1.4.21

Billy Bagtas: The Good Son

BY JAY BAUTISTA |

“His figures are un-anatomical, his work more evocative than literal. Aside from these we think De Guzman is recording some metaphysical insights by means of his personal mythology," written by then Cultural Center of the Philippines Director Raymundo Albano on Gomburza Martyrs (1971) by Jaime De Guzman (b.1942) which prominently hangs on the second floor of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Building.

 

It was in Pasinaya, the CCP Open Arts Festival in 2015 that Billy Bagtas first caught attention to this visual masterpiece which was De Guzman’s artistic ode to the three Filipino priests who inspired Jose Rizal to write the El Filibusterismo. For close to an hour Bagtas was enthralled and unmindful of his friends who were with him--intently stared at the mural which features a distortion of the three priests as martyrs done in feverish brushstrokes and emotive colors.

Bagtas was immediately transformed by Gomburza Martyrs as these Filipino clergy ignited the clamor for Philippine revolution during the 19th century. And every chance Bagtas gets to visit the CCP he would never fail to see the De Guzman mural like a venerated image with religious devotion.

From the Gomburza Martyrs Bagtas would learn and gain the confidence that paintings can be dark both in theme and in composition; that one can include one’s anger, doubts, dreams with the surreal historical and bespoke myths and legends as Jaime De Guzman proved it can be done in black and red. In his first solo exhibition God Bless Our Home Bagtas introduces us to his beloved family and provides a tell-all tale of the inner workings of their Caloocan household.

Luha at Pangil


In the Name of the Father

Our story starts off fresh in a bakery in Orion, Bataan where Bagtas’ parents, Crisanto and Cory met. Cory was working there when Crisanto chance upon her and introduced himself. He then asked her employer if she could go out with him on her next availability. Cory is seven years older than Crisanto but the age did not matter and soon they were an inseparable couple.

Soon Crisanto would accept an offer to work in Saudi Arabia for their common future. By the time he finished with his working contract he went home and married Cory and eventually settled down.

Crisanto, being a natural tinker and works well in a junkshop, is the one Bagtas thinks he owes his creativity to, imbibing his meticulous attention to detail. Crisanto’s biological genes however may be his only contribution to their blood relations. Deep within him is a man exuding with false machismo. He was once a philandering husband leaving his family for another woman. Being ghoulish and full of deceit, Bagtas paints him as is with protruding horns and hanging pangs in Bukal ng Buhay, Tatlong Sungay. Despite Crisanto’s shortcomings, this painting occupies the biggest exhibiting space not only in the gallery but in Bagtas’ heart in his honor. Their ongoing relationship is one wrought in love-hate. Bagtas remains to be a true Christian and as a dutiful son, Bagtas still accords him with the greatest respect.

In Aso Krus Bagtas even strikes a pun intended only for him as he calls to attention Crisanto’s four unruly dogs who furiously roams around the house during the day. They even spread their litter everywhere. No wonder Bagtas sees his father as being a dog himself later on.

In Luha at Pangil Bagtas is elegiac as he hopes his father will still humble himself and repent for his past sins not only as a husband and father but as a mortal being. As tears freely flow, one day he will weep, ask forgiveness and maybe be proud of what Bagtas has already accomplished as a visual artist.

 

And of the Son

The Bagtases are a brood of three children with Bagtas being the middle child. They are your typical Filipino family barely surviving their daily struggle with the economics of life in the suburbs of Caloocan. In fact they were once saddled and lived in a former pig pen with only curtains as decoration.

Cryam is Bagtas’s elder brother and one he is closest with. In Panalangin ng Laman Bagtas believes that he will find heavenly favor and be converted from his earthly ways as his stigmata suggests. Last April, during the intense lockdown, Cryam’s girlfriend suffered a miscarriage. This fortuitous event has affected the whole family and overwhelmed Bagtas who was already preparing for his show. He timely marked the sad milestone in Anghel Gabay (Bulaklak) mourning for the baby’s passing as Buchokoy (his name) was already two months in his brother’s girlfriend’s womb as evident in Anghel Gabay (Kaluluwa).


Anghel Gabay (Kaluluwa)


When Bagtas become Born Again Christian his works became darker yet he introduced other colors particularly violet and pink signifying acceptance as a leap of faith. He will often use them to mean it is done and a gentle reminder to remember them only in memory. Such is Tao (Alaala) where he immortalizes his dearly departed nephew and never to relive the pain again.

