Don Bryan Bunag: Stranger Things


There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain

In My Life
The Beatles

For his 5th solo exhibition, Sa Tabon, Don Bryan Bunag returns home once more. Picking up from where he left off in his first show, he becomes more personal and dwells deeper by capturing bygone scenes that reprise meaningful stages in his life.  

Situated in Bulacan, Bulacan, Baranggay San Francisco is what is popularly known as Tabon. It used to be vast expanses of fields where farming sustained the people living there. For the longest time, Tabon maintained its rural culture--which came alive only when a religious procession is being observed or a local carnival is set up--to mark its annual festivities. Away from his parents, Bunag grew up here when grandmother took him under her loving care as he was about to attend pre-school. Spending his entire formative years with his extended family and life-long friends, Bunag was accustomed living simple way in a rustic manner.  

Compared to his contemporaries in the art scene--whose fascination revolves around the floral, the grotesque and the macabre--Bunag does not want to be boxed in a format or be loud with his brushstrokes. His visual style may be academic with processes influenced by Titian, Rubens and Rembrandt, he prefers and is well- versed with fleeting moments and impermanence of nostalgia evoking silence. The ambience of Tabon sets this tone for the exhibit depicting memory with what was familiar and ethereal for this award winning visual artist.

Tabon series are eighteen scenarios--each capturing the meaningful moments Bunag got to spend around people in his most sensitive self and what was most memorable to him. He reminisces his time spent perched on a tree with his sister or on a swing while flying kites with friends; his riding bicycles, playing basketball and swimming in the pristine rivers of Tabon are faintly recorded.

His intimate bonding activities with his family such going to mass or being carried just to touch Jesus’s feet in a chapel wrought by his mother’s abiding spirituality can also be witnessed. Even how his grandfather brings him to school and taught him to play the drums are informally documented. He once saw an old farm with a herd of lambs sparked on him the dream of having the same space to take care of such genteel flock.

Typical to the young and melancholic Bunag he was often seen laying on the ground looking at the heavens—sometimes on a fence, in a bench or lying on the grass whiling away his time, observing the images formed in the clouds. His own quiet time is also impressed upon here—staring at a pond or looking up in the sky while imagining things--are mutely embedded. These were his initial manifestations of the kind of art practice he is espousing now.

Done in loose textures of impressionism, there is evident stillness in Bunag’s subjects--with only a hint of figuration involved—as if he leaves to his viewers to situate themselves in them. Only the truly experienced artists like Bunag could impart a mood piece, which is quite universal to the viewer, yet leave something distinct into them. Each work is anecdotal, rich in meaning and symbolisms--an ode to time and how it moves together with the heavens all at the same time. Placed side by side on shelves, they are like one long reel of film marked by Bunag’s own passage of realities. He has adopted filmmaker’s tools in these small paintings marked with cinematic aesthetics.

Bunag left Tabon when his grandmother died and he was a year short of graduation in 2012. When Bunag came back early this year he could barely recognize the sense of place Tabon was. Prodding him to question: Can one physically leave a place yet preserve how it once was in one’s own memory?

The encroaching vines and tall grass represent Bunag as he saw himself in the lush vegetation grown through time as depicted Tabon 1 with him in mind—a kind of portrait of Bunag as foliage. Bunag was waxing sentimental upon seeing how much Tabon has changed since he last been to it. Tabon 3 is a mossy testament to that--an ode to the last remaining lot beside the factory in Tabon. It speaks of the plight of Tabon it is purposely misaligned to connote much change.  

Tabon 2 remains the mysterious gate where old people were saying a Chinese lived beyond the wall from the gate. He was warned whoever trespasses will be killed. Until this day Bunag has not unravel if the story is just a myth since he saw rust already eating the gate and untended grass has embraced it--only shows no one has entered it after a long time.

After a well-thought-of process Bunag likely starts with a sketch—sometimes hurriedly as his hand tries to keeps up with his imagination. Then he channels them on tweed fabric. For two years now Bunag favors how acrylic is reflected upon it. A signature Bunag is the monotony of a single color--what was once sepia has now become more basic in charcoal gray. What is more important to Bunag is the narrative of the story than any suggestive hue.

