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Lowbrow Meets Anxiety: Jay Francisco's Exhibition Explores Anxiety Disorder with Pop-Surreal Visuals

Debuting at Rojo Galerie, Jay Francisco unveils “Constant State of Panic”, an exhibition highlighting the artist’s pop-surreal visual interpretation of an anxiety disorder. Through cartoon-styled and candy-colored imagery, Francisco sheds light into one of the most highly stigmatized topics.

Jay Francisco, born in 1994, hails from Rizal. Starting with an interest for fashion and a knack for clothes making, Jay made his way into the visual arts scene through the Fine Arts program at the University of the East – Caloocan. While a student, Jay participated in art competitions recommended by his peers. Twice, he represented UE at the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) National Painting Competition. Through his efforts, his university awarded him the Exemplary Performance in Visual Arts Award. Beyond scholastic recognition, Jay Francisco would also garner awards nationally. Francisco was a two-time semi-finalist at the renowned Metrobank Art and Design Excellence (MADE) Painting Competition in 2016 and 2018. Additionally, in 2018, he was shortlisted for the prestigious Maningning Miclat Art Awards. In 2017 and 2019, Francisco joined the 50th National Shell Art Competition and the GSIS National Art Competition, respectively, where, in both events, he was awarded as a finalist. Francisco has actively participated in various exhibitions around the metro since 2014 and now proudly presents his first solo exhibition, “Constant State of Panic,” at Rojo Galerie.

Mental health remains an under-discussed topic in the Philippines. As far as the talks regarding it goes, the Filipino culture still holds some sense of bigotry towards people seeking help for their mental well-being. “Arte lang ‘yan,” as some might comment dismissively when the topic is brought up. However, for those living with mental health conditions, coping with stress becomes a monumental challenge. As an individual diagnosed with anxiety disorder, Jay Francisco uses his first exhibition as a platform to foster conversations and raise awareness about mental health.

In his exhibition, “Constant State of Panic,” Jay Francisco visually narrates the experience of living with an anxiety disorder. Through his signature blue humanoid subjects, Francisco provides a third-person perspective on the turmoil of anxiety. Vibrant bolts of neon colors scatter throughout his exhibition, creating a visually stimulating sense of disruption in each artwork. Prismatic breaks in the planar works give a disorientating feeling as if we are inside the minds of the subjects. The fragmented narratives and kaleidoscopic pop representations by Jay Francisco capture the state of being in perpetual panic.

One of the showcased pieces, titled "Running in Circles," depicts a bewildered blue humanoid surrounded by billowing smoke. Above him, a sign displaying “NOWHERE” looms. Conveying a sense of cyclic anguish, the piece symbolizes the feeling of being trapped in a negative pattern of scenarios. (It may be a toxic narcissistic cycle with a family member, repetitive abuse from an employer, an unending cycle of tyrannical government tactics heard from the news, or all of the above.) In most cases, prolonged exposure to significant distress is a contributing factor to the decline in mental well-being. When left unchecked, the world seems to turn into a labyrinth and the thought of being unable to escape draws one into a dark rabbit hole of over consuming, self-destructive rumination.

The involuntary feeling of powerlessness associated with the illness gives one the sustained feeling of endangerment. Biologically, when the brain feels threatened, it finds ways to keep itself safe. The clouds of smoke, also a recurring motif in Jay Francisco’s current exhibition, give a sense of how the brain will trick the body into seeking safety. As if caught in a fire, the body will start pumping adrenaline, leaving one in a heightened state of alert. In more noticeable symptoms, the brain increases the heart rate and induces a feeling of suffocation through shallow breaths, hoping that the body will run, leaving the threat. A seemingly paralyzing force, “Running in Circles” shows how people with anxiety disorder feel as if a fire is with them everywhere they go.

"Running in Circles", Acrylic on Canvas, 48" x 48", 2023

"Turbulent Transition", Acrylic on Canvas, 36" x 36", 2023

For individuals without anxiety disorder, it may be easier to deal with stress and take necessary steps to escape a stressful situation. Why would someone stay in negative environments or get stuck in self-sabotaging behaviors when they know these are no longer beneficial? Answer: When you’ve been in a fire long enough, the absence of fire starts to feel frightening. Similarly, in one of Jay Francisco's works "Turbulent Transition," a humanoid appears to be free from the billows of smoke and finds itself in a new environment. The subject fashions a band-aid on its cheek narrating a sense of healing and recovery from past emotional wounds. However, the subject maintains the same frantic expression as in the previous piece, as if dreading another yet-to-come threat, wary of unseen terrors seeking resurgence.

"Internal Monologue", Acrylic on Canvas, 60" x 48", 2023

With playful, bright, neon-pop colors, Jay Francisco merges the realms of Candyland and Armageddon into one universe. Drawing inspiration from anime and cartoons, his pop-surreal works give a lighthearted but crucial take on anxiety disorder. As seen in his bigger pieces titled “Meltdown in Motion” and “Internal Monologue,” the vibrant color grading of the exhibition starkly contrasts with the shame and secrecy associated with mental health disorders. For the artist, Jay Francisco hopes that the audience will feel seen in his works in some way or another, finding a sense of validation and connection within his artworks.

"Meltdown in Motion", Acrylic on Canvas, 48" x 96" (diptych), 2023

“Constant State of Panic'' is on view at Rojo Galerie from June 18 to July 8. For inquiries and viewing appointments, you may reach out to the Rojo team via Viber/WhatsApp at +639279400722 / +639086535673. Rojo Galerie is located at Ground Floor, Robins Design Center, Meralco Ave. Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

Photos from Rojo Galerie/Patricia Pangilinan | Artworks from the artist

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