Joey Mánlapaz collects lost neighborhoods, restoring them to their heydays on her canvases. One could wonder if she paints from memory because thirty or so years ago, there were buildings that imbued the neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. in home-dipped hues, and more than being the District of Columbia, the U.S. capital is also home to a variety of communities of different backgrounds.
When Philippine Ambassador Raul Ch. Rabe praised the works of Joey Mánlapaz and claimed the artist for the home country, Mayor Marion Barry of the District of Columbia was quick to interject, "I'm sorry, Mr. Ambassador, but Joey Mánlapaz is first and foremost a Washingtonian." Joey Mánlapaz's paintings are unassuming landmarks from a forgotten time, icons anchored in the locals' heart, baroque architecture eclipsed by modern skyscrapers, and tourist monuments do not escape her penetrating native's eyes.
New Menu, 1997
Oil on linen
44" x 34"
Viewing an exhibit of her paintings is literally imbibing in a love-fest between artist and subject. Neighborhoods marked by ethnic memories of homelands are filled with the sound and strains of instruments faintly foreign but so American in tempo. However, the march of progress and development in any American city tramples over familiar places. City planners erase without effort the classic cityscape replacing local landmarks with a generic steel-and-glass look.
There was a time a street corner was marked by a familiar mom 'n' pop pharmacy beside a grocery extending its storefront with crates of fruits and a bike shop's hospitality. These have been demolished and replaced by a posterity façade: lacking continuity, absent pulse.
DC Tidbits, 2004
22 " x 30"
Why buildings, Joey? Because they were my friends. Seeing your puzzled look, she recounts that upon arriving in the U.S. with her parents as a teenager, she was friendless and not apt to make new friends easily. You might say they were my phantom friends. I had an affinity for them. They spoke to me - as if they were like me: out of place. There was a time those buildings were at their peak. They were not good enough to be renovated; only to be candidates for the wrecking ball.
Her art has been described as "architecturally-driven," detail-oriented to the point of minuteness. She painstakingly works on a grid-system to produce the realism of her cityscape minus the wintry overcast sky or the pot-holed side street. A Mánlapaz painting exudes the scent of colors and the many facets of light, even hidden light. Her series of Reflection Art mesmerizes a viewer to look into a 3-layered depth: the sight through a glass window to the interior of a restaurant. Then the eye pushes inward to see the reflected curtain of tree branches. Street traffic mingles with chairs and waiters and the eye deftly extracts the frozen activities of passersby and pedestrians, singling out a separate landscape. Stare at the scene longer and you notice a streak of fade-out on some parts of the canvas, as though erased, as if memory didn't quite retain the image of what just seconds ago occurred.
Once urged by an autocratic parent to take up Pre-Med, Joey holds a Master of Arts from George Washington University. For a local artist, it is faintly amazing that her paintings grace the walls of many private homes and corporate headquarters nationwide. The government of the District of Columbia alone has 14 of her paintings. There is an anecdote that goes how one of her pieces so delighted the former Mayor's wife, the late Effie Barry, who placed a call to her friend, Bill Cosby... Cosby bought the piece sight unseen.
Oil on linen
46" x 54"
In 2003, Joey received a singular honor when among the many submissions for the poster art of the Library of Congress Annual Book Festival, her piece was chosen by First Lady Laura Bush. It depicts the festive tent-filled sprawling grassy mall with streamers and balloons from a bird's eye view.
For more on her exhibits and artwork, visit http://www.artlineplus.com/artists/manlapaz/digitalprints.html
Here is a rare soul living her bliss: doing what she loves best, at her pace, in the one city she has long ago recognized and chosen as home.
© Remé A. Grefalda