Books are receptacles of stories. They’re like sculptures of information – words and stories made into tangible objects. Books are also metaphors for people’s identities and memories. The pieces revolve around the idea of the breakdown of these identities and the slow dissolution of memories. Specific stories and personalities dissolve and run together. Singular identities lose cohesion until they become anonymous. The books try to depict that moment before all identity and story dissolves. In that moment, the object is in flux and becomes something new and different.
“String theory envisions a multiverse in which our universe is one slice of bread in a big cosmic loaf. The other slices would be displaced from ours in some extra dimension of space.”
– Brian Greene
“If a coin comes down heads, that means that the possibility of its coming down tails has collapsed. Until that moment the two possibilities were equal. But on another world, it does come down tails. And when that happens, the two worlds split apart.”
― Philip Pullman,
Last month, Sergio Bumatay and I had our second two-man show, this time held at Galerie Stephanie. Serj and I admittedly approach things differently, so coming up with a common subject matter was challenging. In the end, we realized that our work and our background in image making ran parallel to each other. Both us are heavily into illustration and visual narratives. In a sense, our bodies of work were like parallel universes to one another.
The Stuff of Science Fiction
I grew up reading science fiction and comic books. Science Fiction (or speculative fiction) has always been a home of weird ideas about the future. But as much as they talk about the next step in human evolution, SF also talks about the present, filtered through the lens of scientific allegory.
Many of the science fiction pulp magazines and comic book stories of the past are populated with characters whose origins stories were borne out of exploding planets and radioactive contaminants. Their covers have their own instantly recognizable visual iconography. In a way, these images are no less rigid than Christian iconography found in altars and religious icons.
Pulsars and Space Jesus
Having grown up Catholic, religious iconography is part of my visual landscape. And these images are not only confined to churches – they’re everywhere from public transportation to fashion. So I guess, that informs a lot of what I do.
In coming up with images for the exhibit, I wanted to use the theme of “parallel universes” to talk about personal relationships filtered through science fiction iconography. In fiction and in art, we can talk about exploring time and space, but in the end, these journeys are about exploring and understanding ourselves and each other.
“Identity is an assemblage of constellations.” – Anna Deavere Smith
“Inside a black hole time stops altogether.
Whether or not this theory will ever be proved,
I’m moved to believe this would be the perfect place to love someone.”
– Shane Koyczan, Tomatoes
In my third novel there is an actual black hole that swallows everything you love.
– Jonathan Lethem
“Within his orbit, I was nothing but a flat noodle. And I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.”
– Dee Lestari, Rectoverso
Our Strange Gravities
“Sometimes I think gravity may be death in disguise. Other times I think gravity is love, which is why love’s only demand is that we fall.”
― Shaun David Hutchinson,
“What is love if not the gravity of souls?”
― Courtney M. Privett,
For our collaborative piece, Serj and I worked on a quadtych, sharing a single horizon line.
Shoutout to our curator Ricky Francisco and Galerie Stephanie’s Abby Teotico for helping with the birthing pains of this show. I don’t have a photo of them, so here’s a picture of Sergio and myself, with a cameo appearance by Abi Dayacap.
I am currently represented by Galerie Stephanie. The gallery is located at Unit 1B Parc Plaza Bldg., 183 E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave., Libis, Quezon City. For inquiries, contact the gallery at (02) 709-1488 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
“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.”
Where: 22 Gibson Street, Bowden
Entry: Free / All Works for Sale
Opening Times: 1pm – 6pm, Thursday to Sunday (including Anzac Day public holiday)
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 (http://canvasstories.com) where the audience can view the paintings and submit their own stories.
The painting I made was this:
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)
Although a bit late, here are some articles about this year’s Art Fair:
I keep coming back to boxes.
In 2005, my friends and I made a short film for our Electronic Media class about a boy and a box that took him to different places. The short stars Joel Torre (On the Job) and Elijah Castillo (Pisay).
There’s a scene (SPOILERS) wherein the boy finds his box mangled and discarded in a trash can. I took that scene directly from my own childhood, wherein a box that I had played with and imagined as a submarine was mangled and discarded when I got back from school. A few years later, I revisited the idea of magical traveling box for a little comic strip I did for an Ang INK Catalog.
Now, I’ve made a painting featuring another box.
My father worked in Saudi Arabia in the late 70s and early 80s back when they still called them OCWs (Overseas Contract Worker). Many of my friends also have parents or relatives that have worked and continue to work abroad. The idea of having at least one OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) in the family is a common Filipino experience. The promise of a better life by working abroad is a well-worn cliché, but it nonetheless continues to pull families apart.
Part of the experience of having a relative abroad is receiving a balikbayan box – a package of gifts and goodies ranging from chocolates to gadgets. Sadly, in the same way that gifts arrive in boxes, sometimes loved ones arrive home in the same way – a body in a box, a victim of violence and tragedy.
Ideas Arrive at Odd Places
The image of body parts stuffed in a balikbayan box struck me while I was driving along EDSA. As grisly as it sounds, gore wasn’t what was on my mind. I held the image in my head until I got a chance to draw it.
But when I got around to putting it to paper, the image I drew didn’t live up to what was in my head. So I left it unfinished.
Revisiting Old Boxes
When I was satisfied with the sketch, I transferred the drawing onto canvas.
Then the painting began. I decided to go a bit monochromatic with the painting, using more desaturated colors and dull hues.
I started with the figures, although in hindsight maybe I should have done the background first. I honestly don’t know.
And here’s the finished piece.
Almost a month ago, I attended the 2012 Metrobank Art and Design Excellence (MADE) Awarding. I got in because my painting was included as a semi-finalist and was fortunate enough to be part of the exhibit. It was my first time to attend one of these shindigs and I have to say it felt awkward and uncomfortable being there. I guess I’m not used to all the fuss. The sight of bigwigs in formal attire felt so far removed from the messy and often solitary process of making the art we were celebrating that night.
Pretty far removed from my messy studio
My painting (crappy shot, I know. I went solo.)
The grand prize winning paintings
Oh, look…a Philippine senator. My painting somewhere in the background.
Nevertheless, I was glad that at least my painting got a chance to be seen by people other than my closest relatives. Hmm, come to think of it, even my closest relatives hardly see my paintings.
After the awarding itself, the exhibit area was opened for viewing. The host asked the semi-finalists to stand beside their paintings to explain their works to prospective buyers. Something I found very awkward…so I didn’t do it. I guess I have to work on my social skills. I just roamed around the exhibit area anonymously, acting like just another viewer.
It was an odd experience seeing people taking photos of my work. Some even had their pictures taken beside my painting. All in all it was a pleasant experience. 🙂
After the cocktails I slipped out of the venue and headed home.
Strangely though, when I was googling stuff about MADE, there were hardly any blog posts about it, with the notable exception of Daphne Oseña Paez‘s blog post about the 2011 awarding. So I thought I’d write a rough timeline of the whole process for future reference. Though, this will probably be a bit different for the grand prize winners.
May 8 to 9 – submission of artworks
May 23 – received a text from MADE that my artwork was chosen as one of the semifinalists
June 4 to 5 – submission of actual artworks
September 11 – Got a text that my painting will be included in the exhibit
September 13 – Awarding and Exhibit