Vestiges of War

I bought the Vestiges of War for 20% off at the recently concluded Manila International Book Fair. Clocking in at 500 pages, it includes visual and critical essays, photographs, plays, poetry, and artwork addressing Philippine-U.S. relations. Very substantial work and worth checking out.

Anyway, the rest of the world is probably unaware that the Philippines was once a colony of the United States of America. During the tail end of the Philippine Revolution of 1898, Spain essentially sold the Philippines (along with other Spanish controlled territories) to the United States via the Treaty of Paris (1898). The Spanish, unwilling to surrender to Filipino forces, entered into a face-saving mock battle with the Americans (see: 1898 Battle of Manila). From being a colony of Spain, we became a colony of the United States.

In the early 1900s, war between the Philippines and the US broke out. American textbooks labelled the conflict as the “Philippine insurrection”. Obviously, the Philippines didn’t win that conflict and so we were America’s “little brown brothers” for the next couple of decades until self-rule was given after World War II.

Now, the Philippines still lives under the shadow of American influence. It seems that we “love” all things American. Our form of government, our educational system, what side of the road we drive in, and our fanaticism with basketball all came from the US of A.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about what it means to be a Filipino artist and we had no easy answers. This country has been taken over by foreign powers three times in its history (four if you count the brief spell the British spent in the 1700s).  Sometimes I think we seem to drown in our influences. Our native tongues choke on borrowed words and ideas. How can we make these influences truly ours? Like I said, no easy answers.

But what is clear is that we must dig deeper into our collective memories. As artists, we have a responsibility to figure out where our art-making lies within the greater context of our culture and history. It doesn’t matter if we make art for social awareness or commercial gain. I think we have to make an effort to understand where our practice lies in the context of those that came before us.

Collaborator: A Painting Series

I’m part of an ongoing group exhibit entitled Collaborator. Organized by Boxplot, three artists from Australia and three from the Philippines were paired up to developed individual works that stem from online discussions (email, facebook, and skype) about the theme. Since this is probably one of the very few places my work will ever be seen, I thought I’d post the three paintings I did for the exhibit.

The theme “collaborator” has both positive and negative connotations. A collaborator could be a creative partner or it could be someone in collusion with an enemy or an invading force. Whether positive or negative, my partner and I we decided that the idea of a collaborator touched on questions of identity. A shared work obviously blurs the line of personal creative ownership while collaborating with an enemy calls into question one’s allegiance and identity.

On a basic level, I thought of the whole idea of collaboration as a mash-up. I tried to draw on my own country’s history with colonial powers and tried coming with up with pictures that reflected Philippine culture and history as a series of mash-ups between indigenous culture and the culture of an occupying force.

Some background context:

  • The Philippines has been occupied by three major powers throughout its history: Spain (1521 – 1898), United States of America (1898 – 1946, with a 4-year break when the Japanese took over), and Japan (1942 – 1945)
  • The Philippines is predominantly Catholic, having received the religion from the Spaniards.



56.5 x 76.2 cm / Acylic on Paper

For the first work “Santo Santo”, I thought of it as a Spain/Philippines mash up. The costume of the main figure was something worn by the Filipino mestizos of the 19th century. It was a hybrid of European clothing adapted to local tastes. In the painting are two statues, the Santo Niño (Infant Jesus) and a bulul, a wooden figure used to guard the rice crop by the Igorot people of Northern Philippines.

Many Philippine Catholic homes have Santo Niño statues, and devotees would often ask favor from the icon, touching or rubbing the statue as if it was a talisman to bring favor or ward off evil. In some ways, it is similar to placement of bulul figures by ancient Filipinos to guard their granaries.


56.5 x 76.2 cm / Acylic on Paper

“Turo” is filipino for point. There are food stalls in the Philippines called “turo-turo” which literally means that you point at whatever you like to eat and they serve it up to you.

The central image is that of a “makapili“. A Filipino collaborator used by the Japanese during World War II to point out Filipino rebels from a line-up for execution. My grandparents told me that these collaborators often wore a “bayong” (a woven shopping bag) over their heads to hide their identities.

Incidentally “turo-turo” is also a word play on tora tora. It was a Japanese code-word used to indicate that complete surprise had been achieved during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tora! Tora! Tora! was a World War II film on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.”


