At the forefront of today’s sculpture is Daniel de la Cruz, a Philippine artist who has, for about a decade now, chosen metal sculpture as his area of expertise.   He first caused a

considerable stir in the art scene by his brilliant opening salvo of metal sculptures in original articulations of the human figure in which the artist aimed to free it from the all-too-familiar academic stances by implying or drawing out its full potential for movement.  The result was a striking repertoire of figures characterized with utmost suppleness and endowed with a robust liberative impulse, freed from the outworn tracts of movement and gesture along accustomed lines.

In his show at the beginning of this year, the sculptor Daniel de la Cruz continues to expand his range, most unexpectedly this time, by rediscovering Lewis Carroll’s well-loved text, Alice in Wonderland, a classic of children’s literature, which first appeared in 1865 with illustrations by John Tenniel.  For the sculptor, this artistic turn served to open new possibilities as he takes temporary leave of the single freestanding figure, but only to insert it in a complex world with other numerous interrelated characters, each one  contributing his distinct and colourful persona to the entire narrative.  Likewise, he sets himself new challenges by shifting his firm grounding in the real world to a surreal universe, even as Lewis Carroll as a pioneer effortlessly flowed into the still unfamiliar trend of surrealist art at the beginning of modernism in the late nineteenth century, at the same time that he was one of the first writers to fully explore the world of children in its own terms.

Doubtless, it was also a feat on the part of Daniel de la Cruz to make a leap from Lewis Carroll’s linear text to a sculptural three-dimensional narrative.  It is a transition not effected within related branches of the visual arts but from one genre, literature, to another, sculpture, two entirely different genres.  

In the marvellous story, when Alice falls headlong into the rabbit hole and, after a long dark passage, finds herself in another world, the artist de la Cruz translates this transition as the heroine falling through a series of successive mirrors or tumbling inside a narrow glass tunnel which end cannot be foreseen.  At this juncture, the reader finds himself in a new kind of narrative altogether, half-human half-beast, replete with surprises which are later naturally subsumed into the fabric of a new Peaceable Kingdom which humans and beasts equally share—where “the lion lies down with the lamb”—but which now also includes a common language. It is a language, however, which is marked by a charming and clever quaintness which defines their particular being and sets them apart from the alternatively familiar human norm. It is also permeated through with its particular brand of humour, fresh and unself-conscious, but with an occasional touch of the macabre, as in its many skeletal constructions, at the same time that it is also a tongue-in-cheek parody of the human world with its humourless tyrants and capricious queens perpetually calling for the heads of those who displease them.  In a language of their own, the denizens and their happenings are described by Alice herself as getting “curiouser and curiouser” after her extraordinary ordeal of alternately shrinking and expanding on the threshold of their world.

It would be a great omission to overlook the fantastic animals that can only be denizens of Wonderland: a few are completely imaginary like the Gryphon, but most are fanciful composites of human and animal, such as the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse, and the Dodo Bird, which at any moment, can be transmogrified into baroque chairs or tables, or into stylish wheeled conveyances.  Likewise, in the wink of an eye, these can swap their identities into teacups and assorted tableware which can be instantly summoned to furnish a fantastic Tea Party which was a pivotal scene of the narrative and piece de resistance of the sculptor’s work, a multiple assemblage of around ten individual pieces measuring L71 x W71 x H100 cm. in mixed metals on a revolving base.      

                No doubt, this entire unusual menagerie also makes up de la Cruz’ alternative world. The centre table in his living room is fully bedecked with these extraordinary creatures vying with one other in vestments of sparkling brass.  The artist leaves no stone unturned in bringing out all the most exquisite details of bird and beast—Lewis Carroll would have been enormously delighted to see his subjects translated so acutely from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional medium.

                An exception to the freestanding figures is the magnificent wall piece of the Queen of Hearts (“Are their heads off yet?”), made in the form of a playing card, the figure in both upright and inverted positions and her human face repeated in the inverse as a skull.  Unifying the figure is her splendid costume bringing out all designs, colours, and textures for a royal air, although finally doomed in the figure of the skull.

                Death passes flittingly through the story which is replete with riddles, conundrums and clever semantic trickery.  In the midst of their universe is Time which the characters strive to keep under control to little avail.  Thus, the clock as a symbol of the relativity of life is also found in the world of the artist who in this show has fashioned a clock of mixed metals, glass, and quartz clock with LED lighting on a wooden base, the work entitled “How Long is forever?  Sometimes its just one second,”

 

                No doubt, Daniel de la Cruz’s latest work is a veritable feast for the eyes and the mind as he brings to life the figures from a beloved childhood tale, Alice in Wonderland, in all their charming quaintness and childhood wisdom.