The Transformative Act 

Reformed by Ryan Jara

“Reformed” as an adjective used to describe a person means “changed for the better,” someone who has left behind an old self and become, in a sense, a new man. The word also denotes a literal transformation, in which something has been radically altered that it has abandoned its former shape and constitution.


In his solo exhibition, Reformed, Ryan Jara taps in the two-pronged definition of the term. First, is of course, the literal transformation of the human form in his works, informed by the tenets of Cubism. Composed of self-portraits and portraits of his wife and children, the works show their faces from multiple angles, usually with an eye larger than the other. What makes the portraits unique is that they are rendered photorealistically, to the extent that their expression is recognizable, human.


These faces are attached to body parts, usually the hands and the feet, which act as symbols. For instance, in “Tired Hands,” a portrait of Jara’s wife, the hands are shown worn with the day’s labor, representing the care and commitment she does tirelessly for the family. In the self-portrait, “Crooked,” Jara’s arms are shown as intertwined to indicate the delicate balancing act of being a father and a husband as well as being an artist.


The sons of Jara are also depicted in this exhibition.  More than the symbolic limbs, spaces serve as a metaphor to convey their personalities and wishes. One son hides in the corner of the room as he performs his secret play, while another is shown against a horizon and a field, with a dandelion tucked between the toes, that reveals his wish to roam the world.


An interesting suite of works are the imagined portraits, one of which features a girl that Jara still dreams of having. Two works feature Jara and his wife in old age, promising that they will serve as the hand or as the foot to the other, providing support for each other. These two works reflect the other two set in the present time. Titled “He is My Perfect Match” and “She is My Perfect Match,” the works are almost symmetrical in composition to show how they fit together as husband and wife, as companions to each other.


Aside from the “reformed’ human figures in Jara’s work, the term also extends to the artist’s personal goal of being a better man. The inspiration comes from his family, whom he has lovingly painted in these works. For Jara, the desire and the process to be better never ends, as challenges in life tend to accumulate. He draws his strength from the twin roles he is blessed to have: as a family man and as an artist.


Reformed, set against his previous exhibitions, reveals Jara’s main preoccupation, which is the family. For him, art is fueled by the relationships we have with those who are dear to us, who share our roof and food on the table, as well as the memories we build with them as we journey through life. As viewers, we are privileged to see Jara’s journey as the artist deepens the commitments he celebrates in art and life.


-Carlomar Arcangel Daoana