 

And of the Holy Spirit

Yvonne is Bagtas’ youngest sibling. She was adopted from an aunt who almost sold her because they lived in dire poverty and could no longer support her. Yvonne was adopted by Bagtas’s parents and treated her as their own. She is the first to be renewed as a Born Again Christian. One day, when Bagtas was so distraught and needed help after a failed suicide attempt, it was Yvonne that he reached out. Bagtas pleaded her to bring him to the Lord.

Two years ago, 18 year-old Yvonne got pregnant by her boyfriend. Sa Pagiyak at Pagtanggap captures that moment when the family found out her delicate condition. Garbed in white Yvonne gets emotional as Cory in her floral aura anguish with her. Succeeding this scene is Apoy at Dugo where Yvonne and her baby Ishang have already strengthened their bond as mother and daughter. In Salitang Dumurog sa Sariling Puso Bagtas reminds Yvonne’s boyfriend to keep his promise to marry her and provide for their better future.


Apoy at Dugo


Before Bagtas was saved by the Lord in 2017, he was experiencing many pains both physical and emotional in nature. He had a recurring ache on the chest and lower abdomen. In fact during his graduation with a Fine Arts degree from EARIST he almost could not muster himself on stage and collect his diploma. Because of its recurring presence, he had to beg off being in the first batch of the Tuklas Program of Eskinita Art Gallery to be mentored by Alfredo Esquillo and Renato Habulan.

Since he became a Born Again he was relieved of whatever negative he was constantly feeling. He also summed up that practicing kindness will always make you feel light and happy. Another installation is Trono ng Awa which is about conquering pride and let mercy rule our bare existence. In Di Purong Tinik Bagtas pays homage to the epitome of mercy, his mother, Cory. She exemplifies stability in Bagtas’s life, the calm before (and even after) every storm of their lives.

Expect Bagtas to unapologetically explore the defining mood to a certain sentimentality to his own self-portraits. In Wasak Loob he is at his lowest depression being heart-broken. It is as raw as done in spontaneous strokes. He was badly hurting from a girl who just took him for a romantic spin. He thought she loved him--to think she was of the same faith as he is.


Wasak Loob


Espiritu ng Hayop reflects his softer side as a cat lover. As a young boy he will often bring home stray cats from the streets. Often fascinated with their eyes and fur, he is always surrounded by their feline comfort while painting and even when asleep beside them.

For Bagtas one has to trust the Lord and He will make everything beautiful in His time. Then maybe his family will finally come and see themselves in his paintings. In the end, home is where the art is.

Pagiyak at Pagtanggap

Note: God Bless Our Home, first solo exhibition by Billy Bagtas opened at the Eskinita Art Farm on November 22 until December 20, 2020.

11.2.21

Marco Banares: Paint to Tell

BY JAY BAUTISTA |

At a young age, Marco Banares stared at life straight in the eye and grabbed its head by the horns. Losing his father at five years old, Banares and his brother were left under the guidance of their grandparents growing up. They eventually became orphans when they lost their mother to asthma causing her failure to breathe before she was even brought to the hospital. Banares had to endure his already topsy-turvy life by working on the side--taking odd creative jobs--while still studying to survive in dignity.

Adversity made Banares appreciate the ordinary and be creative in the everyday. He valued a simple act of kindness as it manifested manifolds most especially for hardworking beings who untiringly labored to bring food on the table for their families’ daily sustenance with committed devotion as he has never felt being safe and secure—up to now when he has a family to support.

For his 5th solo exhibition, while still in the midst of the pandemic, Banares thought of honoring these plain but worthy mortals as Unknown Heroes by featuring them on canvas enough to be emulated at the same time feted with utmost pride from the honest toil that they do and the unconditional love they possess.  

Magsunog ng Kilay, Mata Nagliliyab

First among them---Banares starts from afar--the untold diaspora of our overseas Filipino abroad. It is said there is a Filipino everywhere and in Home Sick he sums up the sordid feeling of alienation of the Filipino who will sacrifice his existence just to fend for his loved ones. Battling loneliness, Banares laments there are even those who continuously work, without a day off for generations yet still end up poor and miserable.

Wala Akong Sinasanto, Pero Isa Akong Deboto

The pursuit of excellence knows no boundaries such as the indefatigable Saint-maker who may not be as rigid religious but is highly spiritual as well as artistic churning out imageries for devotion on a daily struggle. Evident in Walang Sinasanto Pero Isa Akong Deboto exemplifying its own commitment to the craft is close to faithfulness to his family but not to a particular god or the patron saint he configures.

