araw Kung Kailan Hindi Ka Na Napapatulog ng Iyong Hele”, we are pointed to the highly personal, introspective, poetic, and diaristic functions of the works; as well as the obscure symbolism which can easily be overlooked in the mundane ordinariness of each mise en scene. But immersing ourselves in them, we intuit themes beyond the nostalgia which permeate his works - mental health is one of them. And it is one of the things we need to ensure, particularly at this difficult time.
As we are drawn farther into the interiority of these works, may we find the inner strength that they are manifestations of, and heed the artists’ reassurance: “tahan.” Hush. Be still. All is well. You are safe. You are home.
- Ricky Francisco