56.5 x 76.2 cm / Acylic on Paper
“Asa” or more accurately “Pag-asa” is Filipino for “Hope”. Filipinos can be fatalistic. It is not unheard of for people to throw all caution to the wind and let God sort out all problems. This may partly explain the popularity of TV game shows where Filipinos line up for hours just to get a chance to enter a contest in the hopes of winning a bit of money to alleviate one’s poverty.
This fatalism can be summed up by the phrase “bahala na” or something like “whatever will be, will be” or “come what may”. So you hear utterances like “bahala na ang Diyos” or “let’s leave it up to God”. This has mutated to the phrase “bahala na si Batman” (hence the central image), which is often used in Filipino conversations.
It is said that the Philippines spent 300 years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood. Which seems to explain the country’s entrenched religious order as well as the Philippines’ love for American pop culture.

The Exhibit runs from Friday 25 April – Sunday 11 May, 2014
(Official Exhibition Opening Event: 6pm – 8pm Thursday 24 April)
Where: 22 Gibson Street, Bowden
Entry: Free / All Works for Sale
Opening Times: 1pm – 6pm, Thursday to Sunday (including Anzac Day public holiday)

The Lake

photo taken from the Canvas Gallery Facebook page
Photo taken from the Canvas Gallery Facebook page

I was lucky enough to be included in Canvas Gallery’s exhibit during the 2014 Art Fair Philippines which happened last February. It was my first time to participate in the Fair, and it was a little overwhelming seeing all the great work from other artists.

Canvas Gallery’s show was entitled “Paraluman” or muse. Sixteen artists created narrative pieces that, hopefully, could generate a host of crowd-sourced stories. The images were uploaded onto a website ( where the audience can view the paintings and submit their own stories.

The painting I made was this:

The Lake
5 x 4 ft. Oil on Canvas

Years ago, I picked up a battered sale copy of Robert Bly’s book Iron John: A Book About Men for PhP 20 (USD 0.45). A summary of the book can be found in this site. Basically, the book is an exegesis of the Iron John story, included the Brothers Grimm collection of fairy tales. The story was interpreted as a journey of a boy through manhood with the help of the wild man.

The exegesis was rife with imagery and meaning, and the notion of some “wild man” as a guide to claiming true masculine energy seemed interesting to me from a visual standpoint. Anyway, I made several attempts to make a picture that was at least tangential to some of the ideas in the book, and I was only able to actually finish something this year (deadlines can be our friends). 

Though i never really set out to do a direct illustration of the Iron John story. Some elements in the painting touch on some of the concepts in the book while others grew out spontaneously from fleshing out the imagery. 

In all my previous studies and down to this final picture, there were always three constant characters and elements:

  • A body of water with a caged wild man
  • A seeker
  • An enlightened character (in this case, the lotus-head boy)




For more about info Art Fair Philippines click here to visit their facebook and click here to visit Canvas Gallery’s facebook page.

Although a bit late, here are some articles about this year’s Art Fair:


The Importance of Saying No


“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.”

Neil Gaiman, 2012 keynote address to the University of the Arts Philadelphia*

“’s critical that we (both individuals and companies) get really good at “pruning” – learning to say “no” to opportunities and projects – that don’t align with the important work that we’re doing. This means passing on opportunities – even really good ones – in order to preserve the energy needed to bring our best effort to the work that we know we need to excel at.”

Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative**

They say that opportunity knocks only once and I suppose a lot of us have been conditioned to open the door when that happens. Creating and grabbing opportunities is not easy, especially when competition is fierce and people are all vying for the same thing. So anyone can understand how hard it is to even find paths that can lead us to the things we want most in life.

But in many ways, it’s probably more difficult to walk away from an open doorway or to stop ourselves from taking a peek inside an open box. As hard as it is to find something to say “yes” to, it may even be harder to say “no” to opportunities that come along the way. As I grow older, I’m beginning to realize that the things we decline are as important as the things we accept. Maybe saying no to something doesn’t mean turning away from an opportunity but more of a conscious decision not to be distracted from the things that matter to you.

Lately, I’ve found myself saying “no” to things. It’s not like I couldn’t use the money. I need it more now than ever before. At one point, I may have viewed them as opportunities. But It’s getting to a point where I’m trying to be more deliberate with my choices because I know that time is short.

