Looking Through His Lens Clearly: The Photography of Wig Tysmans


Despite of the emergence of digital camera, photography in the Philippines still develops into a very blurred picture and has yet to evolve from its commercial roots into an art form it was meant to be more than a hundred years ago. The lack of exhibitions dedicated to it and even the absence of a National Artist given to photography is proof enough despite the many who have blazed the trail by reinventing the art form, some even brought honor to the country by exhibiting abroad. Photography is still relegated as just “one of those subjects” under visual arts.

Herwig “Wig” Tysmans has been at the forefront in this struggle in turning the lens and clearing Philippine photography’s focus having been one of the country’s top portraitists and commercial photographers in the last 40 years or so.

Unlike other master lensmen, Wig had artistry in his Belgian and Ilocano roots. His grandfather is a known painter in Belgium. He had a writer for a father and a mother who was engaged in a shell handicraft business in Zamboanga City which exported its products to some parts of the world. The Tysmans eventually moved to Manila in 1961 when they closed the business.

The young Tysmans would discover his love affair with the camera at 15 years of age in 1971 during his final year in high school in Dumaguete while being involved with the school yearbook project. With a borrowed Olympus PenF camera, he was among those who took photos of his batch mates to be featured in the said annual publication.

On that same year, a field trip to Baguio will eventually make him comeback and stay longer. The cool climate, rich culture and warm hospitality of its people made him fell in love with this city of pines. He convinced his parents to allow him to enroll there after his high school graduation. With the influx of foreign tourists Baguio was a visual feast and fertile ground for his creativity, thus, plant his artistic roots of this city planned by the Americans. Unable to find a fine arts degree in any of the educational institutions there, Wig enrolled in the closest course possible, architecture at St. Louis University.

It was in this period that his love for photography brought back and fully bloomed. Together with four other Engineering and Commerce friends who became his friends, they formed a sort of photography cooperative in the campus. For a cost P25, they would photograph people and blow it up 20 x 24 inches size.

“We were into business because we wanted to buy our own equipments,” Wig reminisces, “we made more than a hundred blow-ups, we made good money.” A Nikon F with a 50 mm lens was his first gift to himself from his initial earnings. In time his friends became more interested in their courses while Wig took frequent and longer trips to the darkroom. Word of their good work spread fast and St. Louis became too small for their immense passion. In fact local newspapers relied on whatever he and his photographer friends would give them to end up in their pages. Converting his extra bathroom into a bigger dark room, Wig went full time after college.

Wig had a well-rounded background in laying the groundwork of his artistry. Among his early jobs also included documentary work doing publications in the countryside, some magazine assignments, and a stringer for Associated Press for three months World Chess Championships between Korchnoi and Karpov in Baguio.

Out on his own in 1976, Wig started doing portraits of old people who migrated to Baguio before World War II. Since he had access to them, he was able to convince them for a photograph them among them were Robert Fox, Mr. and Mrs. Chan of the Old Pagoda, and the Ifugao Lam-ang who wore G-string to Congress. From 1977 to the early 1980s, he was building up a series of portraits for his future one man show.

Santi Bose
Writer Eric Caruncho in an article, “Wig 
became part of an emerging art scene that included fellow photographers Tommy Hafalla and Mannix Santos, filmmakers Boy Yñiguez and Kidlat Tahimik, and painters BenCab, Santi Bose and Roberto Villanueva. His early influences were painters: modernists such as Roberto Chabet and Lee Aguinaldo whose works exhibited a zen-like simplicity and straightforwardness that Tysmans sought to emulate in his photographs.”

Wig reflects: “Malaki ang influence ng Baguio. Iba ang culture sa Baguio kasi yung mga artists magkakalapit studios or nasa cafes. Unique in a sense is that we were all respected artists in group but we were opinionated. You could hang out and discuss ideas which hindi mo magagawa sa Manila. The environment itself was conducive to the arts as it was rich in indigenous culture, the Cordilleras. Plus there was a constant influx of tourists, thus, we would get a taste of Europe and America and have access to their photography. We could also go to Camp John Hay Library and see photos.”

In 1981, in a chance meeting with Gilda Cordero-Fernando he was able to be introduced to Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala. Through Don Jaime’s help, Wig was finally able to organize a group show for the Baguio Photographers Group at the Ayala Museum. He eventually showed his portraits for his first one-man show also at the Ayala Museum later in 1984. This same show would later tour in other consulates and the Philippine embassy in the US such as San Francisco, Chicago and Washington showing the same images, his manager and curator was now National Artists Arturo Luz.

