Michael Froilan: Painting to Stand Still


Day Off
For most artists one’s first solo exhibition is his carefully conceptualized visual statement to a rather complicated contemporary art scene. Like an illustrative shout out, it beams as his coming out party to the world after lurking on group shows after group shows for quite sometime. Countering this usual trend, award winning artist Michael Froilan opts to go reflectively inward this time. Against the artistic tide, he shuns away from political impulses and avoids wallowing deeper into historical occurences. On the other hand, it is form that is his substance, then his statement is his medium. By displaying simplicity of his messages, he is like an old timer with paints.  

The direction of Still Moments seeks to surface/resurface what he is capable of creating; how much of himself can Froilan put up with these recent works. Furthering into melancholia by becoming more reflective, he focuses on his real life situations by reflecting empathy as mood, amplifying it with bareness of space and pausing time in a capsule. The brilliance of Froilan lies how he instills solitude of action, as if the viewer arrived too late or even too early to the scene. Injecting the personal he leaves many clues but no specific answers as he forces the viewer to complete the narrative of his story.

Froilan’s interest lies in simple domesticity of things with minimum action, without any signs of mobility. Commencing with his interior spaces hinting the viewers peeking in, they exist in flat planes placed side by side in voyeuristic cutaway dollhouse motif. Froilan uses interior rooms of his mind at his domesticated abode with his family members and close friends as characters.
As a fine arts graduate of EARIST he is a true contrarian--deconstructing proportion, and artistic perspective. His spaces set the appropriate mood while favoring sparse colors that are not too glossy, yet very natural which gives solitary figures to stand out.

Consider Complex which is Froilan’s intriguing self portrait. The heirarchy of floors discusses the many facets of his existence. At the ground floor is a landscape painting which represents what he painted at an early age to earn his keep as a painter; the second floor are his classical paintings and portraits reflecting his desire to copy the masters; the lion at the third floor is an epitome of aggression, not the angry kind but his eagerness to achieve his dreams. Froilan is the swimmer reflecting the times he wanted to quit life.  

Continuing his narration is The Dreamer which dwells in the psychological realm of inner life. For Froilan he does not see himself not an artist. He longs to mixing his paints while holding his brushes up high to convey his images on his canvases.

Another creative tactic is how he allows classical paintings to emphasize the moment. They are either decor or devices that amplify the situations. Ranging from his influences from Johannes Vermeer, James Whistler, Peter Paul Rubens, to Claude Monet with the progression situating from Baroque to impressionism. However it is David Hockney, Edward Hopper, or Rene Magritte that he wants the audience to emphatize with at this ongoing moment. Froilan studies even the circumstance or context of which the master has painted.

The Faithful, The Undecided. The Unbeliever.
Woman in White pays tribute to his wife whom he praises to high heavens for being symbol of strength and resiliency but at the same time exudes purity of the spirit and femininity. In fact she is so strong to be alone in her life, without him on his side. Torn pertains to her dual being as a loving wife yet capable of wholeness, void of affection from the other gender. 

Before he took up painting full-time, Froilan and his wife would converse about anything while partaking their favorite wine. When Froilan became in demand as a painter, he saw hiw wife les and less, reasons why she longed for his company. These are evident in the paintings I’ll be Seeing You and In the Presence of Absence where one can almost feel her longing for him. One feels the isolation and being disconnected. In his desire to make up for his loss, Froilan churn these out and let her know his shortcomings making him less guilty in return. 

With the presence of flames, Space Between Us evokes tension to viewing audience. The existential complimentary nature of man and woman  persists that one cannot survive without the other. As conflicts may arise, as seen in the two stairs on the sides, in the end they mend and reunite to one another. One loves because one needs.

The ongoing Sao Paulo Biennial has discarded well-worn themes and usual revolutionary ideas in guiding their artist-curators on what to exhibit. Rather it prioritizes on feelings and emotional response of viewers in generating attendance in the sixty seven year old world’s second oldest biennial after Venice. Froilan has paralleled his masterpieces with this premise that art must seek emotional response rather than be high brow rhetoric. Art must make you feel foremost. 

