The villagers will think:
Ah, what a heartless person!
When I can only lie down and sleep
through the long autumn nights.

From The Man’yōshū:
Book 10, No. 2302

In the year 491 A.D., this anonymous tanka was recorded in what is now the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, the Man’yōshū, The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves. In it, the word ‘person’ contains one of the first recorded references to a wabi bito, then meaning a desolate or forlorn person[1]. The meaning of wabi bloomed as years passed, and in no field more vivacious than in the way of tea. In the tea ceremony, cups, dishes, scoops, and even furniture come to possess an elevated beauty when small imperfections – gained and repaired over time – are allowed to build authentic innate character. What was once a word used to refer to desolation and austerity has come to mean an abandonment of pretense in a quest to become truly, simply, one’s self.

Vincent de Pio is on a journey to become such a person who embodies wabi—a wabi bito. He presents accumulations of spontaneity as the most authentic reflection of himself. Like cut flowers he arranges images culled from Japanese culture—ancient, traditional and modern; American and local pop iconography; music; food; past experience, and his own internal universe. Nishitani Keiji says of the art of ikebana or Japanese flower arrangement, “one of the most beautiful kinds of natural being is cut off, precisely in order to let the true nature of that being come to the fore.” [2] In cutting and compositing these images de Pio plucks from them particular truths, revelatory of himself as an artist, and of shared context: collective iconography, the cosmopolitan bombardment of imagery – meaningful or otherwise – a bit like having a delirious fever dream.

Son of veteran artist Gig de Pio, Vincent (b. 1979) developed his craft surrounded by a sensitivity to the aesthetic. His first solo exhibition in 2009 featured expressionist and nearly-calligraphic depictions of Korean cellist Ena Song. The same obsession with refined elegance led him to the intricacy of Japanese culture. In it he found the same hypnotizing character the cellist possessed, an understated sexuality, a fine balance between seduction and modesty mediated by millennia of aesthetic, religious, and philosophical tradition.

Unapologetically, the works revolve around images that arouse awe—geisha and maiko in their high-contrast make up, neon samurai amidst rolling foamy waves, ukiyo-e, artillery, robots, and Godzilla, all in a writhing psychedelic procession. The energy in the canvas works is palpably electric; most notably in the spectacular piece “Party Nation”. Playing with the geisha’s traditional chignon hairstyle adorned with extravagant hair combs and pins, a frenetic parade emerges from slithering mists atop her head; in attendance are ramen-wielding soldiers, clowns, Futurama’s Bender, and a Chinese bureaucrat, to name a few. Below it is the grounding contrast of the geisha rendered in stark black and white, looking far off-center with a modestly curious gaze. A lonely kind of longing ferments in the repeated usage of the geisha and samurai characters, as if familiarity bred closeness; yet their floating worlds – inhabited and imagined – remain out of reach, held at bay by the pop surrealist setting populated by distant meaningful gazes.

What is most notable in Wabibito, however, is de Pio’s migration from canvas to folded paper or origami. In Galerie Stephanie’s booth at Art Fair Philippines 2016 the series began with acrylic on paper folded into the traditional Japanese women’s garb, the kimono. Now, de Pio expands his series into a wider scope of traditional Japanese icons: cranes, crows, cicadas, and samurai helmets. The artist’s spontaneity abounds in the new media, translated from life into the minimalist simplicity of folded paper. Superimposed upon the origami form is de Pio’s mind’s eye, projecting flowing imagery on laminar topography, fanning out like a prolonged exhalation, cut suddenly by a sharp intake of breath as the gaze falls into a shadowed fold, a mountain, a valley. Unlike his canvas works, de Pio’s stream of consciousness tessellations on folded paper are interrupted by shadows, transforming what was once purely two-dimensional into its own landscape. In true Japanese philosophical fashion, the introduction of space is like a sharp inhalation of breath after a long exhale, a rest in between symphonic movements, a moment to catch one’s breath. By introducing a secondary form, i.e., the cicada, crow, or crane, De Pio reframes the edges of the work, playing with composition and angle, even taking into account the angle from which the piece will be viewed, to breathe life into paper.

Two among this series are a pair of rabbits, charmingly austere in their folds but rendered recognizable with the opening up of two large pointed ears. One, “Fu Fu Fu” depicts the laughing geisha, a favorite icon of de Pio’s for its rarity – it is considered improper for Japanese women to show teeth while laughing – while the other, “Koibito” is colored by a geisha’s face, hauntingly beautiful as she gazes at the viewer head-on. The contrast of sleek edges cutting across confrontational faces is heavily striking. As if a kind of implicit violence were done to their image—cut, composited, and crowded as they were onto a second image. The metaphysical act recalls a recurring trope in other de Pio works, the juxtaposition of the geisha with symbols and events of violence. In the acrylic on canvas piece “Sibling Rivalry”, the laughing geisha reoccurs, hairstyles highlighted by a neon turquoise glow. Above them hover mirrored gun silhouettes, firing at each other but only able to muster cartoon puffs of smoke. Still other older pieces feature geisha holding a mushroom cloud, a gattling gun, or hovering over a bomber aircraft. Despite, and precisely because of his lack of experience with actual violence, de Pio possesses a refreshing freedom to depict violence and war as stand-ins for psychological battles. By uttering them in the same breath as humor and pop culture references, de Pio opens the image to injections of personal meaning, especially to a generation with no direct experience of the horrors of war.

The meaning of wabi has evolved yet it still carries its enduring legacy. In the Man’yōshū poem #2302, the persona could be imagined to be unsympathetic, choosing to sleep autumn away when his fellow villagers are choosing otherwise, perhaps preparing for the coming winter. On the other hand, it appears as if he has no choice than to rest during the autumn, commanded as he is by an innate circadian impulse. It is this impulse that characterizes the true ‘self’ projected by Vincent de Pio in Wabibito, grasped at through spontaneous manifestations of perceived beauty, desire, and awe. As if the artist were a being of pure pleasure and experience, a swirling cloud of thought and viscera through which canvas and paper pass, taking with it the tenuous sublimations of the permanently impermanent, the ceaselessly shifting mist of the self.

Wabibito, Vincent de Pio’s latest solo exhibition and the first co-presented by contemporary art gallery Galerie Stephanie, opens on November 16 (Wednesday), 6:00 P.M. at the Galerie Joaquin pop up gallery at the ground floor of 8 Rockwell, Plaza Drive, Makati City. The show is open for public viewing until November 23, 2016. For inquiries, call Galerie Stephanie at (+632) 709 1488 or send them an e-mail at

[1] Honda, Heihachirō. “The Manyoshu: A New and Complete Translation.” [Tokyo]: Hokuseido Press, 1967.

[2] Nishitani Keiji. “The Japanese Art of Arranged Flowers,” trans. Jeff Shore, in Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins, eds, World Philosophy: A Text with Readings [New York]. 1995. 23-27.