Yvette Malahay-Kim’s ongoing exhibit has the artist’s fascination with the sea as its starting point.
Raised in the islands of Cebu and Negros in the Philippines, Malahay-Kim speaks of the sea as always playing a part in her work.
The “nudi” in the title refers to a family of marine invertebrates called nudibranchs or sea slugs.
Ranging in size from a quarter of an inch to a few inches, Malahay-Kim magnified the nudibranchs to fill canvases of several feet square — drawing the viewer into an eerie intimacy with these magical creatures.
The artist, an avid diver, used photographs of nudibranchs taken by friends as references. These photographs are also displayed beside the paintings.
The critical viewer may ask, “Did the artist simply reproduce the photographs?”
This is a puzzle because Malahay-Kim was trained by abstractionist masters and is fluent in their language.
Why did she choose naturalism in a series intended to pay homage to her mentors?
The placement of the picture plane in extreme proximity to the object recalls Georgia O’Keeffe.
O’Keeffe painted close-ups of flowers as a vehicle to express her love for line, color, and texture — often pushing the forms to the edge of abstraction.
In this aspect, while keeping the visual integrity of the subject, Malahay-Kim is doing to sea slugs what O’Keeffe did to flowers.
The choice of subject itself connects this exhibit to the lineage of abstractionism, without further distortion in form or color.
The nudibranch in Smooth, Nembrotha Chamberlaini, for instance, would have been right at home among the biomorphic shapes of Miro’s Figures in Front of a Metamorphosis.
The broad areas of vermilion and blue in Color Studies: Thuridilla Lineolata could have come straight from the paintbrushes of Rothko or Villacin.
Malahay-Kim’s nudibranchs evoke the wildness of Derain, the strangeness of Dali, the whimsy of Dada.
In the show’s introductory video, the artist said, “These paintings are done in a naturalist manner because I would like to as closely identify the creature as in real life and put it on the canvas.”
In the final analysis, the style is the message.
By choosing to paint in the naturalist tradition, it’s as if the artist is saying that the nudibranchs are perfect as they are, that the sea should be revered as it is, and that nature has an inherent beauty worth preserving.
One is hard put to find a more compelling ecological and artistic statement.
NUDi EXposed runs until February 9, 2018 at the Jose T. Joya Gallery, University of the Philippines Cebu, Gorordo Avenue, Lahug, Cebu City.
Khail Campos Santia — Writer • Angela Gabrielle Fabunan — Editor • Alyssa Camille Baldelovar — Photographer • Xericho Monte de Ramos — Photographer
This piece was subsequently featured in the February 18 – 24, 2018 issue of the Dumaguete MetroPost.