On hindsight, Banares can identify with his subjects. Another profession wrought with irony with the same kind of passion are witnessed in circus clowns—those make up clad blokes who always put up a smile and entertainment. The kind of selfless vocation is evident in Walang Bahid ng Kalungkututan, Pero Huwad Naman ang Kasiyahan where a clown who is in the business of making people feel good are they themselves foregoing their own.  Alone they face depression of being behind rent and not paying the bills on time due to infrequency of parties as social distancing remains a health policy by the government. He longs for normalcy but uneducated he cannot apply for employment. Such cycle of quagmire is how most of us are involved in. Banares depicted him as reflecting in the mirror yet it alludes to the viewer who could be the one looking intently at the canvas.

 

Padayon

Masks have once again appeared as an ongoing graphic ploy for Banares not only to conceal identity but to evoke pun intended for the audience. A signature fixture, masks are his way of lightening the burden of the advocated cause. A kind of support system that makes his subjects cope up in the constant fight to stay alive. A kind of fitting tribute--as well—as we still wear masks as a precautionary sign to combat coronavirus we are reminded that we are heroes in our own right as we survive to protect every Filipino and safeguard ourselves from being infected to being healthy for tomorrow.


Garbage Content

Witnessed in Libre Lang ang Mangarap Pero May Bayad ang Sangkap is how Banares leans towards the suffering and downtrodden. Shown here is a polio vctim who still walks by the mile just to sell the taste of comfort when they themselves are not comfortable with their own disposition in life.

Aesthetically, Banares reminds us of a bygone era when hyperrealism was the norm and art reacts to how society is signified. These days art has been relegated to shock the new--the simpler the brushstrokes, the louder the colors—that would already be sellable in the art market.

Libre Lang Mangarap Pero May Bayad ang Sangkap

A natural story-teller, Banares gathered his tales from the common folk some he even intimately know as he encounters them every day going to the grocery or while commuting. He is most serious in his constant search for meaningful narration of heroism. He would even invite them for a chat and even photograph them to model for his further composition on the picture.

Such is the garbage collector whom he depicted in Garbage Content. Being an old timer in the art scene, Banares summarizes at the convoluted load of crap his fellow artists are irresponsibly producing and dumbing down their artistic calling. Mired by auction results and pricey art fairs, glitz and glamour are preferred rather than social commentary and positive values. Being Filipino foremost, Banares still advocates that paintings should afflict the comfortable as it comforts the afflicted.


 

Wala Mang Bahid ng Kalungkutan, Huwad Naman ang Kasiyahan

Siding with the afflicted, Banares recalls a story of a balloon vendor who was ignited to flames and suffered third degree burns by a group of teenager who prank him just for fun. Banares felt for him as he knows how it is to be ridiculed and even bullied. In Padayon he reclaims his position and rescues the vendor from further humiliation by remembering him.

Banares is a blatant realist at heart, looking up to Elmer Borlongan and Alfred Esquillo as his influences for visual style. He has always the last say by even honoring himself in Nagsunog ng Kilay, Mata Nagliyab. He identifies himself with his artistic passion--working more than 12 hours a day. With intense vision, he paints every day, with only light sleep to relieve him once in a while. His only respite is seeing his sons play freely while he intently paints for their future.

Banares has immortalized his heroes who may have ordinary tasks but living extraordinarily in their chosen or even forced endeavors. Some do not need a cape or don a costume, or wear an amulet but their valor is effective for another day as they earn decently without taking advantage of someone—often dealing with the corrupt nature and the evil ways of men.

Banares is at the emancipating cusp of his personal and social learnings. He continues to hone his craft since becoming full time six years ago. He remains sensitive to his brushstrokes while finding his fruition in every framed parable he toils into.


Unknown Heroes is ongoing at Village Art Gallery in Alabang Town Center.

21.1.21

Anthony Victoria: Repeat While Fading

BY JAY BAUTISTA |

Born with lower limb deformity, Anthony Victoria has always relied on his aluminum cane to function properly. As an extension of his body, he would reach out to it immediately upon waking up and sleep beside it upon retiring at night.

 

Shooting Targets

Like a trusted best friend, his aluminum cane was a constant witness to the vicissitudes of surviving his daily existence. They both hurdled and even endured every ordeal together. Victoria even nervously confessed it is hardest when it rained because the floor will be so wet and slippery making the rubber on his aluminum cane unavoidably slide—it never failed to make him eventually slip.