In music, rests is as important as notes in constructing musical composition. In fact, the silent notes are oftentimes more deafening yet their significance as loud as notes connote. Froilan has painted what seems to be restful in both space and time we are all familiar with. For art is capable of presenting what life is cannot.      
In the Presence of Absence


Melvin Culaba: Like a Refrain in a Song


Ang Konsecia ng Pintor

Unlike most artists who prefer utmost solitude award-winning artist Melvin Culaba listens to the teleradyo while mixing paints on canvas. With an immediate distance from the squalor of Baclaran he is in sync with the goings-on, with the trappings of grime and construction around him. He would witness vendors being rounded up by the civilian police or be mesmerized by the glittering neon lights of recent gambling hotels. That is how affected he is to his subjects, Re-current Themes is his most personal and most political showcase to date.

Culaba is fuming as noticed in the bolder and harsher strokes, each has an emotional intent and moral undertones. He deeply reminisces the milestones of his existence causing him to pause and reflect while holding his palette knives in the context of the interiors of his makeshift studio in their humble home.

Sa Kaharian ng Im-PERYA-L Pukada...GO Bananas!

As seen in these eight paintings we continue to confront the same ills and same struggles of society spanning five presidents. Our socio-political issues just keep on going back and remain unresolved. Our problems are systematically bureaucratic because it is the very system that we continue to inquire point blank.  

Interiority Complex (Ang Konsencia sa Pagpipinta) is the centerpiece in triptych involving Culaba himself while in his studio as he steps back in perspective.

Ang Konsencia ng Pintor is his largest attempt at portraying himself as nothing delineates the personal from the social atrocities. Santambak is a beautiful and remarkable chaos in discarded party chairs—an allegorical representation of the current mess we are into. Culaba waxes poetic with Bansang-Moro Buchikiik, ik ik ik where an abandoned motorcycle refers to recent killings of men riding-in-tandem.

Speedy Bagal

Titles no matter how long are important to Culaba as you would get a hint what the point in the painting is he driving at. Sa Kaharian ng Im-PERYA-L Pukada...GO Bananas! features his sister with other Filipinas in a group photos as they once huddled in work in Japan sometime in the 80s as entertainers. A familiar palace defaces as background with the greedy crocodile as its official symbol of corruption marked by gargoyle-like bulldogs posing as pimps offering every kind of patronage.

The oval-shaped Ang Larawan, Kabayan is his ode to beauty, or lack of it, that often has been gravely exploited. Culaba also deals with the 3,000 OFWs who migrate everyday in the hope for a better future abroad.

Dogs have constatly figured in many of his images and they take various meanings depending on their context. In Sa Letrang BBB at DDD (Dig Dig Dig) Culaba uses them as one that searches for the truth as evidenced by their diggings.

A discarded car used to occupy in front of Manila City Hall. Over the course of time rust already took over most of it. Speedy Bagal pertains to our chaotic road worries—our concrete pavements being fixed and being tore down again when the rainy days come. A snail is his postmarked for delayed service.

Ang Larawan, Kabayan
Tipanan ni Undo at Inday sa Luneta....sa Panahong wala pa si Puto-Bomber at si Puta-Shop offers that needed whiff of nostalgia when genteel life was more basic than normal. Back in the day when there were no malls one carefree strolled along Luneta while being photographed at the Rizal statue without the photobomber of a condominium we witness today.

Culaba is old school he still sketches his planned output. Most of his time are in meticulously composing his images before transferring them on canvas. He is painting on the edge meaning he only finalizes them with the wet palette technique when he is as close to his deadline as possible. He usually ends up with earth colors of flesh, gray and brown hues.

Culaba assumes his viewers are abreast to follow his expose in his exhibitions. He has brought back the imagistic language of storytelling in art. His brilliance lies how he intertwines the parallelism of his life with to what is taking place in our society at large in a quintessential visual journal. So far he has been effective and affective on both counts. If one needs to review the past years of our collective lives including his then we can just visit again these eight paintings and weep.

