Essay by Robert Pincus

Jon Jaylo, Storyteller
By Robert L. Pincus, PhD

Surrealism doesn't die; it just gets reincarnated and reconfigured. In broad terms, it fits our time as much as it suited the early to mid-20th century Europe of Magritte, Miro, Dali, Delvaux and Ernst, even if the social universe of these seminal Surrealists has little resemblance to ours.

Saying that their mode of image making has become a form of visual Esperanto might be an overstatement, Yet there is a way in which the fractured, psychologically charged view of the world that they invented has retained its power, even with its abundant use in advertising and other mass media.

Pop Surrealism, the most high profile reincarnation from recent decades, took a central quality of Surrealism, the modern fascination with the uncanny, and gave it new life. By the uncanny I mean the notion of "something that is strangely familiar," a person, place or object that "feels known to us but mysterious at the same time." 1 The concept is, tied most closely to Sigmund Freud, but Freud thought it was already evident in E.T.A. Hoffman's curious 1816 tale, "The Sandman," about a doll named Olympia, who is spookily human in many respects.

The ways in which Surrealism was utterly unsettling and immensely accessible had a parallel appeal for a young artist emerging far from any art center, in the Philippines. This painter, the widely exhibited Jon Jaylo, knew he had found a way of working when he discovered the paintings of Magritte, Dali and Delveaux. in particular

"I was so drawn to their art," he recalls. "They created works that I could not understand sometimes, but still I loved them in a way that I cannot truly explain." Jaylo did know their work would "be instrumental in guiding my path." 2

He clearly sees the artists who dramatically impacted him as sources of a malleable pictorial language that he can employ. Toward what end has become clear, as his work has evolved: to delve into his psyche, his emotional state, in a way that is both personal and philosophical.

Jaylo believes that each of his paintings has a double identity: it is connected to a story of his, but it is also meant to coax different stories from viewers. Take The Other Side of Silence. For him, it is a meditation on wisdom and where to find it. The title begs a question: does silence offer a path to wisdom? The owl is an iconic symbol of sagacity, of course, and the painting links the power of insight with quiet. But every viewer will inevitably bring his own associations to the picture. Why for example, is the owl wearing a suit and hat? Clearly, he is a stand-in for us. Yet for each of us, what kind of stand-in is sure to vary. Why, too, does one eye of the owl double as a timepiece? Jaylo says the position of the hands on the clock has private significance for him, but the timepiece creates broader symbolic context, too. The stillness and tranquility of the landscape makes it seem almost lost to time, while the face of the clock within the eye of the owl reminds us that we can never really escape the relentless of time, except in the imagination.

Like The Other Side of Silence, all of his paintings are fields of symbols, ready to be connected to loose narratives. A Question of Truth says as much with its one word text, "Storyteller." But as tales, this image is an ambiguous and open-ended one about the elusiveness of truth. The heart is literally clear, perhaps metaphorically so too, but eerily, it looks if it is could be machine-made. The bird perched atop it wears a mask, vaguely human in features, though with a long nose - as if were a Pinocchio-like symbol of deceit. Breathe reads almost like an instruction rather than the title of a painting: the lung becomes a building, with door and window, in a landscape illuminated by a moon with human face. The strangeness of the scene is something to be experienced calmly, even meditatively. The title suggests as much.

Jaylo's paintings, taken together, have a way of making arrestingly strange sights accessible to us. In their exoticism, his images give us greater clarity about the ordinary world and its extraordinariness.

1. Auger, Peter. The Anthem Dictionary of Literary Terms and Theory. London: Anthem, 2010. 323. Print.
2. Jaylo, Jon. "Answers." Letter to the author. 20 August 2015. E-mail.

© 2015 Robert L. Pincus

Robert L. Pincus, PhD served as the art critic of The San Diego Union and The San Diego Union-Tribune for 25 years, beginning in 1985. From 1981 to 1985, he was an art critic for the Los Angeles Times. He has written regularly for many publications, including Art News and Art in America, for three decades and teaches at the University of San Diego. His many books include But Is It Art? The Spirit of Art As Activism.

His Twitter tag is: @rlpincus

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