Layering like old school classical painting, Bunag usually prefers water-based paints having started out as a watercolorist. He favors acrylic and graphite as under painting to glazing. Sometimes finishing off with oil paint. His work typically has 7-9 layers depending on the different tones of consistencies. Each layer has an effect--he wants it raw and textured in strokes in the end.

Tabon 1
Bunag relied most of these Tabon images to his memory since most of the locations he is familiar with no longer exist--giving emphasis on unmediated sentimentality. It is only now that Bunag realized he left Tabon but it did not leave him. He wanted to depict Tabon of yore in the sincerest way and most mature rendering since he started painting. He wanted a room full of memories and he has done that. More than the lost rice fields and pristine rivers he wanted to capture Tabon as a feeling, as a mood like a longing sigh or and accidental swoon, as if he feels for the viewer. At a young age he is already an old soul by how he has gathered a plethora of memories to paint them in a lifetime.

For now, Bunag is finally home—as if he never left.


Jason Moss: Pun Intended


Lost Highway
In these often difficult and dangerously distracting times, when even the art scene has unclearly been demarcated by spectators and speculators, there lies as many levels--on how people react to things happening around and within us--as there are many layers of reading a Jason Moss painting. And depending on how much you are familiar with his aesthetics one gets to know the extent of his creative, spiritual and sexual take on our ongoing torments and traumas.
In Silence and Other Fiends, Moss reiterates his witty bespoke ways of dealing with issues, as he is well versed with many diverse and imaginative skills as an illustrator, animator, and editorial cartoonist rolled into one: the personal becomes political, as the public is private deepening farther on which frequency one adjusts how the hanging of these four artworks are set to be intensified.
As Moss continues to use spaces devoid of figures and figurines, rather than focusing more on a particular mood or feeling, he impressively paints with his mind as his landscapes rationalizing his ongoing disappointments, despair and depression as a call to action. In so doing the viewer voluntary situates himself in the imageries, taking in all portrayals hinted at him or with him in mind (emphasis on the masculine).
The Sectional
The Sectional is set against an off beaten path of lush rice fields with nipa huts behind looming mountains along a pristine river in front done in crass Mabini school of painting. An unidentified flying object (UFO) by the powers that be blatantly violates the semblance of the picturesque and starts dividing the land, literally and figuratively. Signifying the government’s false promises, policies and programs that divisively wreck the havoc to our nation’s progress, Moss wakes/wokes us up with this warning that not only are vast expanses of lands are being converted into housing subdivisions, they are also turned into shallow graves of farmers who till these fertile lands. The Sectional is a war against clichés and takes a pun at the blatant realism in the currently convoluted Philippine art market marked by art fairs and auctions.
Hall of Strabismus

Significant to Moss is how his visual elements align with his hidden messages conveying them in the most suggestive way possible adding to their acquired lyrical value. In Hall of Strabismus the viewer’s gaze is unsettled and confusingly drawn by the two paintings on both corners of the paintings yet one’s attention is even led to that writing on the wall--written in Ilocano, inked by blood. One would have to decipher the suggestive semiotics to be able to grapple the lieu of its signifier to unravel what is being signified.

Moss’s discipline is that he draws every day filling up his notebooks whatever it is that affects him personally like the back of his hand or socially how clouds form the cumulus of his anger. Currently fixated with colors and textures as seen in Message of the Medium. However now that ethereal ambience has quietly permeated the viewer, look closely to decipher what it implicates in-your-face.
Another mood swing by Moss is Lost Highway as referenced from an actual photographed his friend took. As if it is delivering his sentiments around that something is awfully wrong with society to have a loud phallic symbol like this being paraded and concurrently leaving it all to oblivion. With a firm statement attached to it—one just has to stand up on what you think is right.
Moss’s concern for other people’s silence are brought about by their fear of being isolated. They will just keep opinions to themselves rather than voicing out or be shut down (and be deleted forever). Media is an important factor that relates to both the dominant idea and people's perception. The assessment of one's social environment may not always correlate with existing reality. This is where art plays a key role in revealing and being trusted to express the truth--even in codified forms that Jason wittily draws upon.
The Medium is the Message
Organically Silence and Other Fiends portrays the kind of chill out state Moss is embracing/embarking himself in--as the world turns and the current events happening by the moment. It could also be the lamentations of an artist who has found fulfillment in opting out of the upgraded process of art-making. From posting your artworks on social media to having videos of your new exhibitions, to participating in the next biennales.

