Hawak/hold (8.7832, -124.5085) is a larger than life charcoal and pastel rendering of a churning sea shown from an aerial perspective completed in 2019 by artist Katrina Bello. This seascape is seemingly incongruent with 31 Central, a sick building in downtown Newark, NJ, but through the close analysis of duality, process, and form, deeper connections are revealed. The drawing represents a point of intersection between the environmental decay at 31 Central, and continued environmental shifts on a global scale.
Katrina Bello began her life, and her career, on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. Bello draws inspiration from her personal migration stories as well as her consciousness of drastic changes in costal areas due to environmental degradation to create large scale renderings of detailed images from remote locations. A year prior to the 2019 eviction of the artists from 31 Central, Bello’s second floor studio overlooked Central Ave. She was aware that the building was damaged, and was witnessing its decay while meditating on the vast yet connective qualities of remote, earthly environments. She taped a 5’ x 8’6” piece of paper directly against a roughly dimpled, partially peeling, wall in her studio and commenced on a frottage that would become Hawak/hold (8.7832, -124.5085).
Bello’s intention was not to create a “beautiful piece of art,” although the final piece could be lazily deemed “beautiful” and not given other consideration. The artist incorporated clues into the work that beg for deeper investigation. A striking example of duality within the work is presented in the title Hawak/hold which is a repetition of the same word in different languages. “Hawak” translated from Filipino to English means “to hold,” and other close variations of “hold.” This repetition requires the viewer to reconsider the image not as just a standard representation of water, but also bearing another meaning. The act of holding water is in itself a duality, as two entities are necessary, something to hold and something to be held. The repetition of the duality within the title indicates the artist is paying close attention to the details within the piece itself, as well as in the larger context of global discourse.
Consideration must also be made for the interpretation of the second half of the title, (8.7832, -124.5085), and the significance of these numbers. With knowledge of the migratory inspiration behind the artist’s work, it can reasonably be deduced that the numbers represent geographical coordinates. The coordinates denote a remote and truly indiscernible location within the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Newark and Mindanao, and signaling a link between the two. The artist is guiding the viewer and pointing to the locations being contextualized within the work. Newark, her studio, the place of creation is being clearly marked as a place of importance within this piece, but is also being hidden from direct view.
Bello is sly in the way she incorporates pertinent information into her artwork, concealing it within the depths of the shadows, leaving only faint clues of her process. Artists generally employ a hierarchy of process over product. The artist’s process is often laborious, with visual and conceptual depth being built simultaneously through a system of layering. The layers, sometimes referred to in a grouping as an “underpainting,” contribute to building a strong foundation for the final artwork, or “product.” An artist fleshes out layers within a piece through their own unique style, which can incorporate meditation, experimentation, play, intuition, research, and a variety of other methods. All of these methods are instrumental elements encapsulated within the final piece. The process within which the underpainting of Hawak/hold (8.7832, -124.5085) was created bears great significance, as it was not created by the artist alone. Bello taped a large void of blank paper to her studio wall, rubbed charcoal on the paper’s surface, and the texture of the wall appeared resulting in the first layer being created. This first mark was made not by the artist alone, but as a collaboration between the artist and the environment. Bello literally drew her studio into the sea by incorporating the markings from the wall. The wall would have been less useful if the building had been properly maintained, and smooth walls abound. As the 31 Central building slowly decayed, it provided a myriad of textures for frottage. Bello draws mainly from photographs, but allows the materials and environment to inform without strict demands. Although it is difficult to discern the marks without close physical inspection, and perhaps guidance from the artist, it is easy to deduce their effect on the final piece. The marks from the underpainting are determined by the physicality of the building which dictates shape and form and directly contributes to the topographical seascape. The decaying building becomes part of the sea that is a representation of vast expanses and globalized environmental degradation.
Forms and spacial relationships within the details of the work are direct results from the interaction of the building and the act of mark making, culminating in the final seascape. When referring to a seascape the image of an island retreat, with beautiful glimmering waves, peaceful shores, and possibly a setting sun will be conjured. Hawak/hold (8.7832, -124.5085) is a different type of seascape. The larger than life size of the work altogether envelops the viewer, at 5’ x 8’6.” The aerial perspective of the piece displayed vertically challenges the normative gaze, creating an uneasiness in viewing and suggesting closer examination. The overwhelming image of a deep and churning ocean is not intended to ease or welcome, the sea is depicted as foaming and foreboding. The motion within the waves attracts and repels simultaneously as the eye is pulled into the depth of the shadows and then forcefully pushed back to the surface within the formation of highlights in frothy film rolling over the water. The color palette is limited to white, reddish brown, deep teal blue, and black. The limitation creates a realistic feeling of water, as the colors are also used to represent the agitation in the sea. The absence of a placid and unbroken blue sea indicates the dramatic and chaotic motion in the underlying flow of water. The sea is an ideogram representing of both the microcosm and macrocosm of environmental damage from an artists studio in 31 Central to the costal changes in Mindanao.
Hawak/hold (8.7832, -124.5085) infers to an intersection between 31 Central, and the ongoing environmental shifts happening on a global scale through the intentional use of duality, process, and form. By collaborating with the physical site of the 31 Central studio, Bello offers a direct yet subtle contextualization of the environmental transition occurring within the 31 Central building, and forges a connection to a larger global environmental awareness through the use of title and hidden marks within the work. By condensing 8,500 miles of distance between Philippines and Newark into one seascape, Bello is heightening the connective awareness of the viewer.