Through the years, the aluminum cane would bear scratches that has become fixtures to its impressionable metal surface. Victoria had become familiar with them that he knew all the behind-the-scenes stories how he got them. As a sensitive artist these marks made an impression on him that he wanted to replicate the certain fixtures like tattoos inked on one’s skin for posterity. Eventually this made his dabble with aluminum etching and in his solo exhibition, Hindi Kami Mamamatay he emerges from his comfort zone and takes a pun intended at what is happening to his surroundings and in our social history. 

Victoria merges the mechanical, the graphic and the political into a lyrically composed picture. In Robot Victoria testifies his industrial prowess as Victoria proves that we have been bred artificially and controlled all through our postcolonial sojourn.

 

Robot

In Chainsaw, Victoria illustratively implies more than the plea for the environment but an appeal for growth and decency and return of basic freedom in our contemporary midst—to think and to feel for our destiny as a nation. A powerful tool this weapon has become the symbol of the earth’s demise and Victoria’s lateral evocation on metal is surefire to make its presence feared and felt by fallen witnesses.

 

Chainsaw

Garbed in turn-of-the century attire, Victoria’s women are sly and does not possess anything but timid. They stare intently in your eyes like putting up a fight and instructing you to follow and obey what was demanded of you. Victoria has immensely appropriated them using the real intentions of the colonizers upon us. In short, the sepia or rustic finish of the metal may emanate yet they get back and amplify visual revenge in sync with solid message contained in the coldness of steel.

They say Antonio Luna’s men were the sharpest of vanguards. In Shooting Targets however betrayal was the culprit as these soldiers were collateral damage as Aguinaldo navigated his power to cause the tragedy of the revolution. We were the incidental victims of military operations not of our instigating. They were about two colliding empires and we were just the spoils of war.

Consider Oil Well where Victoria digs deep to the root causes of our economic miseries lie beneath the earth and the quest for oil is the culprit. Energy is power thus corrupt absolutely. Petroleum rules the economy and that rollbacks are basic as right to education and shelter. In the end, there is no poor third world country since they have been exploited many times over—through generations.

 

Power Grid

The brilliance of Victoria is how in sync is his mechanism as he mixes while he nixes the political with graphical. In Back Hoe he employs his women with mechanism connoting subversion and ploy. Not a hard sell imagery, his revised iconography is so convincing that you want to turn on the switch to start it to play.

 

Slot Machine

World War II has also been on Victoria’s mind ever since he had been reading that up as a child. We really do not have our own battles and we always sided on the wrong side of the fence. In the end, it is the Filipinos who bury the brunt and worse suffer the consequences. Victoria does not see himself as a messiah but simply as a concerned artist who is a product of his times.

 

Man of Steel

Educated in advertising at the University of Santo Tomas, Victoria professionally and trained in animation versed in the corporate world. For ten years setting aside the visual arts, Victoria was once again invited on group exhibitions being a member of Kalye Kolektib. In his first exhibition, Coping Mechanism, two years ago, he paid homage to every nook and cranny of his personal life--as he has been fixated with metal as an ode to his aluminum cane.

Victoria prefers aluminum etching and he has been effective in using it. He relies heavily on research and appropriates his image to suit his desired iconography. After painting the appropriated form with enamel, he soaks them in resin to resist. The final process he uses aluminum brush to add texture to the rough finish.

The emanating Chinese presence once again makes its presence felt as evident in Victoria’s Destroyer Type 052 as in 2013 the Philippines initiated international arbitration against the People's Republic of China (China) regarding its territorial and maritime dispute in the South China Sea – known as the West Philippine Sea in Manila.

Type 052 Destroyer

The oldest and largest Chinatown is in Manila and the Chinese have been a cultural presence even before any colonizer came. Another sordid reminders are the pogo persistence in Slot Machine. Everywhere we go there is a Chinese who is gambling in our shores.

Context and memory play powerful roles in Victoria’s masterpieces. Hindi Kami Mamamatay may yet be Victoria at his most political yet it is him at his most innovative. Borne out of years of trying to contain himself, Victoria focused his energies to uplift his spirit and and graphically found light at the end of the tunnel. In a way, we are clearly at a long overdue moment in history where we look at ourselves and reclaim our future that was ours.

Hindi Kami Mamamatay is a constant refrain to our song when fading. One could picture Victoria like a bird that senses the dawn and carefully starts to sing while it is still dark—when metal shines brightly.

 

Hindi Kami Mamamatay is ongoing at the Eskinita Art Farm in Tanauan, Batangas 


18.12.20

Jason Delgado: Pillow Talk

BY JAY BAUTISTA |

In Molo, Iloilo most of the youth do not sleep soundly these days. Their constant exchange of bric-a-brac violence among gangs have heightened tension and caused anxiety among its members. Evident of which is how they sleep with knives tucked in their pillows to protect them--in case the inevitable happens.