The time I spend creating a storyboard for another person’s product could be better spent making a storyboard for my own movie. The effort required to create an illustration that deliberately apes another artist’s style while forgetting my own (which may be easy and at the same time profitable) can best be used to make my own stuff. Of course, I’ve done all these things before and may do them again, but does it bring me closer to my “mountain”?

The heart of every decision seems to boil down to discernment. Something parents don’t always teach their children, but may ultimately be the most important thing one can learn. To know oneself and one’s desires is a gift. Nevertheless, there is never any real assurance that one is “on the right path” and moving toward one’s mountain doesn’t guarantee an easy time. The future is always an uncertain and doubt will always remain.

So, it may not be about learning to say NO as much as learning who you are. When the image you see in the mirror is clear, hopefully the decisions we make for ourselves become right and true.

* Read the full transcript of Neil Gaiman’s speech here.

** Read Todd Henry’s article “Want to Get More Done? Stop Doing So Much.”


The Filipino word baon, in different contexts, either means “packed meals” or “provisions”. 

“May dala akong baon,” could be translated to “I packed my lunch”.

On the other hand, using the word baon in the context of packing provisions for a trip is all about being prepared for whatever situation.

Pinabaunan mo ba siya ng payong/jacket/kapote? (Did you have him pack his/her umbrella/jacket/raincoat? “Pinabaunan” being a conjugation of “baon”)

lunchboxI like using the word in a creative context when referring to ideas. Back when I still worked in an advertising agency, my team mates and I often used the word when we had a  scheduled brainstorming session with our Creative Director. We would ask each other:

“May baon ka ba?” (“Did you bring your ideas?”).

Or sometimes satisfyingly declare: “May baon ako” (“I have my ideas tucked in here, thank you very much.”).

So, in the context of creativity, when you never know when an idea drought will occur or when creative constipation will strike, I’ve begun to learn the importance of having ideas stowed away for instant access. Yup, may baon ako.

I’d like to share the ways in which I stow ideas or images for days when I need them the most.



More often than not, I bring a sketchbook wherever I go. I use the Moleskine Carnet de Croquis. Moleskines are expensive . Too expensive in fact, when any notebook with similarly creamy and acid free pages will do. But believe me I’ve tried other notebooks. I just keep sticking to my moleskines. This, of course, is a matter of preference as much as routine.

The Moleskine Carnet de Croquis has thick, smooth and creamy pages. Emphasis on the smooth. I like working on pencil for my studies and rendering my drawings on the Moleskine sketchbook allows me to see every stroke without smudging the graphite too much. The thick pages can take a lot of punishment from erasures or even acrylic paint, gesso, or from sticking it with all sorts of junk for collages.

And so far, a lot of the images I made into large paintings came from my Moleskine notebook. So if it works, why change it? The point is though, it’s nice to always bring a sketchbook to capture images wherever you go and for me, it’s a place where I can unselfconsciously play around with images.



I tend to fill my Moleskine with pencil drawings so I like keeping a separate smaller (and cheaper) notebook to jot down notes and do writing on the fly. I tend to fill these notebooks with all sorts of things, from lists, meeting notes, doodles, computations, essays and diagrams. Despite having digital devices, I still like writing in longhand and these notebooks are a dumping ground for anything that comes to mind so they tend to be ugly and unintelligible to other people.



An Idea Box is like a piggy bank, except instead of coins I drop in pieces of paper with statements, words and idea fragments in them. When I need a random starter, I just pick out several pieces of paper from the box and mash them together.


evernoteIt’s a digital world and not everything can be easily recorded with a pencil and paper. Evernote is handy for keeping track of all sorts of information. The app allows you to separates topics into different notebooks where you can clip web articles, photos, and voice recordings.

I use Evernote for saving articles, links and ideas from the internet and clipping reference photos  or even pages from books and notebooks. I have dedicated notebooks for topics that interest me and projects and ideas that I’m working on. So far, the app has been a handy way to bring in the digital references into my workflow.

So there. Whatever tool you use, it’s important to record or note down ideas as they happen because chances are, you’ll end up forgetting them. Also, waiting around for ideas to pop out of the ether is pointless. One should always schedule time for just pure creative play and ideation or as Todd Henry in the The Accidental Creative calls it, “Unnecessary Creating”. It’s about making stuff up for YOU without thinking about a client or deadlines.

Well, that’s it. I hope that was useful to somebody.