January 8th, 2020
KIKO’S JEEPNEYSBy ADDISON BALE
On the work of Kiko Bordeos
︎: Kiko Bordeos
To write this article, I spent one night pretending to be like Kiko. I went home after work and relaxed and then wrote from 11pm until 2am— I say wrote, but it is happening now, I am writing now, at 12:43am and I know almost without a doubt that Kiko is also working at 12:43am, now 12:44, on a thursday night, painting.
To start off, I thought of how to start off:
Kiko Bordeos is a painter.
Kiko Bordeos is a painter based in Brooklyn, New York.
Kiko Bordeos is a Brooklyn-based painter from the Philippines.
Kiko Bordeos is a 38-year-old painter from the Philippines based in Brooklyn…
He is also a volunteer, a musician, a cook at a vegan restaurant, etcetera…
Alas, Kiko’s routine of dedicated labor from the hours of 11pm to 2am had me acidified by 12:54 (I’m more of a morning person). Kiko maintains the same hours every day: up by 9, runs a 5k, then heads to Champ’s Diner by 11 where he works in the kitchen until 8pm, give or take. He eats all his meals at the Diner, then goes home to unwind until 11pm when he begins to paint again. Kiko paints from 11pm until 2am— every day.
“Every day,” he said, clarifying that he does not miss nights.
Perhaps, for lack of my own sense of routine, I am fixated on the routines of other artists. I asked if pre-pandemic Kiko was likewise so invariably dedicated to his nightly painting to which he replied with a flat, “yes.” He would not go out and rarely socialized outside of work. In this way, the isolation imposed on all of us by the pandemic conforms to Kiko’s preordained solitude. While painting, Kiko listens to podcasts or music and drinks one beer. We discussed a mutual desire to have a circle of artist friends and I noted that his perfect social companion would probably be akin to his roommate’s cat, Kitters, a person who floats around and keeps him company but is essentially un-obtrusive.
I dwelled on this– Kiko’s nearly ascetic dedication to painting four hours a night without exception– and considered how I could write it into my analysis of his work. Moreover, I dwelled on his resolve against the hollow of my own; for the underlying FOMO that self-sabotages, for procrastination, overthinking, the myriad stimuli that drive me into conflict with the whole object of being alone, not to mention focusing on something.
Over beers on a newly-chilled autumn evening in Maria Hernandez Park, I mentioned to Kiko that he radiates a particular calm that masks any signs of stress or anxiety, and infectiously so, to the effect of mellowing me out while briefly in his company. Within the context of the pandemic, an ongoing protest movement, and what felt like the political unraveling of the country in the days before the election, Kiko’s apparent cool was unmissable. He told me that I should have met him 10 years ago; told me that he came to this country 20 years ago and that he spent almost 8 years through his mid-to-late twenties angry and isolated (it dawned on me that I had underestimated his age by at least 12 years).
He is 38 now, and only in his thirties did he find the work/life balance that would permit him to live well and grow as an artist. These details came in couplets of other life anecdotes that all felt, to me, likely to beget many more conversations together. Interviewing him, I deliberately avoided certain subjects, such as relationships or the visa process, except for where anecdotes converged with his painting practice, which was inevitable when Kiko’s paintings are often identifiably linked to passages of his life and mental state.
Early into my studio visit, I asked Kiko if he could show me a painting he was particularly attached to. He pulled out two canvases, significantly larger than his other works.
The paintings share an optical sheen akin to work done by airbrushing, an approach that has gained clout as a sexy painterly device in recent years. Notably, Kiko’s pieces, which are replete with technical intricacies easily achieved by the airbrush, are all hand-painted. It is exactly this hand-painted-ness when applied to such exact imagery that first drew me to his work– a hand-painted-ness that bears in it’s imperfect lines the traces of incredible effort. The result is paintings defined by cross-sections of acrylic blending, geometric scaffolds of black fading into white, and boulevards of colored trusses beset by gray. Bright, out-of-the-tube acrylics operate in conjunction with vast gray-scales to create a give-and-take energy.
Untitled. Acrylic on canvas. 30 x 40 in.
From a snippet of recorded interview, Kiko addressed this link between the aesthetic genesis of the work and the context of its making:
Kiko: I think at that time I was living in Prospect Heights and, I don’t know, I just feel like, personally it was just chaos, so I think that feeling was distributed into what I was working on in painting.
A: Do you feel like you can normally identify easily the periods of your life, how you’re feeling and then how it affects your work or how it might come through in the painting?
Kiko: Yeah I think so, but I feel like also with a, you know, with a bit of scale— with the smaller ones that I am working on I feel like I just want it to be neat and clean and direct, so not much sense of space in the painting but with the bigger stuff like this you know like, all this space that you want to work with… especially, I always tend to make these tiny lines.
