Rocky Mountain High was penned by John Denver as a homage to the snowy mountains of Colorado which he had been very fond of. Typically folksy in a jangly strumming, it’s also an ode to a solitary activity of climbing up a mountain and being overwhelmed by the spectacle of a panoramic view of nature, or scaling the heights of the sublime as we tend to associate representations of nature, of vast landscapes, and trekking up heights to take in all this magnificence as the sublime, taking after romanticists in their eternal quest for the total ideal beauty in the boundless magnificence of nature, and to create as spurred from this awe.
When sir George Mallory was asked why climb Mt. Everest, he curtly replied “because it’s there “. To ask a painter why paint, the reply may equally be terse as the question is elementary : “because it has to be painted”. For Mike Crisostomo, the answer veers on the more topical : “because the canvas is blank.” And he proceeds to fill them up with views of shapeless mountain mass, of landscapes, of dirigibles hovering over ranges of flora and swathes of green fields. We see them as these landforms for the patterns that hint at their forms. Nothing much is added to indicate their specificity, as those would only be superfluous in representing them, that a mountain by any other name is but a mountain, or a mountain is a mountain is a mountain just a rose is a rose is a rose, just as a painting of a mountain is a painting of a mountain. To render them in their barest is to get at their purest form, to seek their essence in the immediacy of viewing them.
Most of the time this task though seemingly simple, is one that entails more struggle as to seek this vision is a solitary activity as painting is very much a hermetic exercise in creation, reinforcing the cliché of the tragic-heroics of the painter/artist ever wrestling with the production of a masterpiece. Mike Crisostomo inserts that reference through a small portrait of Ken Watanabe, a Japanese actor known to play tragic-heroic characters in films that have him staring at something so abominably colossal (in Godzilla), or the wabi sabi poesy of a bowl of shoyu ramen (in Tampopo). To merely function as a direct witness to awe and terror was his characters’ sole value, midway through these films, they would be killed off. Or their tragic endings wrought by their own undoing – of merely choosing to gaze, to marvel at such spectacle. John Denver went beyond climbing mountains to fly 2-seater airplanes to see more of the sky and the fields and the mountains. In 1997, on one of his solo flights, he crashed his plane in a bay in California, as Icarus had fallen into the sea of Samos.
“Continue climbing to the top but nobody knows where the top is” (Jiro Dreams of Sushi)
Mike Crisostomo (b.1975, Manila) studied Fine Arts at The University of The Philippines and was into corporate managerial work before doing production design and graphic design which eventually lead to focusing on art with themes that revolve around sublimating Sci-Fi utopian/dystopian visions through painting and photography. He’s also part of the collab project The Weather Bureau which designs propositionary structures and conditions in the idealized state of utopia. They build from seemingly failed plans of defunct totalitarian states and re-adapts and rehabilitates them in their ideal settings or rather in nowherelands in timeless stasis.
He’s been exhibited in various local galleries and has had his first solo exhibit Picture Not So Perfect at Blanc in 2014. Rocky Mountain High is his 2nd solo exhibit