Re-current Themes is Culaba’s 4th Solo Exhibition for Kaida Contemprary Gallery


Ricky V. Ambagan: On the Shoulder of Giants


Like the man playing the violin while riding the unicycle on a tightrope he oftentimes depicts in his canvases, Ricky V. Ambagan is at the crossroads of his ongoing career of 18 years as a visual artist and he is aware of it. Too old to waste with paint yet too young to repeat his previous images he has painted in previous exhibitions. In Omaggio, he reminisces fantasy adventures as he honors the discipline of painting from unrecognized Italian painters resulting in new art historical perspectives and directions. As significant as the task of rediscovering memories for Ambagan, he flexes the depths and breadths of his artistic prowess in this creative provocation. Omaggio provides you the playfulness that he longs for and the passion that is still there all along. It leaves you with the feeling of nostalgia, contemplation and elation.

As a child it was his grandfather who was fond of storytelling in the family. Ambagan imbibed his sense of wonder in recalling world war exploits and how they survive living in poverty as they were rebuilding their lives. The tales ingrained much of how Ambagan would visualize scenes as he decided to become an artist since his grade school days. While researching for subject matters in art through the years, as a fine arts student Ambagan was enthralled by how these Italian masters have already advanced mixing three or more paints since the 15th century onwards; how highly artists commanded each court or community in every rural town of flourishing city. Much of what we learned as iconographies and iconologies emanated from their hands and minds. They classically composed a religious scene to the happenings of the apocalypse to Victorian romantic affair from their own canvases. Until this day much of what they churned out are still being copied by other painters unmindful of them as originator of ideas.

 Respecting these bygone masters Ambagan appropriates by building upon on what we have seen they have created. The brilliance of Ambagan is that he slices a chosen masterpiece by employing an element of awe by adding the present as nostalgia on his own. He adopts his grandfather’s narrative trait in delivering these tales that he cannot help but imagine not involving himself for the viewers. More often they could be his younger self with his friends or even his children. Some are cloaked with blanket as a theatrical device he used to do then or they take the form as one of the characters themselves or morphed in detail as the door or carving on the picture. Light is omnipresent, whether from a gas lamp, flying lantern, or a round hint of luminosity peering through from afar as a constant for Ambagan. How he positions them as part of the overall tableau revitalizing a masterpiece within a masterpiece all together is signature for him.

By nature, we are taken on a visual trance as time travelers in Omaggio. From Roman Coliseum to Neverland, Ambagan imbibes the thought that he knows where and how to take us. He even allows us to marvel at architectural details of doors and how artists before took us notice of the places and situations of a well-appointed time. We are not merely in an art gallery but in a palatial museum being transported to the setting of the scenes themselves. Impacting his viewers a kind-of-deja vu that unravels like the paintings have happened to one’s life yet they are only looking at it for the first time. In summation, as he steps on the shoulder of giants, it is Ambagan who is honored himself.


Arel Zambarrano: The Need for Needles


After a decade of art practice, ushering into a new chapter in his life Arel Zambarrano consistently continues from where he left off. For his third exhibition this 32-year old Ilonggo hones deeper into his craft and parlays his imaginative prowess by focusing on himself and in being most personal this time. The kind of act cleanses himself further as in his own words: “to overcome his inner demons.” 
Juggling many responsibilities Zambarrano does not have the luxury of time as he had before, as a new father, he now owes to his family their food and shelter and to his community being an architect yet he perceives belonging to a bigger society in humanity as an artist. For him art is not a way to make a living, rather it is a very human way of making life more bearable.

In Unlimited Optimism he renews this commitment and redefines himself more--what artistic path to take, his strengths and inner courage, dwelling more on self-discovery. His greatest ally has been his belief in himself that no one can help you except to be self-reliant to function more effectively and being true to your artistic philosophy.
At an early age when other kids were collectively playing along the seaside of Banate, one would find him drawing on the sand along the shores using a broom stick. The ethereal experience of his visual images being washed away by the waves excited him. At this early, though the living was rough and uncertain then, he wanted to create great structures of imagination and realized to be an artist someday.
Depicting needles on canvas has come a long way since 2007 when these represented all his hard-earned years as a self-supporting student of architecture in college. Needles will eventually connote his struggles, as well as triumphs in life. Being dirt poor didn’t hinder him, it is his belief that we all have needles in our lives, in many forms some too irritating to handle-be it hurdles, thorns, even in being too sensitive. Yet this too shall pass, hope remains for pain is the evidence of life.  
How Zambarrano unassailably survived from the pits is like an artistic pilgrimage to him. Allowing his gut and following his footsteps, his art has been autobiographical evoking himself in every painting with resemblance of himself in allegories by constant juxtaposing and careful composition he has constantly mastered. Zambarrano visually records his milestones and journeys through these protracted often surreal images.

