February 25, 2022

Kiko’s Practice One Year Later

In conversation with Kiko Bordeos

[Author’s note:]

[On January 8th, 2021, my first segment for The Quarterless Review, “Kiko’s Jeepneys,” was published online. The article was a narrative account of my first conversations with Filipino painter, Kiko Bordeos, emphasizing his daily practice and the influences from life in the Philippines visible in his paintings.

This article is a year’s long follow-up recorded as a dialogue between Kiko and I in late autumn. One year later, this conversation locates us, two painters who were strangers to each other not so long ago, as friends. As I type these words, Kiko is only a few feet away from me painting against our shared wallspace in the Knickerbocker studio where you can find us on most nights of the week painting side-by-side.]

The Smiths are playing in the background.
Here we are in the studio looking at Kiko’s works in progress…



Detail image of “Dark Entries/Love Dormancy”

Addison: …you’re almost always looking at your work and then you never go more than 5 minutes without touching something on the surface. The image builds up.

Kiko: It’s definitely getting dense.

A: The density in this piece acts like a surrogate for speed.

K: It's very much like New York City.

A: Tell me more about these paintings. What's going on here?

K: I’m working on some foreground and background action. The background becomes a fun place to juxtapose minimal templates with lines and movements of colors. These simple plays are what I like about minimal art, you know, like Carmen Herrera. Right now I'm not really focused on clarity in my work. Maybe having a studio is what makes me want to go like, boom, boom, boom, boom. There's no story in it. These paintings are visual distortions; maybe, visual sonic booms, visual cacophony.

A: Do you think about specific things when you're working? Is your head noisey when you paint?

K: Not really. Recently I’ve just been looking at a lot of artists that I like, thinking about their work. Some of what I’m doing with paint is like a nod to them, homages to them. But I don't want to name names.

K: Line and circle: for me being bilingual with English and Tagalog— I’m more fluid with Tagalog. I associate it with lines because I am more comfortable composing a painting through lines. I can’t really work with circles, so I think about them like my English. I began to think about how I enunciate words in English, which takes effort. It’s kind of like how I play with circles, introducing circles into the linear compositions. I don’t think I could make a whole painting of just circles.

A: You’ve never mentioned this before.

K: Never mentioned what, bilingual?

A: I know you're bilingual, but you've never made that explicit connection between English/Tagalog and line/circle which function as the basic elements of juxtaposition in your recent work.

K: Well, maybe it’s more subconscious really, because I want to explore other shapes but I feel like right now I can’t let go of lines and circles. But, I don’t know, maybe in a year or two I’ll be doing landscapes and going on trips upstate, expanding my shapes. [laughing]

A: Do you ever consider your paintings symbolic? Are these shapes filled with the symbolism of an idea or the idea?

K: Not really. I haven’t really thought about it, so not really. I usually just say: it's anxiety. Just make it crazy, sexy, cool. [laughing] I just make humor about it, about painting.

A: [laughing] It’s not easy to put words to your work, especially when it comes to abstract art. Do you know what you're gonna call these paintings?

K: This one is “Dark Entries/Love Dormancy.” I got it from a song. Oh, Bauhaus. I'll send you the song later. In therapy I’ve been talking about dormancy; dormancy when having to move through the changes like Fall becoming Winter…and then love is just such a complex word.

A: I love that love can be used for pretty much anything in English. I love you, romantically. I love pizza.

K: I love pizza. It can be so casual but when you want to say it to that person then it becomes hard.

A: What’s it like in tagalog?

K: Mahal.

A: And you can say it for a love of things?

K: Yeah. In Tagalog, when you say mahal kita it means I love you, but mahal also means expensive. Like, look at this expensive chair. Mahal kita…Yeah. So there's that duality you know. Layers. If you’re gonna say to someone in English I really love you, in Tagalog, you have to repeat. There’s a lot of repetition in the language. If you're gonna say, I really love you to someone, you got to say, Mahal na mahal kita. There’s that repetition.
    Just like this duality between Tagalog and English, line and circle, I’m interested in these values of love. How easy, unimportant it is, but then it has this emotional weight that is so intense when you are in love. I feel like you can relate to that.

A: I recently said I love you to somebody and they said it back. It was our first time saying it to each other.

K: I remember, didn’t you say it by accident at first? You were talking about plants?

A: [laughing] Yeah. My partner and I were watering my plants, and my plants have these long names, and I was like, wait I forgot their names now! I was talking to Xin-rui and I was like, wait wait wait—shoot what’s this one’s name again? And she goes, ILoveYou, and I was like, oh right ILoveYou. [laughing] The plant is named ILoveYou.

K: [laughing] Being bilingual, I'm interested in the philosophical mocking of words sometimes—mahal kita—these sounds attached to meanings we make up and agree on and how these sounds can build up so much emotional force over time. Yeah. Like, I would tell you who you are, you know, someone like, Oh, I love you guys. And I love this. That was, but if you're like, you know, that line of being like, romantically, seeing someone or just like, you know, it's just hard. Emotional weight.



