Painter Angelou Guingon likes to mix the mundane with the menacing, which may explain the punch in his minimalist, surrealist-style works.
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Dragon Plane #2
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We Are Ready
There can’t be too many artists with an inclination toward surrealism who get their inspiration from the Army, but then Newport News-based painter Angelou Guingon is a contradiction in many ways.
He had a solo exhibit at Norfolk’s Chrysler Museum of Art at age 17 and won a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) while still in high school. But in the art world, critical success doesn’t always lead to earnings, which may explain why this edgy painter from the Philippines recently moved in with a sister: The 32-year-old Guingon is trying to save money to buy a house. Most of his works are in storage.
One of 11 children, Guingon has been in America since childhood, when a sister married a Navy man. While his paintings often twist traditional images in radical ways, Guingon is a traditionalist when it comes to family: He stays in close contact with his parents and siblings both here and in the Philippines, and returns to the Philippines regularly. He was there for three of the first six months of this year. “I wanted a different environment to paint,” he says, sitting in the corner of a strip-mall Starbucks, with a laptop, on a rainy afternoon. Wearing shorts and a blue-check button-down shirt, he’s remarkably wholesome-looking for a guy who likes to casually juxtapose sharply contrasting images, the mundane with the menacing—barnyard animals targeted by weapons of mass destruction, for example, or a herd of cows standing amid cannons in front of a house in a painting that evokes survivalist paranoia. It is titled Do Not Come In. “I try not to force a concept in a painting,” Guingon says. “It forms naturally.”
His talent first caught the public eye in 1995. He was still attending Norfolk’s Governor’s School for the Arts when he won the first of three grants awarded to him by the VMFA. The second followed two years later, and then VMFA rewarded him with grant number three in 2008, with monthly checks for twice the amount he earned while a student.
Last year, Guingon quit his day job and devoted himself full-time to painting. Before the year’s end, he had more invitations (about a dozen) to exhibit than his body of work could accommodate. He had an exhibit last year in Luxembourg and will soon have one in Strasbourg, France. He seems to be developing a European following. Leslie Barnig, owner of Leslie’s Gallery in Luxembourg, discovered Guingon two years ago and quickly arranged to show his work. “This artist offers the viewer a lot of imagination and truth in each painting,” Barnig says. “His military style with cows was something I had never seen before.”
Indeed, the military has strongly influenced his life. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the military,” he says, alluding to his sister’s marriage. He wasn’t so interested in conventional high school classes at Norfolk’s Governor’s School. “I took lots of computer classes,” he says, which proved fortuitous. In 1999, after graduating from Baltimore’s Maryland Institute, College of Art with a BFA in painting, Guingon opted to ditch his art career and pursue jobs in computer graphics, which offered more money-making potential. He was hired by an Army subcontractor, and for nearly nine years he saw camouflage almost every day. His cows, with their green and brown splotches, are one result. “I [drew] a lot of camouflage for military soldiers. Cows make me think of camouflage.”
Guingon says surrealists like Salvador Dali and M.C. Escher have influenced his style. “[Surrealism] taught me that unusual and weird can be beautiful,” he says. “[Surrealist artists] paint in a very traditional way, but their subjects are non-traditional.” No flowers, no landscapes. While Escher’s paintings trick the eye, and Dali distorts images, Guingon’s paintings are open and uncluttered. “The minimalist construction in each [work] is reinforced by his clean acrylic painting,” says Barnig.
Guingon hesitates to predict the next steps in his art career—or his life. “Sometimes I don’t know where I’m going,” he says. But uncertainty isn’t a bad thing. “That’s what I like about painting. It is an extension of your expression.” Guingon.com