Flexible Nerves series are ongoing witnesses to these revelations that occurred in his short and oftentimes topsy-turvy existence. His dragonflies are often constricted by red strings is a metaphor for change as they represent energy and enthusiasm eschewing pessimism and resentment. A venus fly trap is a reminder that everything comes at a particular time and space. Everything in life is enriching and rewarding. The eventuality of the pieces is an almost disruptive, caught-in-the-moment, uneasy depiction to bear. There is an alliterated meaning justifying every happening to his life. Beneath the thick oil paint in the back ground are his inner reflections. The shaft of the needle is a sturdy and blunted straight line encouraging the viewer to be brave under any circumstance. Done in pure oil paint, with no aid of sketch, like a versed prescient storyteller all these pieces have been painted like riddles in his mind before he set out to feature them on canvas. Every Zambarrano piece is rich in allegory as it is often laden with moral values and positive vibes. He has trained us to take long and hard to look and imbibe them.
In the Black Garden with Unlimited Optimism is a fitting centerpiece for its immensity and sheer attention to details. We are overwhelmed by the volume of needles each painted with a special thought in mind. Here art is more of a process. It is more of the evolving ephemerality that ignited him to accomplish this. One can unravel the long and arduous contemplation that underwent while physically rendering it on canvas.   
A committed spiritual man, Zambarrano may not be religious yet he was quite affected by the parable of the needle: it is easier for a camel to enter the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. A bleeding heart evoked at the dead center with its tentacle-like veins being entangled. Somewhat abstract in its portrayal while painting it he felt his aspirations for mankind unfolding. A brutally beautiful scene emerges for us to behold.
Those long slender tips in needles may be subversive for the fear of being pricked, or an unlikely site used in acupuncture for healing or even surgery, yet needles remind him also not to focus on earthly possessions but rather in basic human goodness. As an artist practicing in Iloilo, Zambarrano’s need for needles transcends him, making him cope with the earthbound burdens while at the same time displaying faith, joy and wholeness soaring into the end of his own quagmire. The brilliance of Zambarrano however embodies positivity as he prepares for bigger things to come his way. For him, artists are still highly valuable and constructive individuals in nation-building. Art is a revolting way of coping from life’s constant beatings and persecution. He feels obligated to foster art as his vocation in future.
Unlimited Optimism innately explores the intersection of Zambarrano’s life and his inventive interpretation morphed into relevant art. He is fulfilling himself so that others may be encouraged in attaining their new goals through his paintings. It is a genius solution to an ever bugging problem. Used to this existential routine, he just needs to embody optimism for himself firstly before others--to pay forward kindness and espousing hard-earned repurposed lessons over the years for everyone to get on his side.


Alfredo Esquillo: Passion/Play


For the uninitiated Alfredo Esquillo Jr. prefers to be in the peripheries as he favors the folk religious, the pre-colonial indigenous and fresh visual language of the young. Unlike other artists that concern themselves with the personal stuff and the plurality of found objects in CautionaryTales he readily inquires current issues and political events. Before he painterly essays his paintings, this time he abstractly warns his viewers, as he hopes they get his message.
Spending Time on a Chair
Usually after a long respite, it is exacting for Esquillo to venture a big leap in visual style. His impulse is to his impending themes and how aesthetically he could combine imagery—how will it morph—decorate his canvas without being too illustrative and to create new potential meanings. In experimenting with Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate (EVA) he rediscovers flatness as a spatial option. Though there are no portraitures in these seven paintings, he graphically exhausts us with anatomy connoting each body part with representations. What is recurring in every Esquillo piece are his staple symbols like megaphones with wings as messenger angels, his prophetic scrolls, and wave-like flames representing eminent danger ever present in our own mortality. Another penchant now is his composition done in earth pastel colors and curvillinear lines in existence.