Though Jason Delgado is not directly involved yet they are all his friends, as he has been witness to this grim forced habit. As an artist he is sensitive enough to paint what bothers him. It was for a group exhibition in 2017 at the Museo ng Iloilo that he showed his first pillow as theme masterpiece, he titled it The Struggle Begins When the Day Ends.

Delgado went to develop further this bespoke visual style all relating to his anxieties and issues affecting his young life. He has painted them all, as When the Day Ends has now become the title of his first solo exhibition at Art Verite Gallery.

An obvious culprit why Delgado paints pillows is that sleep has eluded him in his preparation to be a full pledged artist as he looks back to his life in these past months of the ongoing pandemic. He is even more active when he forces himself to rest—this is where his mind grapples with artistic concepts and he reminisces his past experiences and its painful lessons. To commit in this art practice, even simultaneously pursuing to be a licensed architect, Delgado is committed to that it is worth doing and engages it in his own terms.

An irony lies that there are a multitude of practicing artists in Iloilo yet there is a dearth of Fine Arts schools in Iloilo (there is only one). Like Delgado, many take the creative path through architecture or even architectural draftsmanship.

 

In Overtime Delgado provides you with a glimpse how he mixes painting and architecture together. The architect in him reveals how he carefully plans his pieces by random sketches anticipating whatever foul ups that come his way such as in considering the electrical, plumbing and structural in architecture. In painting, he is meticulous to detail as painstakingly how the creases folds up or is thrown in the air that makes up his emphatic composition exacting.

 

Notice the ants as they signify hard work and consistency to purpose to be the true measure of success. Other fellow Ilonggos have done it, so can he be architect-painter in the future.

Empty revisits a recent episode Delgado was faced with on his road to being an architect. Last January, he and three other architect hopefuls started attending review sessions in Manila. As the covid pandemic worsened, however, they were abruptly halted when the national government declared a lockdown come March 16. As the runabout scourging for tickets on their flight to go back home they found a cheaper available one but they had to take it at the Clark international Airport. Cash strapped and already emotionally-drained, they had to hurry and catch it on the day before the nationwide lockdown was imposed. It will only mean they have to spend the evening of the 14th of March to catch it. With a fully occupied lounge, they just settled on the floor along the airport corridors with their bag bearing a few clothes and architecture books in tow. The experience so marked Delgado he decided to paint it in stark black and white. 


Plain, Pure and White

 Delgado is the youngest in a sibling of four. His mother, Erna, is the epitome of faith having devoted her life to the service of the Catholic Church. Plain, Pure and White reflects her abiding religiosity as seen in the embossed cross.

 

Their family traces their roots in Bacolod however it was in Iloilo that his father, Ronaldo, found his calling in a rattan furniture venture. Delgado honors him in Sharp and Polished as how he remembers his father who passed on after a lingering bout with cancer. His father spent his dying three months in Bacolod under the care of Delgado’s sister who was a nurse in a hospital there.

 

Sharp and Polished

Using his father’s tool as a protruding device, in rattan industry sharpness of skill is key and how one’s finished results is polished that impresses customers to patronize him. The flowers are Delgado’s way of adoration to the great man his father is.

As Delgado is most secretive, pillows have been most vulnerable--his silent confidants—as he lays his head down in his bed. They have become his creative venues for possibilities of form and meaning. It is the lieu of his sensitive internalization of the things around him.

 

Overtime

After sketching his thoughts, he finalizes the set up as he composes the objects on canvas. He attempts to be as hyperrealist on his images as possible. He is even tempted to lay down on his references after painting them. The value of a visual representation in an occurrence through a concealed object can be juxtaposed by suppressing it.   

A pillow has all the possibilities to suit one’s need. It is a poetic conveyor of our senses as it is Delgado’s propensity to de-familiarize things with allegories and alluded definitions. Delgado’s brilliance is how he meticulously paints folds, creases and hidden figures in relief to reveal his intended purpose. The shapes that he embosses intimate the object; it is this tension between revelation and concealment that the greater significance states the obvious.

Poverty did not hinder Delgado in inspiring himself that he can fulfill his dreams. He often inspire himself by pushing himself to strive more. In his Soliloquy series Delgado reminds himself to excel and be the best version of himself whatever life offers. The running texts are like him whispering to himself.

