Art Exhibits Life!

FIGURE OUT: Sio Montera navigates life’s many paths in 28th abstract art exhibit

By: - June 01, 2023

Perhaps the most common misconception about abstract art is that the painter, in his non-sober state, gathers a bucketful of paint, splashes it on the unsuspecting canvas, and then, et voilà, out comes art.

Dennis “Sio” Monterra’s Figure Out:Temporal and Conceptual Configurations in Non-Pictorial Space runs until June 6, 2023 at Qube Contemporary, Design Center of Cebu, located on A.S. Fortuna Street, Mandaue City. The gallery is open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

It is this misconception that drove a fellow traveler, during a 2014 stop at Paris’ Louvre Museum, to comment that abstract art is “easy to do” because “one does it without thinking.

It is tempting to agree with the statements if one only looks at abstract art on the surface but I disagreed. My years at the University of the Philippines Cebu (and the decade following those years) taught me that abstract art production is more difficult than it looks.

I learned this from observing, stalking, listening, and eavesdropping on Dennis “Sio” Montera’s teachings of this non-figurative art form.

I was reminded of this particular encounter when I saw him inside Qube Contemporary (Design Center Cebu) in Mandaue City where his exhibit “Figure Out: Temporal and Conceptual Configurations in Non-Pictorial Space” opened last May 27.


Qube Gallery Design Center AS Fortuna Mandaue City. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

Like many of Sio Montera’s exhibits, the exhibit’s opening reception was unpretentious. The absence of an opening program allowed for a more intimate interaction. The artist was just around, willing and ready to be approached to answer questions that art enthusiasts may have in mind.

“Figure Out” is about Sio’s artistic journey as he prioritizes his commitments and responsibilities in the many hats that he is wearing – as an artist, teacher, father, and as the head of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ National Committee on Visual Arts (NCCA-NCVA).

“There is so much to figure out. Life throws you so many curve balls. I guess, for me, I am learning how to prioritize things, set aside all the negativities, and the toxic things in my mind so I can just do what I want,” shares Sio.

In “Figure Out,” Sio unleashes the vulnerable process of making decisions and coming to terms with those decisions.

“I have reached a point where I look at the bigger picture now. In what path I lean to follow because just like in my paintings, I have to use the best route so I can achieve that sense of peace, sense of harmony, sense of wow factor in my works,” says the UP Cebu Fine Arts professor.

In “Figure Out,” Sio delivers the message that the decision-making process in abstract art is more than just throwing paint on canvas. Rather, it is a process that also undergoes deep introspection and utmost discernment.

“I need to discern which comes next… whether to put another layer or take another layer, add this color or that color. The decision-making in abstract art is quite difficult because you don’t know what it’s going to look like in the end,” he shares.

In explaining his process, Sio went back to the years when he immersed himself in his MFA studies in UP Diliman where he learned to develop a style of his own, a method called “addition by subtraction” that has since produced multi-layered colored paintings.

Sio did not start out his career as an abstract painter.

Like many of those who are trained in UP Cebu’s Fine Arts Program, he learned to paint realistic images.

“But when I was still in college, I kept winning the Joya awards not in the representational or realistic category but in the abstract form. But because that was not so market-oriented, I still did my thesis in representational form,” he recalls.

Everything changed when he worked on his MFA in UP Diliman where his professors asked him why he painted religious images when he is already adept at doing it.

His answer was linked to his Cebuano religiosity and spirituality.

His response did not impress them.

Instead, it made Sio ask more questions about his art: his process and medium, among others.

“Just because I paint images, I connect it right away with being a Cebuano, Sinulog, then the dance… too cliche. That’s when I realized that I have to think this through. The introspection that happened after that is… I can express my religiosity and also my spirituality not through representational images but rather through non-figurative art form. From there, my thesis shifted to an experimentation of materials which I am using now,” says Sio.


Qube Gallery Design Center AS Fortuna Mandaue City. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

Since he came out with the 80-feet piece called Penitensya that was displayed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines during Holy Week 2004, Sio has staged one abstract art exhibition after another in Cebu and Manila and in foreign countries namely China, South Korea, Indonesia, France, and Taiwan.

“Figure Out” is Sio’s 28th exhibit since he embraced abstract art.

As a process-oriented artist, Sio says no two shows are the same as the forms that manifest in each artwork are based on his emotions, state of mind, and the context in which the pieces were created.

“This one is different now because it’s answering a more general question. Being an artist who recently turned 50, I am at that point in my life where I need to reassess whether I will continue with this or do another art style or consider going back to representational,” he says.

Pre-pandemic, Sio pursued his doctoral degree at the Institute of Creative Industries Design of the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan City, Taiwan.

Back in Cebu, he immediately went back to mentoring young artists and honing their skills in whatever art expression they choose to embrace.

Sio describes making art and teaching art as polar opposites.

“When I do my art, it’s random. I do not have any preconceived image on how it will look in the end. It’s like I wait for the eureka moment. Okay you’re done but only after I am fully satisfied. Teaching? It has to be methodical. It has to be organized,” he says.

By making art and teaching art, Sio immerses himself in a journey that not many artists have the privilege to experience.

But even after this expansive and intensive exposure, Sio remains in-touch with reality; that an artist, no matter how accomplished, needs to evolve. This makes him unafraid to ask questions and to find answers to those questions.

Just like in 2004 when he had to let go of realism to delve deeper into the world of abstraction, Sio Montera meticulously studies the medium and the process in both art and life.

The result are masterpieces of one fearless creative that we, the-sometimes-discerning-otherwise-curious public, have the privilege to encounter.

Dennis “Sio” Monterra’s Figure Out:Temporal and Conceptual Configurations in Non-Pictorial Space runs until June 6, 2023 at Qube Contemporary, Design Center of Cebu, located on A.S. Fortuna Street, Mandaue City. The gallery is open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

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