Eve and Apples

Eve and Apples continues from where an earlier piece entitled Fall of Kolokoy has left off. Esquillo depicts the beauty of women as prey to their own trap leading to their eventual downfall. An inverted Eve is pierced while being suffocated by an overbearing of apples. The scroll which Esquillo uses for his pronouncements is not labeled as it tangles further the woman in question. She is even about to be in a deeper black void of uncertainty. Notice how a more playful Esquillo in transition uses flat frames or framing devices unlike before he would frame his subjects with depth resulting in 3-D perspectives.

A dormant reaction to one’s frustration is Pandora as Esquillo cleverly uses pulleys and gadgets as a creative tactic of expressing blind resignation to the political quagmire we are all into. Covering the subject over his face it is the mechanical interlude that excites the viewer, waiting the next moment to happen. We are all in this submissive stance.  

Camouflage is another retort pertaining to the violent Marawi siege in Mindanao. Two limbs representing survival soldier’s instincts humbly occupying the land while they firmly stand in denouncing atrocity. The megaphone with wings is Esquillo’s symbol of homeward angels with trumpets alluding that the Apocalypse is happening already. As it is present in war, instead of music it will be a noise of sermon brought about by hatred and deceit that will be heard.

Esquillo’s process does not use a sketch rather it is mostly titles in mind that dictates his imagery. Before setting everything up on canvas he already knows who and what the main figure is. He then compliments it with minor characters for him to explore further.

Another influence for Esquillo are rubber cut Japanese woodcut prints or ukiyo-e which  traditionally plays on flatness as foreground background using figuration lines. He translates them into his own version by using the EVA which is more adept to the indigenous materiality to his images highlighting linear lines and decorative features of his paintings.

Allegorically commenting recent moves to revise our constitution thus affecting our history, it was only the head and the clasping claws of the monster that was definite for Esquillo in Memory Eating Eagle. Attempting to oversize it bigger-than-life Esquillo drew up a big brain as it sucks up his victim’s consciousness only to be surprised that the monster’s eyes resemble a trigger of a gun. Accidental parallel occurrences like this pleases Esquillo no end.     

More than graphic device, biblical verses as texts concern Esquillo. In Babtism, controversial for him was when Jesus was babtized the Holy Spirit dawn on Him with a translated message as Di Kapayapaan, Kundi Tabak (He came not for Peace but for the Sword). For Esquillo there are many interpretations of truth and the word of God is open to various definitions. One will never be calm unless one understands their application to our lives.

The physical depiction of the man’s ribs reveals that God as an idea became man in the flesh. On the other hand, religion which is man’s concept was given a structure, thus, the simplest truths remain to be the most abstract of revelations. Notice how the prevalent maroon backdrop evidences of Esquillo’s Nazareno devotion. 

How Esquillo imbibed his father’s talent in deciphering texts from the Bible connoting varied meanings is evident. It is Esquillo’s brilliance how he then applies it with paints. Every combination of words used is complimented with implied goodness, value, and remembrances of his spiritual father.  

Interesting how appropriation and free association is reflected in 300 Year-Old Slave. A man is burdened with colonial pillars and through time our weary bodies sag. Emancipation in the form of an erupting volcano parallels as the soil erupts an impending revolution to unravel.  

300 Year-Old Slave
Dysfunctional morphing is at its prowess in Spending Time on a Chair. By his lonesome, a man whiles away his time unmindful of ethereal happenings around him. In an almost abstract rendering all Esquillo’s favored elements abound—clouds, flames, potencias,wings, thunders, monster’s ears--while the unwritten scroll wraps around him. A cup slips due to his absence while a cord is unplugged eschewing detachment from reality.

The man’s consciousness floats as he struggles in his spiritual condition between good and evil. As tension in his head overpowers him he is situated in a chair could it be he is deteriorating to oblivion or just apathetic in his confusion?

Esquillo continues to experiment through Cautionary Tales and is consistent to have no definite style, transferring from one period to another yet he goes back to a loop of regulars that binds together all these tendencies. He remains more natural in combining potential imagery, the more freedom to engage the further meanings are suggested. The deeper the political and social underpinnings, the more enamored his design sense becomes and the greater challenge is to simplify its overall aesthetic quality.