A: I remember talking to you a year ago, and you also explained a little bit about how emotions come through in your painting. How you remember emotions or periods of time when you look at your work, the work takes you back to how you were when you made it. Talking to you has made me ask myself, what form do my emotions take on the canvas, what colors do they come in, What imagery conveys emotion, for me. Do you feel like you have struck the visual language that you need to depict emotions?

K: Yes and no. Words don't come easily for me and this imagery doesn't come easy either. I have this painting in my head. I used to sketch a lot but I stopped because I just don't have time for it. Maybe if I don't have a 9-to-5 job I'll be sitting for like two hours and sketching stuff. But every time I do that, then I create final paintings that become different from the sketches.
    So I paint by being in the moment and if there’s feelings involved then maybe I'm kind of aware. But I probably see it more later. It’s a visual cacophony during and after. Did I answer your question?

A:  If you had to identify or just pick a shape that corresponds to the feeling of doubt. What does that look like?

K: Doubt?

A: Yeah.

K: Wow. What is that? That's amazing. Probably a half circle and a line interrupting it.

A: Wow.

K: You never see a half circle around. Yeah, probably a half circle and then a slash of line.

A: Maybe you look up sometime and see a half moon and a plane with a chemtrail bisecting.


K: I didn’t use any red for this painting because I alway associate red with anger and violence. So no red for this guy who's a happy one. I have one painting that is 8-by-10 [inches], from the early days of therapy and dealing with anger and stuff like that. I’ll just show it to you. Do you want a visual right now? Because I feel like I show it to my friends and my friends are like shit. This is kind of violent for me.

“Seeing Red” Acrylic on panel, 2020

A: Oh, dude, I love this.

K: But every time I look at it now it’s just like a timestamp of what I was in the moment. It’s May, 2018. I think it was the first two months of being in therapy. Therapy is awesome by the way. Shout out to my therapist. [laughing] We talk about painting in therapy a little bit. She used to be a social worker and she deals with a lot of, like, creative people, also immigrants, people of color, so I feel like it's perfect that I fit in that category.

A: I'm really attracted to the earth tones in [“Dark Entries/Love Dormancy”]. 

K: The browns… I like how it like blends with the teal blue there. I've been trying to work with a lot mars yellow, yellow oxide, and.. Yeah I love yellow. Wiz Khalifa “Black and Yellow.” [laughing]

K: Three favorite yellows: diarylide yellow, hansa yellow opaque and dark cadmium yellow.

K: I can't help myself– [gets up to paint] Talk.

A: So what are you doing right now in this piece?

K: I'm just trying to add some more movements. I’m painting in angles that rival one another to create that tension for your energy— I’m thinking of sonic energy. That visual cacophony.

A: Do you consider your work illusionary, as in Op Art?

K: In a way. But I’m interested in the illusions of external forces and influences in my work– not really painting in that way though, playing with your eyes. The world does that work for you, like, you go out on Knickerbocker in 1990 and there's too much shit going on. You hear trucks, you hear people yelling, talking, cars, bicycles. So I feel like my visual references represent this environment; representing street noise, street energy. I don't know what my art would look like if I lived upstate. I’d probably become like Bob Ross. The Joy of Painting!


K: I relate to your work because you depict windows. Some of my work from Prospect Heights was looking at windows, very influenced by Jonathan Lasker and Peter Halley.

A: I love windows. I love doorways. Love windows and doorways the most. I like hallways too. I keep coming back to those frames that act as gateways between the private and public hunan. I like the simultaneous transparency & opacity these gateways offer: a door opening/closing.

K: Do you try to look for a lot of symbolism?

A: I try to some degree. Then I try not to. Honestly, putting it like that, as straightforward as that is the first time that's ever come out of my mouth. When it comes to my own work. I'm aware of what I'm interested in but I can't engineer symbolism. What does it mean? It’s a painting, I don’t know. But this creates an issue for me as well. I reckon with other people’s theses through painting and still yearn to say something but time and again I know the best work comes as a great surprise against my initial intentions. I accept that the work will develop beyond my initial conception and hopefully, it surprises me.

K: Yeah. Surprise is good and sometimes it is like, wow, that’s good, and then again, it can be disturbing for being so far from your expectations. I like sitting around and just like carefully being thoughtful about what to do in the painting.

A: Me too. I'm just looking most of the time.

K: And you know it’s also about getting away from the painting, getting out of the studio, doing normal things, going to the gym or the grocery. It's all part of it.

A: Everything bleeds into it.

Completed work: “Dark Entries/Love Dormancy,” 2021. Acrylic on canvas.

Kiko Bordeos:

Kiko’s work can be followed on Instagram @kikobordeos where he also makes direct sales for interested collectors.

Kiko has at times dedicated the sales from his work to Bushwick Ayuda Mutua and we would like to share that for anybody also interested in donating or volunteering with them:

Addison Bale:

is a writer and artist from NYC. His work is viewable online:

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