Mark Lester Espina: Birth Paints


The aha moment for an artist not only comes when he has finally found his distinct visual style, it could also be the creative fruition of that long and arduous process of studying his artistic purpose and various experiments; of being exposed to his contemporaries and imbibing the contemporary in interpreting the sheer realities he evolves himself in.

For Mark Lester Espina (b.1985) it was in a hasty preparation for a group exhibition one fine morning in December, 2014. After bringing his visiting father to the bus station on his way home, it was almost lunchtime with only a few hours to his deadline. Using a dried academy grumbacher what was supposed to be a detailed dress of a woman in Screenshot he spontaneously painted it in textured white acrylic. A dedicated realist Espina prefers raw, rough, and raucous brushstrokes. He weighs heavily his paint brushes distorting white textures in clothes rather than directly representing natural figures.

In these auction-dictated times, when much of the prevalence of virtual is considered real, the demand to devise a new pictorial language seems expected upon serious and sometimes snotty artists. In his first solo exhibition at the SM Art Center, The Birth of Gemini, Espina has step up to the plate and raised his stakes in the art scene.

Placing highly on his artistic processes, Espina commences work by skillfully sketching the lone image of the woman with her elegant face and mandatory poise. Often coming from various sources depending on his mood, he paints them for their beauty and movement. The more demanding parts are the more meticulous strokes of the second coating focusing on the women’s dresses which involves the palette textures in white acrylic done by dry brushing using stencils. Following the curves of women in motion, he finishes by filling the open spaces with vintage clothing pattern to counter the coarseness of the white to the monotony of his grays. Evident in A Ring of Endless Beauty nothing can replace the direct involvement and sensitivity he brings intoan artwork by sensually connecting through this work ethic.

I Have No Eyes, I Must See

When You Are Engulfed in the Lights
With a background in advertising, it comes natural for Espina to alter fixed views or prescribed notions of contrived even cliché interpretations. He dabbles and takes the life out of the experience and rehashes them intuitively. Arresting whatever emotion it depicts, I Have No Eyes, I Must See Perfectly uses perspectives demarked by a fragmentation of a familiar point of view. Espina ensures how an appearance is intently perceived, as it reveals his inner thoughts, such as in When You Are Engulfed in the Lights. Using photography as reference Espina’s women is caught up in the spontaneity of the moment and off-the-cuff captured narrative--nothing formal or staged for him. In The Unbearable Darkness strikes a similar pose as Espina proves that man’s basic need is to be seduced by beauty. In Better is the Night the viewer (most likely the male gaze) becomes uncomfortable observing a reflective woman with her thinking pencil yet she does not want to be bothered or disturbed.

The Sunflowers are Mine
Despite what Espina considers his minimal approach to his pieces, multiple dialogues converge in every canvas. The smooth gray skin tones of his main subjects are amiably violated by the textured white allocation of their clothing. This coursed void of color, whose luminous version in lead was banned for over a centuries, provides a casting of light that only a versed painter like Espina can effectively execute. The ephemeral vintage pattern on the background provides a semblance of decorative order vis-à-vis the imaginative occurrence that concurs upfront.

The evidence of sunflowers on Sunflowers Are Mine and Pull the White Out of Meare Espina’s tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, his main influence. Sunflowers are representations of devotion and loyalty, even as medieval representation of turning to the sun for guidance. Van Gogh made seven versions of Sunflowers to praise his mentor Paul Gauguin who was to join him in Arles to compliment the yellow house they were about to share. A spiritual longing, an emblem of the faithfulness in following God, Espina seeks blessedness by sharing his ministry of painting. He views an art that moves and heals as it has been his passion.

Ballerina Series IX
When American art critic Thomas McEvilley welcomed the rebirth of painting in early '90s from being an exile for more than two decades he cited the death of the grand narrative brought about the futility of history and a more personal feature in this visual art form would emerge. The lack of art movement enables painters like Espina to command their unique individual expressions only they can represent. Espina’s paintings have complicated illustrative categories yet their brilliance is that we clearly see something of ourselves in its eventual depiction. He devises his own forms and formats and puts painting into a new realm while also acknowledging its long history, practice and inherent revisions and innovations. For Espina, the deeper you dwell within yourself the more sluggish your art will be. And he has just been born.

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