By this time, there was no stopping the boundless energy of Wig. His next show was bigger and better with 90 portraits of writers and artists, some even in the nude at Goethe Institute in Quezon City. With the overwhelming acceptance, commercial work easily came in.

“Fashion photography was the closest thing to portraiture which I really like. It was the only direction for me – merging of my angst as an artist and limelight of the fashion scene. Press photographers lang gumagawa ng fashion photography nun. Sila lang yung may access sa newspapers, Sunday magazine and Lifestyle sections. Through my fashion work I ended up doing major portraiture. Subsequently since show biz is related to fashion, that followed too. Book photography came in as well.” Wig adds.
                                                                      One Light Source

“The hallmarks of a Tysmans photograph are his minute attention to detail and a flawless technical sheen. Through his mastery of the subtleties of lighting, the photographer manipulates light and shadow to throw one or more particular features in bold relief while keeping others intriguingly swathed in various shades of light and dark. Through his mastery of darkroom technique, these qualities are brought out and enhanced in the final, museum-quality print,” wrote Caruncho.

Early on Wig admits his influences were all foreigners such as the portraits of Richard Avedon and Eugene Smith who was a war correspondent. He clarifies though that he does finer versions in his attempt to be different.

Wig stresses: “For example Irving Penn, when I shot Sinaunang Habi book he was my influence, I even brought my back drop with me while shooting ethno-linguistic communities as how Penn did when he was shooting the Indian tribes in Peru and in the Andes, pero syempre iba yung approach.”

Equally lauded as his portraits are his nudes. “I like it because it is the most basic, wala kang dadamitan. Walang mag-didictate but I will have to catch the character of the person. I have a way of making him relax with me and capture his soul. That’s why I favor artists as subjects because they are willing as they trust me,” emphasizes Wig who is known for his signature borders which came from his Hasselblad bracketing and his having a one light source.

Of late he has done collaborative work for people in other disciplines. For example with Antonio Garcia, florist, “Ako nagpapalabas ng form, Ilalagay niya yung elements like flowers and chili. Sometimes the drive is not for an exhibition but more of an exercise. Depending on the magnitude, the body of works could in the long run be for a show.” Nearing the landmark age of 60, he is planning to do another show of portraits but this time with more of people of our time and many of them new personalities.

Sili King
Wide Opening

Susan Sontag writes in her famous essay On Photography: “Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all objects that make up and thicken the environment we recognize as “modern. Photographs really are captured and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood. To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge—therefore, like power.”  

For Wig a good photograph should tickle your imagination when one views it. One gives you wonder, doubt and amazement at how the image was done not that we want to analyze it, for sometimes the photo speaks for itself. He adds “the really nice photographs are the ones that you retain after a week, a month, a year you still remember them. These are the types of photographs that become iconic.”

Wig’s aesthetic sense leans towards the stark and macabre. “If the image is dark, I sometimes wonder why he did it because it is that was the situation or is it because he wanted to portray something to establish a mood? As a photographer you will have to know the intention.”

“When digital photography came out ten years ago hindi ko feel,” Wig further explains, “Some of my friends, kahit 3 mega pix bumili sila. It cost a lot of money. At a time kaya naman ng film then drumscan in Hong Kong. Purist ako just for a little more, this will I get. Bangko Sentral’s Ginto book was my first venture into digital. Somehow I was convinced I could shoot something reflective like the BSP gold collection.”

Recently a clothing line featured Wig’s infrared photographs he did of popular spots Baguio Cathedral, Camp John Hay and Session Road in Baguio in the late 70s to early 80s. It was only Wig who had access to infrared film then which makes these photos more significant. Since infrared gives one an ethereal somewhat fleeting feel, quite apt since much of these scenes have changed or even gone forever. Baguio will always be beautiful for Wig: This is where I was energized and discovered my talent for photography, a medium for me to express myself.”


Ilonggos Bravos: The Triumvirate of Zambarrano, Cerbas, and Dela Cruz


Having visited Iloilo City recently, the province is up and about with preparations for the APEC summit this coming November. Rich in natural and cultural heritage this sunny city of western visayas was chosen as one of the venues for some of APEC’s more important activities. Bustling or better yet, the main roads were smoking with the air filled in by the bevy mix of sand and cement from non-stop construction work. With infrastructure being built here and there, one would get an idea that progress has indeed arrived for the Ilonggos and there to stay.

