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Often, as the saying goes, "as in poetry, in paintings" and vice versa. I'd like to address this issue now through paintings, and specifically the work of Connecticut resident Cristina Querrer.

The Lava Experiment: Or that of a Fiery Lover, 2002

The tension between elliptical or abstract (an adjective that I have used for my own work, even though "abstract" has a multiplicity of definitions) and narrative poetry can be related to the tension between abstraction and representational images. Querrer paints in both styles, but says she prefers abstractions because "it's free form." Critically, however, she does not consider her abstract work to be denuded of what she calls her "Filipino heritage."

For instance, "The Lava Experiment: Or that of a Fiery Lover" lacks representational references. A narrative interpretation can be gleaned from its title, but the painting itself is a field of colors, with energy being derived from the surface of her brushstrokes (it is a textural piece though that may not be evident in this reproduction) as well as such colors as oranges and reds.

However, Querrer deliberately chose this work's colors to reference "the imminence of danger and impending destruction." At the time she worked on this painting, she also was working on a painting entitled "Escaping Mount Pinatubo" so that the volcano's eruption was clearly in her mind.

Color, rather than representation alone, can suffice to be Querrer's diction in any individual work. For instance, she uses "mauve tones to depict the emotion of loss, whether a people immigrating, coming and going, death or straight out abandonment." For Querrer, the hues suffice to address her subject matter without needing to specifically explain it through more figurative clarity.

Despite Blue Skies, 2002

The approach also may be seen in "Despite Blue Skies," a pleasing composition whose fields and colors allow for a rewarding dialogue about space and perception. As regards this painting, Querrer says, "I use the colors light blue and white with outlined black charcoal to describe the irony of light. The painting shows human tragedy against the purest backdrop of blue skies and blue sea. [It is about war in that] when war happens we take for granted the beauty that has been bestowed upon as we continue to mar this landscape with greed and evilness."

By "landscape," Querrer refers not simply to earth but "our own tender, human landscape." Thus, one can see her "Filipino heritage" in a work like "Conversating with Billie" (which is effective for its structure; harmony exists despite the energetic combinations of color). She says that she painted the tribute to Billie Holiday while playing the legendary blues/jazz singer's music in the background. "With so much color, contrasting hues and white, one might feel this as light and jovial at first. But in between the lines and in the dark shadows, one may start to feel the heavy, underlying emptiness and sorrow of Billie Holiday," Querrer explains.

Conversating with Billie, 2002

Yet Querrer adds that she also considers Holiday to symbolize "all artists," which fits in with how the darker aspects to Querrer's aesthetic sensibility cannot be separated from her history. Her resume includes this paragraph:

Born in 1967 in the Philippines, Cristina Querrer says the roots of her poetry and artwork began in the Philippines and reflect her childhood experiences growing up in and around Clark Air Force Base. Struggling for her self-acceptance as an Amerasian child during the aftermath of the Vietnam War in the Philippines, Querrer's artwork and poetry is a rendering of loss and an ambiguous future, but certainly not without hope for our "terse attempt at redemption" from our human tendencies and suffering. There has been another phase, more regional: the assimilation back to the U.S. after 1985 living in Connecticut and the East Coast.

Until recently, Querrer was also a member of the U.S. Army Reserves who could have been called in to serve in potential battle involving U.S. personnel. She certainly understands the irony of service in the U.S. military, given the history of her birth-something that was particularly difficult to address given the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Shortly after "911," Querrer disseminated an open letter in cyberspace, in which she said, "Most of you might not know me. I'm usually the quiet one standing in the corner. Today I would like to say something like everyone else on the state of affairs. I am a mother of two, a U.S. citizen who was born and raised in the Philippines. I am a Filipina American woman who is currently a member of the U.S. Army, who will probably be called in to defend/support our country, United States. Lastly, I am poet who is ruled by emotion. To say the least, my conscience is torn and pulled in many directions. …As a soldier's duty I will defend and sacrifice myself to protect you; country, your children and mine...but I still believe foremost what pragmatists proclaim as intangible: hope, the power of prayer and love."

Portrait of a Poet, 9/11/01, 2001

This is an artist who paints abstract works, who prefers abstraction to a representational style. For someone to read "abstract" or elliptically-written poems and conclude they are not as politically-correct as a narrative poet making more overt references is similar to someone looking at a painting like "The Lava Experiment" and presuming that Querrer is working only within some aesthetic vacuum ruled merely by technical concerns. Notwithstanding, therefore, her abstract works, it is logical that when Querrer paints a self-portrait, it would look like "Portrait of a Poet, 9/11/01." Here, her facial features may not be figuratively defined, but the identity is, most assuredly, not abstract.

© Eileen R. Tabios

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With Style: Filipino Americans and the Making of American Urban Culture
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Ghostly Heroes
by Isabel Escoda

Overcoming Aesthetic Apartheid (With a Focus on Cristina Querrer's Paintings)
by Eileen R. Tabios
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