As Moss celebrates his silver year as an artist, he just can’t keep up with the demands of his trade. He just wants to continue drawing every day and would only exhibit if he has something new and loud to say on canvas.


Ricky Ambagan: Connecting the Dots


Wind of Change
In these trying and often troubled times, when even a body of water or a group of islands is gravely being disputed, Pangaea by Ricky V. Ambagan reiterates what we have been and knew all along—that we are one and universal. As evidenced in geography marked by the broken connections of land masses in coastlines of what used to be a super continent, Pangaea simulates this united treatise through a shared cultural vocabulary through visual arts.

Ambagan’s themes revolve around science, culture, religion and even philosophy. He celebrates man’s greatest sociological and historical issues infusing them into our most personal sentimentalities. If Ambagan honored unknown Italian masters the last time in Omaggio, he concerns himself in present-day realities in Pangaea. Contemporary anxieties like global warming, environment degradation and cultural amnesia seriously occupy his canvases of varying sizes. Using omnipresent children, lamps representing souls, and luminosity as a positive graphic handle as signature in his works, Ambagan is a poet of the palette combining the local and global, the ethnic and cultural, in adventure-filled settings-- mixing naïve and sophisticated testimonials--straining out what limits the imagination. Ambagan has brought back storytelling by painting narratives into what our collective memory is--we are all shared beings. What appeals to us also affects other peoples from the other side of the earth.

Hidden Gem
His figures are often stuck in a moment—pausing an action—bravely appropriating with abandon popular and critical iconographies from diverse milieus. An interesting dialogue emerges among his subjects. Witness two kids in Hidden Gem, as they are in wonder while in search of something. Both are beside Bansky’s Girl with Balloon with the Easter Island statues and the Stonehenge looming in the background. Ambagan has taken risks in depicting his images and confidently attempting at playfulness. Consider Fix You which has the elements in a traditional Chinese luck signifiers; in Chosen One where our hero favors an imperial soldier in the afterlife; and Happy Thoughts which reminisces on lightness and impermanence of our being, as exuded by Japanese carp kites representing courage and persistence. They become dragons once they hurdle the current--all these adventure relate to Ambagan’s oriental take on civilization, as it happened through cornucopia of classic archeological findings and popular icons.

Chosen One
Mortality and the future of existence affects Ambagan’s consciousness as witnessed in Sleep Tight wherein the presence of a panda is a cause for alarm as flying lanterns provide a semblance of dismal hope in the prevailing darkness; the man in a unicycle has always been a recurring Ambagan creation in his previous shows. It denotes temporal suspension of belief while awaiting for a reversal of fortune of bigger things to come. It makes an appearance in Wind of Change in what appears to be a broken clock signifying twist of fate. As one is facing uncertainty in life’s constant events, one just has to move in order to be still. Cool Change speaks of post-apocalyptic scenarios that may scare the viewer but mind you these are not Ambagan’s intentions. More of a constant reminder as observed in Deep Peace ushering a grim reminder that the world is much darker and deeper than what a jellyfish experiences in the ocean—that we should practice contentment and live within our means to be at peace.

New Beginning

Dramatic interpretation of birth and constant re-birth are depicted in New Beginning and Against the Flow. New Beginning revisits a more cryptic Noah’s Ark as evident in the fossilized animals representing ancient times which blended well in the famous Biblical wrecked ship submerged in water. Against the Flow follows the circle of life as a boy freely floats like a baby featuring that there are more intelligent people born--despite the critical mortality caused by hunger and poverty--while at a young age they are faced with monsters of age-old curses. Puff ushers in sentimentality as that 70s song by Peter, Paul and Mary beckons eschewing nostalgia taking us back to bygone days filled with nostalgia. Finally, I Surrender finishes off Ambagan’s longing for equanimity and transience as it summarizes his faith for humanity. It overwhelms as it grabs your attention showing the scale of man as a mere speck compared to the towering cross. It is as spiritual as Ambagan can get without favoring any religion.