With much pun intended comes Ang.gulo: Three-man Exhibition of Arel Zambarrano, Leoniel Cerbas, and Richard Dela Cruz at Artes Orientes whose perfect timing speak both of the state of disarray these artists are thriving and a sordid reminder that what we see in Iloilo is not exactly what’s there. In hindsight it could be more of Iloilo’s sampler of its contemporary visual arts than a blatant critique of its socio-political milieu. When its artists concern themselves with the impending reality than doing say portraits of celebrities with the Pope, or fantasy mother-and-childs or school of coy fish for demanding clients; when artists poke at what ills our already badly beaten country mired black-and-blue by corruption, and greed. Instead of rendering them in the usual in-your-face-realism these artists seeks to poignantly interpret them in an artistic genre of their making, culling from their own personal 
Tricky Trail 2

Few artists can lay claim to be among the subjects they depict. Being a farmer's son, Dela Cruz knows how it is to till the land they have yet to own, toiling in dignity and by perseverance; how hard it is to labor and still not get enough from what you work for. The irony of it all those who plant rice are those without it. Tricky Trail 2 clearly portrays this sad plight not only of farmers but all those who carry the heavier burden of making the most in what so little. In an almost three dimensional manner, painstakingly rendered in a serene yet overwhelmingly detailed strokes in Dela Cruz’s working multitude. There is loudness in silence as one could hear the groan of the mass assembled in unison. The collective echoes of their empty stomach unwillingly trading half told truths over meager earning in their average daily grind.  

The overpowering double whammy in Babuwaya lords it over a plethora of the exploited while being pitted on an unequal set up—those who put a lot of effort are less rewarded. In this situation everyone feeds the glutton in the politician who gets more out of his bloated budget. There is grandness in the manner of how Dela Cruz composes yet he keeps their dignity by freely arranging his elements like a overpopulated tableau on stilts.  

Artist's Shoes

In Artist’s Shoes Arel Zambarrano continues the lesser travelled artistic road immortalized in his P25 shoe bought in a nearby thrift shop. It has been a witness to his triumphs, tragedies and the inner conflicts of his existence. His brilliance is evident in the diptych Garden of Self Realization as handle of his symbols morphed into his battered footwear epitomizing how his art has struggled--unkempt, deformed and tattered. Merged with his signature needles, Zambarrano likes his painting muddy and less formal manner. How this visual style will evolve is something to look forward to.
Garden of Self Realization

Moving Forward comes at a time when everything these days is short, easy and bite-size. It is a reaction to the kind of relentless pursuit for things arbitrary yet artificial. Cerbas manages to control his haste by choosing his battles. In his alter ego represented by the fighting fish that guided him like a lodestar in a wide open field called uncertainty and confusion. Done in overlapping with transparent layering, he starts priming with wash similar how one does watercolor before finishing off with monotone acrylic. 

Moving Forward

As in any kind of unfair practice wealth has often been at the expense of the unmindful many that have been abused enough to blind injustice done by the false brightness of polish deceiving and disguising everything under an increasing profit. Sa Ilalim ng Kinang Cerbas reminisces many drawings depicting an authoritarian regime trampling on its people. Done in resin, behind the shiny shoes is a revolting throng fighting its collective right to emancipation. 

Sa Ilalim ng Kinag
Far from the art center that is Manila, Ang.gulo shows how distance provides a clearer and tighter perspective to Zambarrano, Cerbas and dela Cruz who have earlier in their student days have already honored Iloilo in the Philippine art map by winning major art competitions. They are the young new realists who put their art to good use and not just decorations to hang on the walls. Immersed in deep thought they make us realize how Filipinos have been victims of their own slavery. They enable us to imagine further too how art can make us aware what is needed in our society, of how it can make us overcome our plight.
When life hands more than half of the population in dire poverty, when everything around you is politically orchestrated, for these three artists the last thing you do is wallow in your quagmire. In disturbing the peace by fighting for change in one’s consciousness one artwork at a time. Or in their case, make that three.


Fernando Ramos Jr: Flaunting Life’s Imperfections


Faith often comes in the most abstract of expressions and artists like Fernando Ramos have turnaround something out of the ordinary even bordering on the transcendental they only know how—paint them. In his first solo exhibition, Contemplating Ethereal Existence Ramos honors God foremost in his composed yet grand solitary manner.