Soliloquy 1 captures the damp feeling while being tossed up as he stared intently at the fearsome waves of the Guimaras Straits. As soon as his father bid them goodbye Delgado was on his way back on the boat to Iloilo to arrange for his wake and funeral. A comforting text runs across: Close your eyes a miracle may happen.

Meanwhile Soliloquy 2 counters his bad luck with the feng shui of polka dots as bringer of fortune marked by the red dots that connote abundance and luxury. Like a post-it note smack in the middle to remind him: You are a seed. Wait.


Soliloquy 2

Expect Delgado to end with a high note and Soliloquy 3 is a perfect rallying cry for him--both as an artist and when he finally hurdles the architecture licensure board in June next year: Catch your breath. No retreat. No surrender.

For Delgado, pillows are our most personal accessory--next to underwear and toothbrushes. As you lay yourself to slumber, the continuation of your existence depends on it. They are soft and light yet pillows carry with them your darkest secrets and deepest longings. Pillows are pure comfort. At the end of the day, you long for it. You can rest but not quit on living.


Soliloquy 3

When the Day Ends is ongoing at the Art Verite Gallery at 2/F Shops at Serendra, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig


8.11.20

Kim Hamilton Sulit: Beauty of Impermanence

BY JAY BAUTISTA |


Art is but a preparation for that bigger art—the art of Living.

Ananda Coomaraswamy

Indian Curator

 

For Kim Hamilton Sulit creating art has been an effective way to cope up with his insecurities, anxieties, and struggles in life in a decade of art practice. His creative becoming has made him survive afloat—barely grasping for breath--despite harsh realizations of espousing the contemporary as an artist based in the cultural town of Angono. How his past solo and group exhibitions have displayed his authenticity to the way his life phases have evolved both in his personal memories and direct experiences towards the community around him.

Weight of Time


When Sulit started conceptualizing for this exhibition last January, as if by circumstance, Taal Volcano erupted and caused chaos all throughout. For ten days, the fortuitous event killed 39 people and affected most people living as far as Ilocos Region, Central Visayas and displacing folks from towns in Batangas near Taal Lake. Everyone was at a standstill causing Sulit in extreme anxiety and doubly checking on his artistic realities.

Cement Garden (in detail)

By March due to the circumstances beyond our control, the ongoing coronavirus epidemic became full blown world-wide. It has placed the entire country on various stages of community quarantines by the national government. There were times when Sulit would wake up early, put on his mask on his face, walk up to his studio only to straddle in front of his stretched white canvases. He would blankly stare on them for hours and just be with his paint tubes and brushes. Amidst temporary work stoppage and optional work from home scheme Sulit’s went on with his intensive creative foray. And this is what the exhibition Weight of Time unravels.


Blemish Series, The Wall and Cement Garden

Upon entering the gallery spaces, one is greeted with The Wall, a concrete ambience recording the pandemic--a gentle reminder how Sulit’s waking hours were well spent during the lockdown.

Taking the form from a cast of his right arm, The Wall imprints scenes during the past months in a tattoo-like manner. Filling it up like a street graffiti it is a raw statement of how we have adopted to the “new normal” and how we were fit enough to still be alive. Seeing The Wall makes one grateful and value that Sulit has lived to paint these cherished moments and eventually raised our arms testifying that we are still surviving through unscathed.

A recurring theme for Sulit are the Blemish series which are intimate take on mortality and vulnerability. Often emanating ghoulishness he approximates how the images would result when they decayed or even exaggeratedly distorted.

Blemish Series

started in 2012 under a different title when he saw the album cover of Bjork’s “Medulla” and later found some old photographs from the Victorian period to be too perfect and archaic. It was too enticing for Sulit not to take a pun at the intended idealist portraits. Years later he did another Blemish Series reacting to paintings by the Old masters. He had a fresh attack on them, portraying them pale with black blood oozing from their weary eyes.

Blemish Series III


Blemish III Series 
has been percolating on his mind for a long time. He knew the moment has come as he invited family, friends, fellow artists, and even his collectors to submit their mug shot photos. Concurrently, he also sought their permission if he can have a free reign to alter its form.

Sulit contends that his Blemish series vary on every occasion he churns them out. Blemish Series reminded one certain artistic reactions upon the saturation of a particular art movement. Such as Mannerist tendencies reacted in the High Renaissance during the 16th century before Baroque ushered in. For Sulit they simply exude the beauty of impermanence; that we are susceptible and will eventually perish someday. A kind of memento mori so to speak.

