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Uptown Magazine, September 29, 2011

We are Pamily(a)

Chosen family reunion reveals bonds of an artistic community

By Sandee Moore

I’m adopted, so I am fascinated — and a little envious — to observe the similarities between biologically related family members. Certain features and tell-tale traits keep appearing in new combinations among the various branches of a family tree.
For his exhibition at Semai Gallery, Paul Robles has gathered his chosen family — "pamilya" in the Filipino language — and lined them up on the walls. The works subtly reveal their likeness in either formal elements or subject matter. A particularly nice grouping moves from a two-headed peacock (Robles) to a baby doll with a wizened, annoyed expression (Dana Kletke) to Ted Barker’s astoundingly photorealistic oil of two parka-clad figures embracing. The hooded jackets are kin to the hooded snowsuit of Kletke’s doll; the hug conjoins the figures at the hood, recalling Robles’ freakish bird.
Birds of a feather (cocks in particular) pop up everywhere. Super Mario’s buoyant form has been reduced to a veiny network of cut-out lines that form the regal "Super Mario Cock" that guards the gallery entrance. A proud rooster cut from a bull’s eye of green and blue origami paper is accompanied by his inverse (the resemblance like a photographic negative) — a tattered landscape scattered with pink dots collaged together by Cyrus Smith. The spheres empathize with the target, revealing their commonality. Toward the back of the gallery (the domain of the pervy uncles) is another pink work (Smith again) scrawled with a rude, lewd phrase in the guise of harmless whimsey: "when I see a pink like that it’s like wink wink." The pink and the wink wink find their brothers in Robles’ tigers and a peacock, cut from the pages of a pornographic magazine. The crude is incompletely transformed into something charming by these twins of boyish beguilement.
For some time now, Robles’ paper constructions have been fashioned from two primary materials — colourful origami paper or skin mags. Three lacy butterflies set up the kissing cousins of beauty and cruelty: these delicate forms weren’t made with scissors or an X-Acto knife but employ a technique for torturing bugs known to many children. A focused spot of light is used to burn a network of holes revealing a butterfly shape, which is forced into an uneasy union with the subject of the magazine pages from which it is fabricated. Like a child in whose face it is difficult to discern which parent’s features are most reflected, neither the balefully gazing face or the spread wings takes precedence. (As an aside, butterflies often have markings that approximate a face to scare off enemies.) These butterflies are accompanied by an altered photo of a chrysalis (Daniel Ellingsen) and a confounding and elegant cocoon-shaped drawing by Catherine MacDonald.
Everyone is here at the Pamilya reunion — Wills and Kate, grinning under a gilt-framed photo of pigs, Dana Kletke’s uncanny and adorable felted carrot man, Leslie Supnet’s sad parents, Elvira Finnigan’s salty frost blooming on a beaker full of Robles’ paper swallows. It’s nice to see them all.
Sandee Moore is an intermedia artist, a former director of Video Pool and occasional arts writer.

Paul Robles & His Friends: Pamilya
Until Oct. 8, Semai Gallery (264 McDermot Ave.)

The Original Article in Uptown Magazine