His materiality dictates whatever mood Ramos is in depending on what he perceives as that transcending value of God’s immeasurable love for humanity should be. Ramos believes artists were blessed with talents as they have a responsibility to perform in society. Eschewing texture he uses palette knife and rodela enabling every stroke as different like the different days where Ramos worked on his pieces. These pieces appear to be more durable, almost rendered in a dream that only Ramos can comprehend their symbolical meanings.

Representing valor in whatever dignified existence life has to offer, Standing Still series beckons to inspire and even encourages persistence in the hope for better things. In a heavy mix of earth-tone hues, Ramos proposes that man who chooses God will always be standing still even if failures and apathy seeps in.

His journey not only as an artist but as a believer is most evident in Sojourn. Reaching the highest altitude of his existence, being he is able to meditate in a wonderful world, the flight of a dreamer in him. The future is still unclear, unimaginable and vague to comprehend but the greatest gift for us is the promise of tomorrow. Sojourn comes with a emanating purpose on this thesis.
Starting with a study or a just a sketch Ramos builds up rhythm like a seasoned jazz player, he improvises yet digs in deeper, straining his modeling paste-in-sand combination. He then fixes silver or gold adding glow to the under paint most likely after he stains the metal layer of his composition.

Whether he renders realist strokes or veers into abstraction transparency of forms and solidity of shapes define the quintessential Ramos. Often employing rhythm and harmony in texture his dimensions draws a thin line in between softness and harshness of rendition yet they carefully controlled and it varies in a certain points to another simply not because they are nice to look at but because they are conceived to do so.   

Scent From A Dream 2
Contemplating Vertical Horizons is how the promise giver is the promise keeper. Always offering a good day God forgives and guides us through His unending and infinite creation. With the daily rigors He brings us back to the light into our battered and stained spirit at his own dedicated time.

With Ramos piece there is never a dull rendition. He meticulously solidifies everything by finishing dust-like coarseness adding a silver leaf and gold leaf here and there. The aesthetics is in the swirl, some from various tin cans, some using masking tapes for loss to take over. Swirling lines storms of life, square is God for always being there.

His paintings are also sensuous variations of collective narratives, memories and dreams. The fascination in metal-like ground and surface in his works is evident, rusted and stained in time. It is metaphorical depiction of this world we live in is paralleled to a slowly decaying, human body that is deteriorating and will turn back into nature’s dust--our ashes.

Ramos moves freely inside the painting as he probes his inner self and explore contours and variations of colors, paraphrasing the world and beyond in less fanciful embellishment or distortion. His thoughts and feelings as an artist are astounded in each of more than a dozen canvases.

On can almost smell his coloration in Scent Recalled From a Dream series which are actually landscapes dwelling intuitively into his subconscious mind. His composition of colors range from cool to earthy hues, these are vivid projections of his dreams and aspirations.

Not everything is raw and melancholic The Day After the Storm conveys positive vibrations as trials and challenges that make him more human. Like gold that gone through fire to be able see its real shine.

A wise painter that he is, Ramos knows how to rest and recuperate. Resting Ground is a favorite place quiet and serene place a mountain peak repent, pray and meditate his intoxicated body. A habit he often does, he escapes from the humdrum of his material world, he solitary dwells at a mountain’s peak, communing with his God who is more than enough.
The Day After the Storm

Unselfish as the artist he is Ramos is fond of creative accolades here and there. In Under Red Umbrella pays tribute to a dear friend, musician and great mother. An influence in his decision to be a full-time artist, her demise may have left a void but Ramos imbibed her spirit to go forward and reach his potential. Of course umbrella means love, memories and teachings that cannot be erased.

Vista is tribute to Tatang, his mom’s husband. A lawyer writer and man of faith He treated him like a son too. His regular conversations with him were with a purpose, most specially those pertaining to Mount Zion which is biblical definition of heaven, respite for good souls and spirit.

Blue serenade series are Ramos’ most personal paintings in this exhibition. Starting in 2013 being in love with music, remembering the good old days and time gone by. Destiny fate, remembering what God has promised transcending upon him.

Resting Ground
Abstraction in the Philippines has of late taken a back seat given the current art scene’s current infatuation with hyperrealism, auction-bound, emo-ridden parlance. Ramos reclaims whatever is lacking in aesthetics and maybem whatever is left in our poor battered souls.

