There has always been an element of the visionary in Charlie Co, but in his end-of-the-century series, Story Messengers, he has given full rein to his visions in large paintings of a feverish, dreamlike allure. From a survey of his works, one derives the impression of an integral and transcendent world of vivid symbolic figures albeit with allusions to Philippine culture and history. Possibly the self-contained and concentrated quality of his imagery comes from the fact that his native ground and source of inspiration is Negros, an island-province in the Visayas, the major city of which is Bacolod where he takes root.
In viewing the art of Charlie Co, one must first situate his work in his hometown Bacolod. For its milieu, aside from its geographical insularity, is quite distinct for most Philippine towns traditionally given to rice-production. For Bacolod has been known as sugar country where mestizo elites that battened on cash crop agriculture expanded their lands into large plantations of cane which became a monocrop that engaged the labor of the entire province; the towering structure of the sugar mill became the center around which all life revolved. The nature of such a social situation inevitably gave rise to intense class polarities. Bacolod became a highly charged field where contending social forces fought it out on all levels, the material along with the spiritual. It is this intensely dialectical social experience that constitutes the background of Charlie Co's art, whether it is in the social realism of the Marcos years, or the later personal paintings where even the colorful imagery of the hometown fiesta is tinged with loneliness and heartbreak.
The present series of visionary paintings, Story Messengers, is both personal and political. They are personal because they are drawn from his life experience as mediated by his particular subject-consciousness as artist and individual. At the same time, they are political because of their symbolic contents that transcend the personal to touch on local, regional, and international concerns.
From the soul-searching paintings of the mid-nineties set in his hometown with its familiar features seen beneath a blue night sky; the seashores, the church, the cane plantations, the mansions of the sugar barons, the glorietta in the central plaza where the band plays, he shifts to a vigorous mode in his latest work. Now the artist has been caught up with the grand scenario of the [forthcoming] Millennium in its tumultuous entrance. From this new theme, his paintings become charged by a massive influx of spiritual energy manifesting itself in powerful characters, blazing colors, a style forceful and deliberate. The space of the painting goes beyond the familiar human scale and acquires cosmic dimensions where both sky and land with the distant horizon and the vast canopy of the heavens are setting for the various engagements, confrontations, ringing battles. The millennium narrative itself is unveiled through various allegorical figures, protagonists in an apocalyptic combat. In fact, the artist as storyteller seems to narrate the various episodes in terms of scenes in a play which explains why many of his paintings are bordered by theater curtains and decorative frames within which the scenes are played out to a full orchestra as in some end-time Gotterdammerung.