Expect Sulit to unapologetically explore the defining mood to a certain sentimentality in every Blemish portrayal there is. After looking long and hard, he takes a swipe using his own figurative interpretation based on one’s resemblance. His Blemish Series seems his direct reply to these trying and difficult times. Sulit further dwells deeper and more emphatic in every portrait he does creating a multitude of rogue-like ghosts peaking at the gallery’s onlookers. In a way it comforts Sulit that he is not alone in his paranoia as he becomes disturbed with the ongoing covid-19 crisis while indignantly creating them in his studio.

Evolving further around memory and loss is Cement Garden, an assemblage of found objects mostly discarded toys, dolls, cars, wooden figurines. Using a custom-made brick-maker Sulit appropriates and pours cement on them mixing them with volcanic ash from Taal to exude framed parables scattered all over the floor.

Cement Garden affirms Sulit’s penchant with representation through his use of found, discarded and even used mostly mundane objects prevalent in our everyday lives; how their relationship with one another—placed side by side--in a meticulously crafted assemblages enables new definitions and meanings. Similar to tombs of curiosities including partitions, Sulit pays homage to the core of materiality by integrating them into a new order, providing their rebirth in another context wrought through time.

Veering away from pure painting, Sulit experiments, even escapes, with temporal things and their possibilities in forms taking different metaphors. Sulit has an ardent propensity in seeking de-familiarization of context into fresh perspectives with their new integration. Consider it an aftermath following the Taal misfortune.

Sulit has crafted idea of containment through assemblages each pertaining to a thematic mood. The more objects there are, the more stories they yield. There are no titles to each receptacle as their provenance vary from his personal stuff to children’s toys to broken down figurines. Some objects are fragments from constant usage--creating an eerie feel like a cinematic finish Sulit envisions.

Spontaneity is key in Sulit composition. He espouses some basic tenets in what art exhibitions could aspire for—constant acceptance of flux, repetitions and cycles, and relinquishing all complex attachments. It is raw and visceral focusing more of the play of the real and unreal.

Sulit has been influenced by American photographer Sally Mann (b.1951) who also happens to dwell on mortality and vulnerability using subjects such as herself and her own immediate family as subjects of her portraits. Her haunting human form and hometown landscapes done in platinum prints and polaroid still lifes are bold, lyrical and captured in near abstraction. Sulit is as intensely emotional as Mann. Both of them are enriched by their treatise on the tragedies of the human condition.

Weight of Time provides the viewer the necessary pause from an overloaded art scene. It has an in-your-face aesthetic as Sulit unloads his burden by eschewing on materialist permanence. One is led to a bare essence when things are broken down and starkly simple. There is art when there is life.

Self Portrait

Weight of Time is ongoing at the Blanc Gallery until November 28.

4.10.20

Toti Cerda and Erwin Mallari: Keeping the Faith

BY JAY BAUTISTA |

Master visual artist Toti Cerda and watercolorist Erwin Mallari were both born, bred and continue to dwell in their respective hometowns near the proximity to the metropolitan center. As significant contemporary artists they have bear witnessed to the radical change of progress in these dwellings evolving from once being idyllic and pristine locations to the ever bustling these localities are today.

Cerda, who was born in Talim Island near Binangonan, saw how in the last 30 years the lakeshore towns of Rizal have evolved the fishing enclaves and farming villages being partitioned into the commercial districts and residential subdivisions at present.


Na-Amorsolo II by Toti Cerda


Mallari grew up in Malabon when it was still a fishing hub in Rizal until the 70s and observed when it separated and became part of Metro Manila. Fishing still remains a major source of livelihood in the area because of the interconnected of its river system. This development attracted people to reside in its low lying flat terrains making Malabon densely populated through that it floods and have worsened in recent years. It constantly becoming submerged in water most of the time, as it became known.

Foot Bridge (c4 Malabon) by Erwin Mallari


In Paghilom, Cerda and Mallari have meticulously documented the visual changes in their beloved abodes and the surrounding setting around them that are fast changing. More than just putting their thoughts on their canvases and papers, they have however kept the faith in their beloved places of origin and remain hopeful that there is still a light at the end of this ongoing pandemic situation--as seen through the affirmative outlook of these recent works.

Cerda, of late pays homage to Philippine masters, and continuous to do so in rigid manner. He has honored the great 19th century realist Juan Luna and the poet of the palette in Carlos “Botong” Francisco in his previous outputs. In Paghilom, he highlights the master of folk genre in our first National Artist, Fernando Amorosolo, appropriating his hardworking farmers in the rice fields and women fetching water in clay pots. He churns out the gray and burgeoning factories as backdrops to Amorsolo’s colorful rural scenes as Cerda saw how rapid industrialization has slowly sprouted in vast expanse of his adopted region.