Fearful of his faith and fate, Ramos ponders in each of these pieces as God has healed and honed him further. He has able him to paint some more in whatever life has to offer. With his hands outstretched in surrender, in these paintings he has emerged healed and unscathed.

About the Artist
Fernando Ramos Jr is an award-wining visual artist. A graduate of Tarlac State University, he has won in ArtPetron National Student Art Competion, Maningning Miclat Art Awards, and the GSIS National Painting Competition. Ongoing at the Art Galileia Contemplating Ethereal Existence is his first solo exhibition.


Tarlac Artists: Serious Play

Judeo Herrera

The need to understand the contemporary practice in Philippine art has always been the burden of the young. Emphatic assortment of paints on top of one another made more evident by their predominant metaphors reflected in their experimental yet distinct, confident yet sensitive brushstrokes. Playground weaves all these assumptions not merely as a conscious interlude of colors, illustrations and other media but something that originally perceived in their fragile/fertile imagination. Newly initiated in the art scene however these artists have already been recognized in national art competitions for their promising visual language and in finding novel approaches in painting.

Fernando Ramos
Defiance to the norm and piercing its persistence in memory have always been rooted in this unobtrusive Central Luzon province. The continuous wandering of the aetas that dwell along its streets is a blatant reminder of negligence yet one’s constant exposure is reminiscent of their pure and simple precolonial ways. The long McArthur highway is witness to rebellion to another colonial rule that tested our inner core in the infamous Death March. Some even lived to experience life more painful than death to this day. 
It is not only the geography that veers Tarlac from Manila. Less than 3 hours and 107 kilometers away by road travel, Tarlac directly manifests the disparity in directions concerning the Philippine art scene. With only an aging museum to speak of, there are neither art galleries nor art spaces abound. Ironic as it is paintings on canvases have found their way of conducing what is already lacking in the society. A visual critique thrives in an abundance of newly found expressions on how these emerging artists look at themselves and their communities.

Alfredo Baluyot
In Alfredo Baluyot’s silent yet haunting pieces shout the loudest meanings. Desperation marked by insensitivity of the powers-that-be Baluyot succumbs to his rants to ease his numbness to anger and deceit. Decay seeps in fluid-like strokes capable to overreaching the viewer to sympathize in this decreasingly bleak plight.
Chrisanto Aquino

On scratched canvas Chrisanto Aquino pays tribute to that dying breed of indigenous people dislocated by political reality. Against the advent of superfluous technology, their precolonial culture threatened into extinction. Aquino further hones his artistry by dwelling on long forgotten patterns inked on their tribal skin.  
Abstraction in its purest form occupies Fernando Ramos whose works are more autobiographical in nature. His choice of colors coalesce his ever-changing moods sometimes too heavy eliciting texture in capturing its weariness. Staining real gold makes the canvases more ethereal than usual. Ironically he does not find it romantic at all whatever it is that whimsically deals directly with his emotions. 

Elle Simon-Yokte

Elle Simon-Yokte is another artist that freshly dabbles in non-representational rendition. Although glimpses of figures still forebode she further induces more layers to thicken the plot typifying happiness and confidence within her.   

Judeo Herrera engages in deep nostalgia by waxing realism with abstraction in a prolific visual style his own. Herrera starts off by splattering colors as the background he favors. After the expressionist nature of this under painting he then deciphers what images will emerged eventually dictating the current themes of his thoughts. Here we find a bygone child’s play and bevy of horses in tipsy amusement or locked in symbol of their strength in character. 


Wiljun Magsino

Wiljun Magsino simplifies as he reminisces his childhood in black and white. Uniquely done by using stapler instead of paintbrushes he primes his canvases either black or white canvas and reversely tucks the wires depending on his chosen subjects. This tedious process challenges him in achieving a pen and ink effect. What he can still do with such steely art form is a promise that awaits us. 

