In Memoriam: Bree Jonson (1991-2021)

Judging by her artworks alone, there seems to be so much to know about the life and works of artist Bree Jonson. When once asked by Art and Market about how she found her calling in art after having initially taken up engineering at Ateneo de Davao, she traced her epiphany to one defining moment she had as she was doing her thesis. It involved studying factory workers down to their smallest movements with the goal of figuring out ways to optimize their labor in order to increase productivity. 

Credits to the owner

“I had an awakening then, perhaps akin to the disorientation Karl Marx experienced upon observing the same sight: humans as mere units of economic production,” she said. “Thereafter, I longed for the forests and animals of my youth in Los Baños, a province three hours south of Manila, where canals have fishes, migratory birds flock overhead, butterflies flit about, and lizards, frogs and gigantic spiders abound.”

Credits to the owner

Apparently that was all it took for Jonson to pack her bags and move to the big city where, under the guise of finding work, she enrolled in the UP College of Fine Arts. Although her stay in the university was short-lived (she quit after one semester), it was nonetheless fruitful. After her brief stint in art school, she continued to paint and embarked on her career as an artist. And what a career it turned out to be. 

As a lover of nature, her paintings depicted various plants and animals. But they  weren’t meant to be taken at face value. Profoundly smart and erudite, Jonson painted the wild for deeper purposes other than to appeal to people’s aesthetic sensibilities. Although her works were also visibly enchanting and awe-striking, her paintings - more importantly - critiqued the relationship that humans have with the environment, which she saw as one having a divide; one that rendered animals not only different from humans but also saw them, by reason of man’s self-entitled dominion, as inferior species. As succinctly articulated in her website biography, her ultimate goal was “to move away from [an] anthropocentric worldview to one more inclusive of multiple species.”

Her artworks reflected this end in sight in one way or another, and there is no doubt that, in every step of the way, she has succeeded in striving towards this ideal. Throughout a span of six short years she has produced enough sublime art that many artists would be lucky to produce in a lifetime. And yet, it isn’t just her prolific body of works that, in the end, will define her career as an artist; it’s also her unique visions of the wilderness that allows a person to see the beauty found in the wild that will continue to resonate with people the most. The Grey Space PH joins the rest of the Philippine art community in mourning her immense loss.