Paghilom is Cerda’s direct in-your-face clamor in support to agriculture for our own food sustenance and basic survival mode to the future. He expresses the quaint predominant metaphors of Amorsolo such as sturdy farmers toiling the soil and the beautiful provincial lasses cooking their meals against the solid concrete of gravel and the hustle of building economies as featured setting. Cerda has effected an experimental illustrative handle by using the soft yet distinct subjects of Amorsolos’s period evocations against a social realist and urban tableau. Cerda’s remains confident yet sensitive in these brushstrokes in adhering to Amorsolo’s masterpieces by inducing Cerda’s promising visual language and in finding new approaches to realism in painting. The result is a dramatic theater in paints.


Banga ni Amorsolo by Toti Cerda


In his previous life, Mallari was once part of the commuter life having to endure two hour bus rides from Malabon to Pasig where he used to work as a graphic designer. In Paghilom, he mends his old and tiring ways and heals from the painful remembrances caused by impatience to get a ride, inhaling smog caused by a polluted volume of transportation vehicles resulting into a perennial traffic. As a fine watercolorist, there is a certain charm when the colors and the tones of a scene is captured in watercolor. Even how Mallari renders the red lights from the bumper-to-to-bumper of cars has a certain romance when evocatively painted and hanged on the wall.

Meaningful to Mallari are the LRT 1 stations like Roosevelt, Balintawak and 5th Avenue which he is most familiar with and accustomed to its related commuter ordeal. He also favors bridges while doing his rounds documenting them for posterity. The Bitbit and Centennial Bridges and the Foot Bridge (Malabon) are prominently featured in this exhibiton. Mallari even finds beauty in the chaos in construction with faulty wires of electric posts included. There is relief for him in getting from where you came from to your point of destination. For Mallari that is progress of life and the joy is in the journey. Sometimes he who dabbled into photography, takes a photos and in framing his images translates them on larger watercolor paper when he gets home.

Bonifacio (Caloocan) by Erwin Mallari

These days Mallari advocates a return to riding bicycles as a means of transportation to ease traffic as he once had to endure it on a daily basis. His regimen now he become a city chronicler who goes around, with art materials in tow, documenting these memorable moments and secrets corners that he fancies along his bicycle routes around the metropolis.

Mallari is a constant fixture in the streets as he documents spaces by opting to paint outdoors (plein air as the French impressionists popularized it in the 19th century). While making his rounds he stops at a beautiful site that captures his eye and puts out his paper on boards and attempts to catch the fleeting moment. He hurriedly sketches them as he wets his paints and renders them in his desired compositions. He has special fond experiences with every piece he creates from bystanders as he prefers painting daily scenes of ordinary life on the spot.

Sometimes Mallari escapes from the city, immersing himself in rural landscapes such as Dingalan (in Aurora) and Alcala in Cagayan. Here he basks in its pristine sunlight and unfiltered air to recharge his artistic soul. Providing rest for the eyes, he know a lot of desperate people long for these framed painterly accents for as city folks many are trapped in the current quagmire of our urban jungles.

Paghilom is both a celebration to the city life as it stresses the value of spontaneity, appropriation and relevance in their artistic pieces, as most paintings even establish inherent tension and issues. They may not be commercially-eye candy pieces but in their subtlety or even harshness that convey the sense of wonder in the painters’ free reign of imagery and meaning. Depending how one would come to view the collective significance of these two artists, they are both positive in their creative output--that is all that matters.


Bukid ni Amorsolo by Toti Cerda

Unfazed by the possibilities of media, mixing three or more coats of paint is still the proposed materiality, whether it be acrylic or watercolor, be it done in reverse or even traversing the creative process. Cerda’s brand of realism has always constricted and countered the traditional visual styles of his forebears for it to redefine itself into new actualities of his own right. Often rejecting the banal and sacred, it defies fixation with the tested norm. Mallari, on the other hand, wants to hone his watercolor skills through strict discipline and mood. Despite it being the most difficult medium to handle among artists, he prefers the fresh perspectives and evocative expressions it imparts. Even as Cerda and Mallari are open to more raw approaches to art, both still value that paintings should be created for its social function and not lost for its own sake.


Bitbit Bridge (Narzagaray) by Erwin Mallari

PAGHILOM is ongoing at the Galerie Anna, Bldg. A, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City.