When Esquillo was younger he viewed his works to be too old for his age. Now that he is older he continues to aspire that they look younger and more relevant. As he celebrates 25 years as a visual artist this puts the nationalist in Esquillo in a brighter light of significance.


The Two Lives of Justin Nuyda


Justin Nuyda or Tiny to his friends has two lives—one as a lepidopterist and the other as a visual artist. It has been this way as far as he can remember, he says. He does not really know how one influences the other. One thing he is sure of though: one cannot live without the other.

His Winged Beauties

Tiny’s love for butterflies began at an early age. His dad (Hermel) and uncles (Rene, Glenn, Jeciel) were the pioneers in this specialized field of Lepidotera. These men had an intense passion for butterflies.

“My dad, writer Hermenigildo Nuyda, was second of six brothers who all grew up in Bicol in the 40s. They had a garden where butterflies roamed freely. Maganda ang kamalig nuon. They started naming them based on their looks and forms: vampire, forest king, green enchantress, spotty green, cabbage.” However, this fascination was interrupted by the Japanese occupation and then the American liberation.

It was only in 1952 that Nuyda brothers became serious collectors. Their exploration grew from the kamalig to forests, jungles, hills, and mountains. This was the era that the famed (George and Karl) Semper’s butterfly collection seized to be mere description. In 1954, the Nuyda siblings led the way to Mt. Halcon. In 1957-64, Glenn Nuyda ventured further into the Palawan wilderness.

The first generation of Nuydas was joined by a second generation led by Tiny who even today continues to be the most outstanding lepidopterist, even surpassing his father and uncles. Butterfly catching may be a bygone activity but for Tiny then it was what he lived for. He adds: “The earliest butterfly I caught was when I was in grade school. I was 6, I even cried. I pointed it to my father, di ko nahuli but nahuli nya. At 7-8 years, I would tag along, hawak ko yung braso ng tatay ko, baka maiwanan ako sa gubat.”

He continues, “At 12, I was already catching butterflies. I would hear stories from butterfly collectors describing what they could not catch then I would go to the place to look for them. I would even go up when before there were no trails. Kabayo ka, lakad ka. There are certain butterflies that live on certain altitude only. Malaria and other diseases were your enemies.”

In 1957, he ventured alone or with his father-in-law, Colin Threadway, head of Procter & Gamble at that time, who taught him how to describe butterflies. They would eventually go to Mindoro, Palawan and Northern Luzon in the 60s.

It was also at this time that Tiny frequented Mindoro, Palawan and Northern Luzon. In 1968, in a Bukidnon trip with Treadway, they went up 3,000-4,000 feet. They did not know that they were on the slopes of Mt. Kitanglad. It was there that he saw Delias baracasa. The first butterfly named after him was also caught in Mt. Katinglad, the Delias nuydaorum, in 1975, it was named after him by Dr. Schroeder of Senkenberg Museum in Frankfurt, Germany.

Tiny would climb many other mountains in search of butterflies. It was on Mt. Halcon where he caught many sub species and on Mt Banahaw where he found exactly the same butterflies as in Mt Halcon (except for chikkei). He frequented the Babuyan Islands in Camiguin, Calayan Island, and Sibuyan. He believes they are somehow connected because they have the same species of butterflies.

Tiny elevated his study of butterfly into a formal discipline: “In 1993, we formed the FilKulisap society for us to describe our own findings through its scientific journal. Before we did not have the capacity to name species because there was no venue but we had photos and butterfly collectors could testify knew about it,” Tiny proudly recalls.

In 1995, Tiny donated some species and started a comprehensive butterfly farm at the Assumption College, Peace and Care for Earth Ministry (PACEM Eco-Park) in Antipolo, Rizal. Given the cool climate and being a largely secluded space, butterflies breed and freely can roam there. So far, it is the only comprehensive haven where these winged beauties can be fully appreciated.

“I go abroad not because of my art but because of my butterfly collection. I’ve been to the Leiden Museum in Rotterdam and Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt. The Leiden has impressive and extensive collection of tropical butterflies found in the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea,” he mentions.

