Upon A Bed of Gravel: A Journey Through Nona Garcia’s Overland

Fool’s Gold. (foreground). Building Mountains (background).

Place is not something so easily defined. We structure our ideas of place around geographic or cultural boundaries. Yet rarely do we contemplate what it means to actually be in a place. To be present and immersed in all its qualities, whether pointedly distinct or vaguely ephemeral, so we could be somewhere we both know and don’t know at the same time. Where do we find these veritable moments of “place-ness”? 

In strokes both grand and minute, Nona Garcia paints her own image of place in Overland. The artist uses her masterful skills with realism to create a wandering visual diary and tribute to a place dear to her own heart: her current home of Baguio. But Garcia does not focus on any cultural landmarks, tourist spots, or even specific places that may be home to her. As the show notes state, “Like a true settler, she is able to generate a highly subjective impression of what makes the place unique.” She turns her eye instead to its lesser known faces – to the unseen and unique nuances one finds when being an eager explorer along regularly traveled roads.

Overland, 2023. Oil on canvas. 222cm x 374.50cm (framed).

The show lends its title to the first grand piece of the gallery space. Propped up on a set of large and sturdy rocks, the painting Overland features an expansive landscape against a backdrop of clear blue skies. Yet the scenery is not the focus. At the center of the image, similarly supported by rocks, is a broken and long since abandoned car. A husk of its former self with wheels missing, whatever color it once had was lost in pools of rust. Faintly legible are the words “Not For Hire” on its side. While such a sight may be seen as a disruption, for Garcia, the ruins are the sights. She frames the composition so we admire it just as much as we do the environment, as if to remind us that the beauty of a place can lie in its seemingly disparate elements. The car is seen in a new, almost heroic light, now made one with the terrain it may have once journeyed through. 

Untitled Pine Tree, 2018. Oil on wood veneer (50 panels). 30cm x 35cm to 122cm x 244cm each (approx.).

Untitled Pine Tree detail shots.


Garcia calls attention to the physicality of place through observable material qualities. From the actual rock displays to notably textured frames, we experience her sensory recollections, allowing us to metaphorically touch and feel these created settings. Untitled Pine Tree is the largest work of the show, laying bare one of Baguio’s most popular natural features. The installation comprises 50 panels scattered across the entire breadth of a wall, each showing 50 unique renderings of its very surface itself: wood. Rather than a mere clinical dissection, Garcia puts on display the distinct beauty of an anonymous pine tree that would often go unnoticed. Her painterly eye beholds the smallest curves of bark with as much reverence as the largest stump. 

Ascend III, Green Fortress, 2022. Oil on canvas. 238.76cm x 391.80cm x 5.08cm (framed).

More than evoking visceral sensations, the artist’s meticulously detailed hand calls to attention the formative nature of our own gaze. In Ascend III, Green Fortress, a large swath of roadside stone wall is depicted, partially clad in streams of moss and overgrowth. The painting is held in a dark, grittily textured frame, as though it were taken straight from the roadside itself. With such a commonplace sight, and one we see more often than not through a quick glance out our window, how do we capture this visual in such an instantly recognizable way? The work presents Garcia’s gaze frozen in time, and seeing through her perspective we can thus recall our own. We may not have been to the same place as the artist, yet we see in her detailed tapestry a mosaic of multiple quick glances – different memories, yet a shared wall all the same. 

What ultimately underscores the show as a recounting of place is a tangible sincerity. Detailed memories are shaped by an attachment to their subjects, and in Garcia’s works, the detail is overflowing. Arguably the centerpiece of the exhibit is the painting Building Mountains, which features a barren view of hills. Unlike the other pieces, this work is viewed at a distance, and the artist renders form ambiguously yet with a clear enough intention to suggest a landscape of gravel. Baguio may be defined by many for its mountains and pine trees, yet Garcia unfolds such a sincere connection to place that she highlights instead the smaller minutiae – the gravel upon which we build our perceptions of place, adventure, and home.

Building Mountains, 2023. oil on canvas. 317.50cm x 455.93cm x 123.19cm (framed).

Traveling through Nona Garcia’s Overland, one may be reminded of this quote by TS Elliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” 

A place may not be so easily definable, but perhaps we can understand our paths within them more when we turn our eyes to the roads under our feet.


Nona Garcia’s “Overland” is on view at Silverlens Gallery, Manila, until July 8, 2023. 

Mara Fabella is an artist, writer, and occasional fitness junkie. Tap the button below if you'd like to buy her a coffee.