As it is Playground is as literal as literary resistance of provincial artists hobnobbing in the city. These manifestations confront validation as their own inherent contents and permutations stressing the value of spontaneity, appropriation and positive energy. Establishing tension, solitude and equilibrium, these spatial yet lyrical pieces may be subtle or harsh yet both convey the sense of delight in the painters’ free reign of imagery and visual style. One looks long and hard as each art intensifies. Depending how one would come to view the collective significance of Playground, their personal to randomly induce varied perceptions are commendable.
Playground encourages critical dialogue between the discriminating tastes of the patronizing public with the creative ambition of this current crop of Tarlac artists. As they are open to experimentation and more raw approach in art, they still value that paintings should be embodied and its social function is not lost in the art market discourse or painting for painting sake. Assuring a hopeful bright direction, Playground devotes a different attitude, a refreshing way of looking at visual arts. It is an undertaking that may enrich your lives as it has indeed on them. Sometimes seriousness is fun.   


Ricky Ambagan: Fresh Produce

What Grows on Your Garden

Alluding himself to that red watering can amidst a bright yellow mood Ricky Ambagan further expounds his recent paintings in What Grows in Your Garden. Done in visual atonality employed with a sense of caprice, Ambagan tempers how one must empty oneself to be filled up again. He derives deep from popular images ranging from art history to domestic everyday scenes in what constitutes as his banal memories, amplified fears and hopeful predilections he unconsciously tends to be our own. The act of transfiguration allowed us into his innermost kaleidoscope--be it personal or social--in these 16 pieces on display.

Two of Us
 The strangeness of how a scent, or in this case, a song could evoke an emotional chord from the past is evident in Two of Us. Reminiscent of that popular Beatle song, there is more to those three abandoned cars left to rust in remembrance in a gloomy forest. As time happens too fast, our lives are revved up in one swift pace that problems of our time are failing to elicit memory can be both disruptive and aching activity in such a busy traffic of images.

Beast from East
Beast from East “historizes” the book of Revelation in its present context and debunks age-old myths by means of eclectic iconography. One of the hardest books of to understand, Revelation is the final battle between good and evil with the Anti-Christ leading to deceive humanity. Gathering icons such as the sumo wrestler, robot, and golden dragon in the middle appropriated in the equation, one cannot fathom not only who will emerge as the victor, which is good and bad in this conflict. Mushrooms provide the neutral illumination in a rather barren ground. Even a burning mosquito killer is defiant.
Behind the Trees
Even with the cast and setting complete, one may think that Behind the Trees is all on the vanishing of the Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It could also dwell about true love, when a man and a woman and that you-and-me-against-the-world adage in between. Ambagan’s juxtaposes his naïve characters in alarming compromise conniving in a somewhat alerted hues of the scene, pausing or even being stuck at the moment.   
Well versed in composition, Ambagan’s painterly technique induces raw and transparency in materiality breaking off his previous heavily brushed canvases, with earlier ones some tediously done in arresting distorted strokes. In creating this current space he is more restless in form, more lose to his liking. Branches in dark tones resembling nodes of electrons (its similarity to veins) in a digital mind are constant in all the pieces. Ambagan holds on these distinct framing, favoring what is stunning and of wonder to his brushes.

Last Dance

Last Dance pushes one out of his comfort zone. How far can one commit in attaining one’s goals not to lose motivation? A ballerina on the edge of a couch realizes the-when-I-grow-up-dream vis-a-vis the corporate job that pays the bills dilemma. One must not be limited to one’s goals set for oneself yet do you leave the nest for greener pasture abroad or do we conform and be rats ourselves in the race?

The brilliance of Ambagan is how he always keeps his concepts unsullied and intact. Entering his fruitful mid-career, he continues to splatter fresh paints on his big bright ideas while keeping his audience looking remains evident as he is still relevant. One eagerly awaits his next bountiful harvest.  

What Grows in Your Garden is the 6th Solo Exhibition by Ricky Ambagan. Ongoing until May 22, 2015 at the Gallery Anna, SM Megamall.


El Pueblas: Dried and Tested


Time well spent on an art piece has always been the most considerate arbiter in determining how it can be best appreciated. Given too is the subsumed execution of its materiality to its concept, for Davao-based artist El Pueblas it will take six years and lots of dried, discarded and fallen leaves.

The circumstance of how Pueblas left a very comfortable job as a producer in a production house in Manila to continue what now comprises the exhibition Fallen Leaves could also add up to his mythology however that would just distract, and further delay in reviewing the exhibition’s merits. Pueblas would rather focus on his staunch message--his war against clichés--not be bothered by the corporate sacrifices that entailed it.