Tiny has named over a hundred endemic sub species and new species such as Archillides hermelli which he named it after his father in 1992 and the Moduza urdaneta ayni named after his daughter in 1993. There are also many sub species in Mt. Apo. Other butterflies he named are Lexias satrapes hiwaga in 1989, Tajuria igolotiana bonito named after his cousin and Dacalana halconesis after Mt. Halcon, both in 1999. The DENR has prohibited catching butterflies since 2000.

His Waiflike Brushstrokes

“In art, there are unusual colors that just can’t go with each other but they exist in a butterfly,” says Tiny. “For example black and yellow. With a thin line of gray you can put them together. How light to dark is. You can witness that in a butterfly, most colors exist in them already.”

He learned a lot of this from the late National Artist Cesar Legaspi who had a special fondness for him. He used to visit Mang Cesar when he was still in high school: “You cannot go wrong with nature, it is always right,” Mang Cesar would tell him. “He would look for fallen kaimito leaves pin them his canvas, and use them as inspiration for his paintings,” Tiny recalls.

Tiny stood by his own visual language, having favored his own kind of abstraction more than another kind of realism. His abstraction is always met with praises although it is not being categorized. Even Tiny does not know what to call his style: “Before, it was called “surreal” or ‘modern art.’ It’s not abstract because you see landscapes; only good things appear. It is not also conservative because no such thing appears. I stood by my style since my first one-man exhibition in Solidaridad. In fact there are places I go to that remind me that look like a painting not realizing I had already painted it. I would play with gaze. A painting should communicate to a person with the person who wants it.”

The colors of the butterflies influence Tiny’s work: “I have my own choices of colors but a lot of times, I prefer color combinations in butterflies. There are colors that are real but do not look right. He veers towards more natural earth colors, warm side not the bright and luminous.”

Tiny’s first exhibition was held at Solidaridad Galleries in 1968. He was already doing his Search Mindscapes theme. In fact, this is where he met National Artist Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera who lent him an easel when he was installing.

Tiny’s process is organic; he primes his canvases with as much as seven coatings. He often uses colors that play with the eyes. His colors come backwards and forwards. However, he only uses white for blending and he scrapes it. He adds: “There are some works I started five years ago which I only finished now because I like it better than the last one I did. Even if somebody likes it but if I don’t like it, I don’t give it. An artist must go from one level to the next. If it doesn’t work, change to another level or improve what you have done. When you are doing something, your mind is so focused, unmindful of the wrong. I would ask the opinion of other artists.”

Tiny was a founding member and closely associated with the Saturday Group. He narrates: “It all started in 1968 when HR Ocampo bumped into writer Alfredo Roces in Ermita one Friday. Fond of banana split ice cream, he invited him for a snack at the Taza de Oro along UN Avenue. They both enjoyed the camaraderie that they agreed to meet with other artists the next Saturday on the same place and Saturdays thereon.”

Tiny would join them on the third Saturday for the next ten years. This was a loose organization that would attract an entire generation of artists. Some of these eventually became National Artists HR Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi, Vicente Manansala, Ang Kiukok, Jose Joya, and Benedicto Cabrera. Other artists like Federico Alcuaz and Juvenal Sanso (whenever in town), Mauro Malang Santos, Ed Castrillo, Onib Olmedo, and  Sym Mendoza. Even writers Rod Paras-Perez and Leo Benesa.  

“You can be a member if you attend twice. Younger artists mingled with older artists. Initially, there was no president. Ocampo was just the spokesman. Everybody, no matter, how young had a say. I was their pet being the youngest of the founding members. They were in their late 40s, I was in my 20s. So mga bata pa rin sila,” he gleefully reminisces.

They would have nude sketching, out of town trips and annual exhibitions. They went to the studio of Botong Francisco in Angono at one time. To this day, most of his lifelong friends were from this artistic bunch.

There has been a resurgence of young and old collectors buying his works however Nuyda laments how young artists could be more expensive than National Artists. In the galleries, they can’t sell it at that price. He plans to have a black and white plus one color show soon for his future mindscapes.

For his butterflies, he would like to write many subspecies in the FilKulisap journal as there have been no big news in the last ten years. And there’s that long overdue Philippine Butterfly book. Eventually I would like to donate all my holotype first caught to a worthy museum for every Filipino to view and marvel at.

