People often expect contemporary art to be dark and shocking. But BBC filmmaker Matthew Collings has argued in his documentary“Impressionism: Revenge of the Nice” that the source of this state can be traced to the 19th century Impressionist practices of the likes of Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, and post-impressionist Paul Cezanne. Avant garde precisely because of their insistence that beauty be the starting point of any work of art, these artists have shown that what is nice can also be revolutionary–an interesting proposition in today’s visual art scene.

Artist Carlo Ongchangco works with this idea in his new show at Galerie Stephanie, entitled “Revenge of the Cute.” Not your normal exhibition, the exhibition takes the concepts and characters of Ongchangco’s narrative practice and re-imagines them in a plethora of different styles and media–including painting, sculpture, and video installations. And for this exhibit, Ongchangco has partnered up with fashion giant Mossimo to create one-of-kind clocks with acrylic paintings of his characters.

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The foundation of this exhibition remains Ongchangco’s paintings. Although superficially described as “cute,” on closer inspection one can see various layers of depth within the canvas. Ongchangco uses aspects of magic realism to convey narratives in “one-shot” paintings, with some of the works being circular to reflect the audience’s status as an observer in the artist’s world. Populated by a hodgepodge of fairy tale characters and pop culture figures, the paintings are rendered in the artist’s characteristic “anime” style.

“Mechanic for Hire” is a good representation of Ongchangco’s approach. The two bunny characters are images of “Miffy,” a popular character created by Dutch artist Dick Bruna in 1955. The character is a recurring image in Ongchangco’s current works. Encountering Marvel superhero Iron Man while trying to fix their wagon, the work is decidedly narrative but with the slight underpinnings of magic realism in the unlikely encounter of these characters. Similar to this is the porthole canvas of “Green Latern” depicts the titular DC comic superhero reaching for the lantern that charges his power ring which was hung on a tree branch. In the background is Miffy at the counter of a candy store.

Aside from paintings, Ongchangco explores other media and fuses them with his own canvas works. “My Journey of Love and Music,” for example, combines painting and sculpture to depict the story of a dancer on an adventure to find herself. Ongchangco also teams up with animator and former Team Manila designer John Roi Abcede in animating his characters and projecting them on a space on one of his paintings, effectively bringing his painting to life.

Carlo Ongchangco worldview comes from his experiences in after college. Having graduated with a degree in Interior Design from the University of Santo Tomas, he has dabbled in a variety of media in his career as a visual artist. He is currently the Creative Director of Red Fish, an art apparel label he established early this year that creates its own graphic shirts. From 2007 to 2010, Ongchangco was also co-owner and Creative Director of White Box Studio Gallery. Now, this exciting new exhibition at Galerie Stephanie cements Ongchangco’s practice and also demonstrates the gallery’s commitment to interesting new ways to present visual art.