Tokwa Penaflorida recently opened his first-ever solo exihibt Hypnagogia at Vinyl on Vinyl, The Collective. Tokwa, whose distinctive art nouveau portraits are making waves in pop culture, is one of the new artists to watch out for. His characters and pastel colors are a nice break from some of the aggressive art I’ve been seeing lately.
Hypnagogia is a collection of 15 portraits and features the same girls Tokwa is known for. They are the sad, forlorn, and melancholic folks, with a touch of ephemera that reverberates through the canvas. It is a contrast to the sweet candy colors Tokwa’s works are bathed in. But this time, the cast is in a state of dreaming – that point at the brink of sleep – where we’re not quite sure if what we’re seeing is real. After all, that is what hypnagogia means.
His portraits usually capture a certain dreaminess so it’s expected that he would use sleep as a reference for his first solo exhibit. I got to chat with him between his autograph-signings and he says that he picked hypnagogia because he suffers from insomnia. I used to be an insomniac, too, and I often found myself thinking of the strangest things in the silence of the night as I forced myself to sleep. Perhaps that is why his girls have a touch of eeriness to them?
His largest portrait is Dreamcatcher and just beyond the girl is a faint shadow of the Native American charm. This subtle reference to the universal symbol of sleep sets the tone for the scenes and characters in Hypnagogia. There is the out-of-body experience in Astral Projection, the dream of us falling in space in Sudden Drop (Falling back), and the habit of counting sheep in Counting Down to Praedormitium. Praedormitium was one of my favorites – the pink sheep that surround the girl look like brains. It’s an interesting context, whether to be attracted to the fluffy mammals or repelled by the brains.
There are also the monsters in the sleep mythology – an incubus, a succubus, and batibats or bangungot (vengeful demons that take on the form of an old fat woman that suffocates human by sitting on their chest – nightmare in Western folklore). Again, there is the interesting contrast in Batibat(s). The black blobs are surrounded by flowers and they have purples eyes and lips.
His washed out-backgrounds mixed with the glazed expression his girls have brings to mind an intense languor that makes you stop in your tracks and slow down. His sinewy lines go on forever. In Tokwa’s world, nothing goes by too fast. His languor is infectious and chills you down. It brings to mind slow nights, and that probably explains the pile of pillows strategically placed along the wall of the exhibition. Although this could just be Tokwa being clever – after all, he did serve tokwa (tofu) on opening night.
The beauty with Tokwa Penaflorida’s art is that it is still at its infancy. He has been around, painting the walls of the new Heima in Brixton, having group exhibits with Soleil Ignacio, and gracing the pages of Garage, but he is still entering mainstream consciousness. It’s great to be a part of an artist’s progress and watch his art grow. I once told him, I’d buy his works as soon as I get rich. As of now, I can only support him as a friend and writer. But I am excited for his growth and the kind of works he’ll present by the time I can afford to clean out his studio.