From collecting and sorting fallen leaves Pueblas sorts those he would use and keep, generally in large volume. For the few special ones, he goes out of his way and monitors them at their particular locations. Coming back only when they are already on the ground. Preferring thin leaves since thick ones are hard to manage, he tediously stores the leaves some more for an indefinite period. Observing if there are changes, noticing them only when they are perfectly ready at their driest. 

Inspired by Japanese leaf artist, Kazuo Akasaki, Artvocacy as Pueblas’ medium is his message: green as alternative. Once the leaves are ready, he cuts them into pixels. The smaller the paintings the bigger he cuts them. Everything is organic that he does not even dye them. He then proceeds to segregate the leaves depending on their veins as texture and native hues for color placing them on an already drawn image. Side by side the different shades of the leaves that creates most impact. Sometimes one piece takes longer awaiting its natural color to conform its valued place on the professed image. As soon as the composition is complete he just sprays them with transparent emulsion for durability.

In a zen-like manner, he does not even have titles to the seven genre pieces on featured however he painstakingly does his signature with leaves at an average of three hours tops. In depicting the exhibition’s main attraction, the so-called Mona Lisa amassed as many and as diverse leaves as possible in producing its desired iconography. Despite her popularity it could have been easily achieved using handy industrial oil paints but will just be like any other La Giaconda at the Louvre. Given that they were already featured in two of the most commercial venues in Davao, even the pieces do not carry price tags on them. 

With the vibrancy of contemporary art happening in the confines of fine arts colleges, streets and cyberspace, it still is surprising there is a dearth of art galleries to comprise a Davao art scene. With the closure of Ford Academy of the Arts last year trims down to three colleges that serve the formal artistic pulse of the youth. As for Pueblas, his body of work continues to be honed in the peripheries the long deserved validation cannot wait.


Kristoffer Tolentino: Mass Executions


At a time when the President of the Philippines has yet to finally affix his signature to the formal confirmation of a foremost illustrator as a National Artist Buklod Buhay sa Gawang Makulay by award winning visual artist Kristoffer Tolentino is a reprieve, an intervention even, when much local art that is produced are either too emo-ridden or the blatantly Me on canvas. Some paintings these days are even primarily sourced from the internet and are being directly printed on canvas only to be retouched by paints thereafter.

Though only in his late 20s Tolentino is old school—that long, slow and meticulous practice of putting imagination to canvas, from eye to hand with only actual experiences as his references. His media are mixed starting with ballpen for doodling, ink for the outlines, finishing with brushes either with watercolor or acrylic. With painting as his main medium he considers illustration as his primary technique the struggle for Tolentino has always been the consideration that his paintings are not as mere drawings in the legitimate realm of Philippine art.

Kwentong Kalye, 2014, Acrylic on Canvas, 4 x 8 ft.

The easiness of these pieces cannot be evidenced as just interactive throng placed on canvas. Looking closer, like a captured still in a motion picture, one is entertained by its plots and sub plots of the everyday, tugged with comical wit and a deeper humor from viewers who take living seriously.

Kwentong Kalye is the quintessential Tolentino piece if one would like to be immersed with his works. Mind you his scenes evolve in the typical every day, not in a grand or historical manner happening in a typical urban landscape complete with schools, corner eateries, computer shops, hospitals, malls with the tremors of the MRT being felt nearby. Not bound by particular time, eschew of formalities, like a pop-up book everything just happens in one simultaneous movement with Tolentino conducting its public rhythm though not by baton but through his paint brush. As the collective viewer visual claustrophobia could seep in for we too are part of the happening, enjoying the front view adorning from one’s vantage window. Accorded with simplicity as if the everyday was a celebration, to be alive is to breathe and move under the sun. He somehow pauses the moment when all is moving at once. Drawing from a plethora of chance encounters in almost every crowded place he has been to—alleys, aisles, corridors, sidewalks, backstreets--he usually sizes up his canvas for one long and hard look. More picturesque than pictorial, as if we are on a privileged panorama that even drones can’t get this much creative perspective.

With proportion in mind he commences with his trusty ballpen and sketches succinctly. Like in a trance, the process lends itself to organize in more than a hundred caricatures which he never repeats every single one of them. Should there be impermanent ball pen slip-ups he goes through the motion and transforms them with a new one imbibing whatever form that was reborn into. Original in its composition with no focal point, these are not pious scenes. They are raw from ink, organic in evolution without aid of sketch. He does not even know how it will end. He used to finish it off with brownish earth or flesh skin hues, they later evolved into a brightly colored day emanating from a primed white background, with only accents of color that act like curtains of moods.