Like his butterflies, Tiny is the last of his species. Like his paintings, his life is a masterpiece-in-progress.  


Home is Where the Art Is


I See Them Bloom, 2017

 “Employing the air-brush technique in watercolor, he paints in a highly realistic, almost photographic style but situates it within a geometric scheme using multiple points of view.”
Art critic Alice Guillermo describing Rhythm of Cloth Production, Jaime Gubaton’s winning piece in ArtPetron National Student Art Competition in 2002.

If his first grand prize win in a national student art competition were to be his milestone, 36 year-old Jaime Gubaton has had a remarkable artistic journey for almost half of his life now.
It is quite appropriate for his third solo exhibition to be aptly titled Home as Gubaton waxes sentimental and dabbles into nostalgia by revisiting his past imaginative drives and employing these previous visual styles by painting them in a grand manner resulting in these recent works.  
Field of Dreams
For Gubaton, every painting undergoes a long and arduous process; every line, hue and a gesture on canvas applies with it time well-spent perfecting that approach. Style-wise, Gubaton considers himself a realist by tradition despite the prevalent expressionist tendencies of his contemporaries. Yet it still is his being a bygone romantic that they cannot imbibe. With his subdued colors reminiscent of earth tones in art nouveau strokes, Gubaton is an old soul dwelling in a city. As a quaint artist, he fondly surveys his surroundings and directly responds to his observations by his affection and distinct dabs of paint.
A literal going back to one’s sources, Home incorporates his gears, flowers and birds—be it pigeons, lovebirds, or maya-maya--in organic, endemic and substantial circumstances. Separately they seem iconic yet belonging together they morph into a new pictorial vocabulary by recombining them.

Gubaton depicts the images as realistic as possible--working at his bare graphical mode as an illustrator: a radiant face of a loved one be it his lovely wife or children surrounded emanating with beauty such as birds, flowers and butterflies, they are his constant testimonials to a life still worth existing.
Journey, 2017
Indulging in his iconography, ever the positive his gears slowly long for progress, as he counters the urban decay we have been slowly grinding into. His pigeons remind him when they used to live with his father-in-law who breeds them on the building rooftop. Balancing nature and technology, a striking image of these winged beauties perched on electric posts would win for Gubaton a place in the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence (MADE) in the Painting category; that nature maybe in peril but there is inherent goodness in all of us. Manila may still be noble and ever loyal despite its grim uncertainty abounded with shanties.
Gubaton’s color schemes mingle well with his Magrittean compositions. Depending on his theme, it is either predominantly gray or sepia in mood. He subdues his colors with preference to mixing complimentary colors in sync with his shy demeanor. Not straight from the tube, he is too familiar with the behavior of his paints. Sometimes he favors acrylic that is hard to do with oil and vice versa.  
I Say Hello, 2017
When the main subject has been rendered and dried up, he then adds the geometrical patterns, and fine linear renderings, although by definition he engages in them reminiscent of Arturo Luz.  A master in composition, his houses may even be inverted in topsy-turvy delight yet Gubaton is meticulous in locating their firm balance, even placing grids to situate them as he has always been highly conceptual and controlled in his metaphors.

Layers have been Gubaton’s trademark evident in his winning in ArtPetron and the DPC DPC Visual Arts Competition. They have always been there, it has been his one foot in the contemporary art scene, Enhancing his foreground by using shadows in his background he has heavily favored optical illusions like repeated refrains in a song.  
Charming titles reflect the timeless elegies Gubaton has crafted: For Your Eyes Only, Hello Sunshine and You Say Goodbye. He is ever pious not brash or harsh as viewed in his pieces. They evoke a domesticated feeling or a visual flow having a unified aesthetic presence integrated from its simple coherence of his oeuvre understood by the interplay of his experienced painting principles. Often mistaken as print because of its smoothness, he counters his brush technique textured (impasto) in acrylic yet he finishes in oil.
You Say Goodbye, 2017
Home is beyond stoic structures and spick and span surroundings, it is an amalgam resonating a semblance of family, security, and intimacy. It is induces comfort, belonging and harmony looking long and hard. It is Gubaton at his prowess as a painter; it is soft and sheer painting to the hilt. In Home, Gubaton has come full circle it is as if he never left.