 Against the Flow
Ambagan’s long and arduous process of art making starts off with words as he reflects upon them while listening to audiobooks or watching documentaries on inspiring men such as Machiavelli, Alexander the Great and Gengis Khan. Early in the morning, as soon as he wakes up, he inspires himself with he calls as his “quiet time.” Upon recharging his thoughts he then gears up as he recreates his words into images sometimes translating them in 3D fashion even sculpting them on paper. Upon careful scrutiny on his pieces, Ambagan finds the appropriate colors and emotions rendering them in textured brushstrokes. His palette may use bright or subdued colors as deemed necessary. Ambagan wants subjects shouting their tempered brilliance in silence. His commitment is to his craft and his pursuit for emancipation runs deep within his subjects’ character.

Ambagan is versed in carefully composed stories on his masterpieces. He has no regular pattern and prefers to deconstruct images from various sources. Lately he assumes the role of a cinematographer in the way he presents his artistic scenes. His prowess lies in his moments of delight-- being theatrical on canvas is his aesthetics.

Pangaea is a hopscotch where you can customize how you would like to connect Ambagan’s framed pictures to comprise your one big bespoke exhibition. It disturbs your peace as you do your rounds in this year’s Manila Art. It is interventionist against convention done in Ambagan’s in-your-face realism—a kind of counter culture being introduced into the mainstream. It is an adventure with challenges wherein the hero wins in the end. Like a chess game, viewers can either take the lead as king or queen or be a pawn rooting in the sidelines. No matter what we shall overcome—as we are all in this together.


Michael Delmo: Game of Thorns


Lingi, 2019
Oftentimes to espouse the contemporary, artists painstakingly create alternate realities of their own making. From organic cast of subjects, to ethereal settings, even backing them up with personal myths and mythologies as main narratives. Tunok by Michael Delmo pursues this direction and attests to his belief in an enchanted inner vision wrought by fantastical creatures in eerie landscapes.

Growing up in Iloilo, Delmo was already exploring these anthropomorphic characters in high school. He remembers filling up his notebooks with these spontaneous drawings with sheer delight. One time, an obviously disappointed teacher, in fact, threw the notebook in disgust when she saw Delmo’s renderings instead seeing of academic notes. 

Suhong, 2019
The first thing one would normally wonder in a Delmo piece is how well he does it. He is by nature an initiator—wanting to be a trailblazer on his own, away from their conventional modes of mixing paints. With no drawing reference, he usually draws from his subconscious straight to an inviting blank white canvas. He does not yet know the image but he knows what it is all about. Delmo uses Hiligaynon words as titles in expounding his world-view. In explaining further, Delmo supposedly feels relief for every concept finished off on canvas—a figurative pierced thorn is taken out of his worries—like an unloaded burden off his back.

Delmo has even invented his own paint brushes, sourcing them from discarded chicken feathers. Depending on their application they satisfy his precise brushstrokes and translate his bespoke iconographies. Although his visual style is homegrown he remains to be authentic despite the current art practice today that has evolved into a coy and crass creative exercise.

Sum-ok, 2019

Hulbar, 2019
Delmo’s realism counters the traditional genres for it to redefine itself into new actualities in its own right. It adheres to that old school of eye to hand skill in service of the imagination. Often eschewing the banal and sacred, it defies fixation with the tested norms. Looking up to his fellow Ilonggo artists as influences, practicing art in the peripheries has taught Delmo new and fresh perspectives he has conceptualized with his own distinct and evocative expressions. As if enlightening the viewer, Tunok is striking for its diversity and spontaneity—a performance on canvas. It has no shared style or desired intentions yet a common thread persists that individually he is capable of imagination and commitment to the craft. His paintings are organically breathing, ethereally impermanent and continues to grow on you--long after seeing the exhibition.   

Tunok by Michael Delmo was the culminating exhibit of his three-month stay at the Artletics' 22 Narra Residency Program. It was held at the Tagaytay Contemporary.


