Stay gold: Manuel Solano’s Pijama at Peres Projects, Seoul
Jessica Minsun Kim
Jan 02, 2024
Memory comes alive for Manuel Solano in their solo exhibition at Peres Projects in Seoul, presenting a portal to the artist’s past and future. Featuring paintings and videos of childhood scenes, the artworks emanate the cozy joy and light-hearted intimacy of a young child from the kaleidoscopic lens of a mature artist.
At the gallery, four large-scale paintings engulf the first floor, while one painting and two videos are displayed on the second floor. Solano created the majority of these paintings based on existing photographs from their own family albums, while the two videos are archival footage taken by their parents. The paintings feel almost lifelike with their vivid, emotive colors, calling into question whether the viewer is a third-party observer or an active participant in the memory-making process. As opposed to the vicarious scrapbook immersion of the first floor’s paintings, the second floor acts as a visual gateway to relive firsthand the artist’s memories. Together, the levels converge to provide a bridge between the Solano of the past and present.
Aside from the childhood archival videos, the paintings in the exhibition were all created in 2023, providing the latest glimpse into the artist’s world. After losing their sight in 2014, Solano’s artworks have become ever-more grounded in their memories, which they unearth as a means to recontextualize and confront their present reality. Currently, they work almost exclusively with acrylic on canvas, as opposed to the diverse mediums of performance, sculpture, and video that they engaged with in the past. Artmaking remains a lifeline for Solano, an essential space to grapple with life after change and loss. Each composition serves as a metaphysical home, a safe haven of budding potential and constant discovery.
The title of the exhibition echoes the eponymous Pijama (2023) that features the artist jumping with glee, all ready for bed but no appetite for sleep. The bright red pajamas worn by the artist echo both a childlike innocence and a defiant confidence. These are happy memories, deliberately chosen and represented like so. The artist’s smile and laughter distilled within the composition act as both assertion and self-declaration: this is Solano according to their own terms.
Indeed, the artist is the center of gravity for the exhibition in every shape and form; each painting exists as fully self-referential, each theme a refrain, revolving around personal experiences of the artist and their select loved ones. Solano considers a personal resonance with the artwork as a crucial factor in their artistic process; these artworks are all, in essence, self-portraits, recursive and refracted back even from the face of another.
Solano’s childhood best friend is the only recurring figure apart from the artist within the paintings. El otro Disfraz de Jazmín (2023), one of the four paintings on the first floor, features the young girl dressed up as Princess Jasmine for what appears to be a party of sorts. She stares staunchly at the viewer with a straight face, providing a different kind of visual confrontation than the artist’s carefree gaze in Pijama. The girl also appears in Mi Primier Beso (2023), where she and the artist share a coy kiss between two red chairs. Solano credits this particular friend as a major catalyst for their own self-discovery over the years, acting as both a mirror and foil from which they came to understand their own identity:
“I used to be a very shy child, and my best friend, who is portrayed in a couple of the paintings here, was extremely confident and outgoing. For most of my life, I wanted to be more like her, but it was through creating these paintings that I realized that we truly are alike. It was hidden and buried in me, and I just had to grow into the person and artist that I am for those aspects to come alive. This friend helped to bring those out of me.”
- Manuel Solano
Whether it be the act of dressing up as a favorite Disney princess or an innate childlike confidence, the childhood friend’s palpable presence underscores the transitive identity of performance. Youngsters don costumes and assume fictive personas without a second thought; such personal mythmaking and identity formation were core to Solano’s earlier art practice, namely through performance. The childlike costume play within these paintings continues this thematic exploration despite the shift in medium.
Building upon the role of self-expression in actualizing identity and transformation, another painting features a costume both in the composition and in the title. Solano puts on a new guise in Big Bird (2023), perhaps presenting another scene from the aforementioned party with Princess Jasmine. The artist whacks at a colorful Big Bird piñata while themselves donning a bright yellow furry costume.
This makes for a rather tongue-in-cheek, self-referential moment, in which the decadent treasures within can only be accessed after relentlessly whacking an image of their own likeness. At the same time, the painting perfectly encapsulates the nervous energy before a first strike, a split second so quotidian and specific that has been frozen on the canvas. Fleeting, halcyon moments such as these speak to the artist’s personal mythology, the building blocks of their own becoming.
While the first floor was a look into the past, the second floor reframes the present in light of what has been lost. A sole painting, Sunbeam o el disfraz de Tiranosaurio (2023), depicts a mini family photoshoot. Their mother crouches down to take a photograph of Solano’s younger brother posing adorably on the grass while dressed up as a dinosaur. This particular artwork was not painted from an existing picture, but solely from the artist’s memory. Here is the only instance in which we experience the past directly from Solano’s point of view, preserved in perpetuity.
This shift in perspective serves as a natural segue to the final reaches of the floor, where two videos are projected onto empty corridors. Solano’s childhood footage from the 1990s play in edited vignettes, showing various core memories: a birthday party, hitting a piñata, enjoying a carefree life. In its purest and most fundamental form, life and memory have become performance art for Solano on these walls. By presenting their past self, just as they were, just as they are now, the artist paints their own life as an ever-unfurling work-in-progress. All that’s left unsaid is the artist’s future, a glimpse of which blooms within the gallery’s four walls.
“Stay gold, Ponyboy.”
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Memory stains gold in Manuel Solano’s artworks, echoing a famous quote from adolescent classic The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, which was written when the author herself was only sixteen. Often included in high school English reading lists, this young adult novel captures the inevitability of pain amidst the cruelty of coming-of-age and stark reality. Solano has eclipsed fate by immortalizing their childhood within their art, with its contained joys at their peak, just before the petals fall. As a result, nostalgic recollection becomes a mechanism for self-actualization and re-creation in their art. Solano’s childhood memories remain pure and perfect in retrospect, and the artist is continually reborn, forever gold.
Manuel Solano’s Pijama is on view at Peres Projects in Seoul from Nov 30, 2023 - Jan 14, 2024. More information on the exhibition can be found here.
Edited by Kaajal Parmanand