His titles may be long but they are poetic. Dikit Dikit na Bahay, Kabit Kabit na Buhay proves how community spirit is the highest form of nationalist expression. Inspired by the Badjaos found along the coastlines of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, and Zamboanga del Sur, Tolentino displays how elevated these houses on stilts to picture how they adapt to live on a different habitat. An informal socialist, Tolentino proudly displays how we all subsequently co-exist in a hustle bustle of a chosen lieu.

Oftentimes the lure of the native is even stronger that Tolentino impresses upon his smaller paintings. He would depict beach or nature scenes where people help one another while they enjoy the exposure of being in the tropics. He captures features idyll destinations as if they were secret places we eager have to find out and go. Fiesta is another habitual cultural tendency for Tolentino where the preparations are uniquely ours and just as important as the event itself. Nothing compares to the experience of being in it, no matter how many times you can go. In a way he has showed how Filipinos should live in the many situations he ushers us in.

Humor is the main faculty of a Tolentino piece--the daily Pinoy-kind, the quick banter we hear from the street or the one beside us at metro trains or public jeepneys. Our three stars and a sun symbol is also a favorite fixture, it should be found somewhere either wrapped on kid’s bag or even juxtaposed as a speeding car. Like the modern Larry Alcala he has often been compared with, one has to eventually look for it, part of the mechanics of enjoying his formations. For good and positive energy, another obvious constant are galore of colorful balloons and hot air balloons of sorts, filled with fancies and fantasies. One imbibes that sensual light feeling of freedom when one is above the clouds, away from the continuous conflict from below.

Technical yet typical for Tolentino is his fondness for lines either from electric posts or strings from kites which is already a lost art he advocates. Ever the sentimentalist he is that kid on the roof who flew his kite to represent his dreams.

It was in ArtPetron National Student Art Competition in 2006 that he first came up with these scenes he has adopted as a style and is now being lauded for. With indigenous arts as a theme, Tolentino won runner up prize when he depicted Filipinos as free and loving craftsmen and artisans.
Experimenting in that popular art form in the late 19th century Philippines, Tolentino reclaims the Spanish-influenced letras y figuras into his own. Not wanting to waste life’s precious moments he advocates love for country in the most fun manner--that is who and what makes the Filipino tick. Evident is Pinas where his sense of nation runs high and mighty. Everything best in us are there from industries like fishing, fiestas like the Pahiyas with its Higantes, with warm and friendly folks like us complete the picture.

It was a well-crafted entry to a national art competition that he first came up with his Robot series. With future of technology as its theme, he came up with Robots as the first signal for modernism in advanced science. This mechanical toy-with pun intended-was the old clunky Japanese-kind. Out of discarded things he recreates these mechanical concoction which challenges him that we can still come up with something beautiful from earth’s refuse. They are another theme that he has perfected through time. They even reincarnate as super heroes immortalized to assist others in their own rising again.

As an artist his most precious credential is his integrity and his task is always to speak for the truth. Oftentimes Tolentino, armed with wit and deep respect for fables he comments on how ill people in our decaying society have behaved, he does this through his own version of that long-nosed character Pinoccio. Like a child’s play, Tolentino does this graphically in fine artistic rendition and profound on satire bordering on the surreal. It was this visual style that won for him at the Tanaw Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas National Painting Competition.  
For its breadth and magnitude Tolentino does not just come up with these scenarios, it drives him to change things for the better one fine canvas at a time. 

By creatively dwelling in the metropolis we should thrive harmoniously, his “mass” blends people all walks of life, regardless of class or gender, paradoxes and all. It is his minute attention to details that are astounding. They are raw, unfazed and oblivious not to be noticed, they even standout.

In Buklod Buhay sa Gawang Makulay each piece is hand earned, innovating performance on canvas, a theatrical tableau even. It is crowded indeed yet no underlying filth or furor around. Mysteriously not even a sad pout from stellar cast. No misery or deprivation in the interaction which seems like a symbiosis. If viewers would glance or even stare on these artworks longer than usual they would reveal the longer hours Tolentino struggled to make their viewing worth their while. One would be tempted to find him somewhere within them as we may even find ourselves literally here.

Ongoing at the SM Megamall Art Center Buklod Buhay sa Gawang Makulay is the first solo exhibition of Kristoffer Tolentino.