Ejem Alarcon: Paws and Reflect


In the Beginning Ejem Alarcon strips down all complexities possible in a painting. Against a stark gray background, he leaves out only the barest essentials espousing the most basic core of human nature--love for one another, nurturing our family, and how simple kindness still matters. A fine arts graduate Alarcon had to unlearn what he was taught in college by breaking conventional artistic norms paying little attention to perspectives and perceptions. His canvases are void of people as outsized animals relate to one another, blurring realities as subjects are depicted in direct visual impact. For Alarcon, in a blatant reversal of fortune, furry creatures—some endangered, endemic and even personal--are his preferred images. Devising his own visual language, he concerns himself more with what they signify and how their inherent character relate to daily aphorisms.

In this third solo exhibition, Alarcon continues to be fixated with animals endearing to him as they are better in expressing what seems concealed and obvious in our outlook in life. These paintings were also inspired by lessons learned from watching documentaries and real experiences marked by imagination, memory and longings.

As early as seven years old Alarcon’s fondness for dogs started to grow. He even opted to become a dog trainer himself and has multiple bites as badges of honor in keeping them. Canine for him symbolizes guidance, faithfulness, loyalty and alertness. He extended his passion by illustrating them on canvas.

A Doberman is morphed into a father who protects his home, as guarded under the stability of a wooden stool. For Alarcon the game changed when he became a husband and father of two girls himself so did his approach to life as his family became his utmost priority.  An omnipresent eye remains a constant as it symbolizes love, reality and respect in Greek mythology while some cartoon character like Donald Duck and Tom and Jerry make cameo appearances, adding a bit of pop while endemic birds from Palawan flutter to decorate and complete the picture. Evident by his being aggressive as he is king of his abode, this fiercest of dogs wears a crown.

Depending on his intentions the sizes of Alarcon’s dogs vary. Humility is emphasized as such that Bloodhound is bigger than a St. Bernard. The Cocker Spaniel, which is the Queen of England’s pet is evidently unmindful of his royal lineage is permitted to interact with them. Alarcon wants his canvases light and fun to the hilt. Notice how his signature party hats put smiles to his subjects--life is a gift and every day we should use it to spread the good cheer that we are alive and well. Fond of nostalgia, as a bringer of happiness, he fills in his canvasses again with animation of yore from Bugs Bunny, Garfield, even two of Snow White’s dwarfs are featured on another canvas.

Contemporary art has the power to observe life in another dimension and step back in candid defilement as an alternative viewpoint. Alarcon’s sizeable pieces are more like graphical parables. Each scene has a lasting positive effect for viewers. Only Alarcon can come up with a kaleidoscope gathering of the vulnerable Zebra, the endangered reindeer, the care-free butterfly, the pristine stork, the playful whale, the stubborn goat and the critical cat to co-exist harmoniously with each other, reminding us that we all breathe and share as one brady bunch. All must adopt/adapt with one another in our common habitat.

Of the four brother who are all practicing artists, Alarcon is the most senior and a natural initiator. He wanted to be a trailblazer on his own, away from their conventional modes. He even invented his own paint brushes sourcing from make-up kits and construction tools to satisfy his precise strokes and translate his bespoke iconographies.

Inspired by documentaries Alarcon sketches his studies as big ideas strike him. Upon translating them on paper he composes further on the computer before finalizing his images on canvas. Of his long and arduous process he finds painting his subjects’ diverse furs most soothing. Alarcon certifies each artwork with a seal-like vintage coin as signature.

In the end although humans have bigger brains than animals it is their gift of language to communicate their immediate joys and fears that makes them different from us. Although we allow the development of reason and morals, animals appear more ethical in most considerations. Alarcon has clearly proven that we even can learn more from animals than we are from ourselves.
These pieces are wrought with behaviors and attitudes similar to amalgam of virtues. For the viewer they may be of unstructured pop surreal imagery, for Alarcon each canine and other creatures were carefully chosen amplifying values worth emulating. The strength of Alarcon’s imagery is how easy for the viewer to imbibe his messages like it is offered in-your-face for the taking, leaving the exhibition more learned and feeling better about yourself.

Beginning is ongoing at the Art Verite