The winter he spent living in Prospect Heights was particularly cold he remembered, or at least, he remembered being cold. He used the word “chaos” to describe that time and he can see that history when he looks at the paintings. I asked him then if he felt that this time, the current moment is yet hereditary in the DNA of his new paintings… He is unsure as of yet, perhaps, it is too early to tell, though he noted that Trump’s election in 2016 provoked a movement toward clean, geometric, color-scale paintings that he feels were an obvious response to the shock and anger of that time, as though via painting he can yield order when it is otherwise scarce.
Grids and grayness establish ground zero across Kiko’s œuvre. Color is used as a vector of mood and memory and its relation to the gray is likewise traceable to Kiko’s psyche. Grey is the city, whereas the colors reference imagery from his youth in the Philippines. Kiko put words to his painting, saying, “There’s repetition, there are influences of tropical colors from where I came from, juxtaposed by grey colors— My fascination with grey tone started when I arrived here in NY. It represented cold winter days.” For myself as well, looking at his work, the prominence of greyness across Kiko’s œuvre positions me in the urban setting: tones of pavement, handrails, subway cars, the glass and metal walls of Manhattan.
To this effect, Kiko acknowledged a statement by the German painter, Gerhard Richter, that encapsulates the symbolism of grey:
It makes no statement whatever; it evokes neither feelings nor associations: it is really neither visible nor invisible. It’s inconspicuousness gives it the capacity to mediate, to make visible, in a positively illusionistic way, like a photograph. It has the capacity that no other colour has, to make ‘nothing’ visible. — source: Richter
For the tropical colors, their source is memory. Talking in Maria Hernandez Park, Kiko described the colorfully painted busses, known as jeepneys, that are used across the Philippines as public transportation and which he would have taken in his youth. Formerly US military vehicles, the jeepneys are residual machinery from WWII that were co-opted by urban municipalities across the Philippines for public transportation. In a WeTransfer file Kiko shared with me, photos of Jeepneys in the streets of Manila:
Screenshot from Instagram:
Last painting of the decade. Acrylic on panel.
Last painting of the decade. Acrylic on panel.
Toward the end of my visit to Kiko’s studio, I asked if he could weigh in on the various names I was juggling in my mind for this column of artist interviews for The Quarterless Review given his position as the first artist to be featured. Some titles under consideration: “(f)Art,” “Art in the Time of COVID-19,” “Awaiting the Vaccine” or “Awaiting Vaccination,” “The Woodshed” or “From the Woodshed” or “In the Woodshed,” and lastly, “Shedding.”
“The woodshed” comes from the artist Jack Whitten whose collected studio diaries were published by Hauser and Wirth under the name, “Notes from the Woodshed,” which is itself a Jazz term for practice. “I’m in the woodshed right now,” or used in the adverb, “shedding,” as my friend Zeb Stern, a jazz drummer, often says. Kiko opined “The Woodshed” be the name of the column to which I agreed at first but internally, rebelled and decided that “Shedding” would be perfect: laden with meaninglessness but also multivalent with associations of snakes and skin and ridding-of.
Kiko’s work desk is strewn with meticulously woven grids of tape, cuts of tape and slivers of paper cohabiting with tubes of Golden acrylics, half-painted panels, and some finished smaller panels. His work generates a material abandon that literally suffuses a process of applying and then shedding tape over and over again. The tape acts as stencil so that Kiko can hand-paint close-to-perfect lines, squares and otherwise delineate the margins of any forms or amoebas of color that build upon each other in compositions of pure, abstract ordinances part optical illusion, part distillation of something structural and familiar. (Scaffolding or fire escapes.) Movements of pink palette scatter diagonally across one canvas in a scale of light to dark; turquoise and cinnabar shards interrupt keys of black to gray to white in another, and through it all the solid shapes suggest depth, overlap, cylinders with roundness or flags with their pixels under-loaded.
I go back to the Jeepneys as the artist’s influence and perhaps as metaphor for us, the viewer of Kiko’s work, to understand his way of painting. They seem capable of distilling the components of gray-scale as city and color itself as a reference to memories of the Philippines— jeepneys like moving blocks of paint across the concrete.
Screenshot from Instagram:
Tiny Jams 7. Acrylic on panel.
Tiny Jams 7. Acrylic on panel.
Kiko Bordeos:Kiko’s work can be followed on Instagram @kikobordeos where he also makes direct sales for interested collectors.
As his recent sales have been dedicated to raising money for Bushwick Ayuda Mutua, I would also like to note that one can support by volunteering or donating through their website: https://bushwickayudamutua.com