Brothers Alarcon: Four Play


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

Terminus by Luke Alarcon
Luke Alarcon
A melancholic Luke has the soul of an old master--well versed with the ways of the Renaissance. Depicting subjects that are of the 16th to18th century Western iconology, barely in his teens he has the makings of a fine painter on canvas. Luke favors the silent yet haunting pieces marked by loudest gobs of paint, like a smear target on the wall. His colors evoke European charm yet these are silent, sensitive rants of a budding contemporary artist desperate to his persistence in adhering to this visual style.

Mind you his paintings do not ridicule the masters long gone rather they pay tribute to painting as a social commentary. Against the advent of superfluous technology, Luke further hones his artistry by dwelling on long forgotten patterns of a beautiful forgotten epoch. 

Ejem Alarcon 

Ejem vividly remembers sketching at the back of cigarette cartons trucks passing through their makeshift food stall at the pier where his father manages a canteen. A choleric by nature, he is not fond of copying images. He recreates by recreating his own, so his trucks would have different shapes of the wheel or color of their bodies. 

The Return of Napoleon by Ejem Alarcon
He continues his defiance to this norm by deforming what has been persisting in his memory. Having worked as a graphic artist for seven years, his iconography have always been rooted in the comic in popular culture. Now a full-time painter he applies this perspective to his chosen themes such as period images which he appropriates with his own visual style.

Starting off by having a period image as base then once complete as if overturning the process, he splatters colors or work around the image he favors. After the expressionist nature of this under painting he then deciphers what revision will emerged eventually dictating the current themes of his thoughts. 

Disoriented by Aldrine Alarcon

Aldrine Alarcon 

Inspired by their eldest brother Ejem, Aldrine followed his footsteps by leading a full time painter. He found his own path by weaving paint in its purest form leaving most of the canvas untended for the viewer to figure. Such respect to perspective as he illustrates people in an almost abstract form dominates much of Aldrine’s works. As he freshly dabbles into non-representational rendition, glimpses of figures still forebode further inducing more layers to thicken the plot typifying confidence within overall meaning of his images.  

Phlegmatic as his choice of colors coalesce his ever-changing moods sometimes too heavy eliciting texture in capturing its weariness. The reserved blank space becomes part of the canvas exuding more ethereal experience than usual. Whatever whiteness becomes the full picture that whimsically deals directly with his emotions. 

Didier Alarcon

A nocturnal yet sanguine Didier engages deep into nostalgia by waxing realism on abandoned or deserted localities marked by alienation reminiscent of Edward Hopper strokes. Often devoid of people, he simplifies pavements sometimes recalling childhood memories with only the stark glow of lights as characters. It could lonely yet these places persistently exist.

With a plethora of artists painting people, their absence in his works seems as a visual critique thrives in an abundance of newly found expressions on how these emerging artists look at themselves and their communities.
Nowadays by Didier Alarcon

LEAD is as literal as literary resistance of artists hobnobbing in the city. These manifestations confront validation as their own inherent contents and permutations stressing the value of spontaneity, appropriation and positive energy. Establishing tension, solitude and equilibrium, their spatial yet lyrical pieces may be subtle or harsh yet both convey the sense of delight in the painters’ free reign of imagery and visual style. One looks long and hard as each of their art intensifies. Depending how one would come to view the collective significance of these brothers, their personal to randomly induced varied perceptions are commendable.

LEAD encourages critical dialogue between the discriminating tastes of the patronizing public with the creative ambition of these four brother-artists. As they are open to experimentation and more raw approach in art, they still value that paintings should be embodied and its social function is not lost in the art market discourse or painting for painting sake. Assuring four hopeful bright directions, they devote a different attitude, a refreshing way of looking at visual arts. It is an undertaking that may enrich your lives as it has indeed on them. Sometimes, as in their case oil (paint) is thicker than blood.


Bagahe: Art as Remittance


Agam-Agam by Chris Inton, Oil on Canvas, 2016.
In 1906, fifteen Filipinos from Ilocos Sur were recruited to work as pineapple pickers in Hawaii starting what would be known as the Philippine diaspora purposely migrating around the world today. Either alone or with family in tow--for family, money, pride, or some as simple as fulfilling a dream of being on an airplane--more than 3,000 of our countrymen depart our airports every day, year after year, for more than hundred years now.
Forming part of the amalgam of 10 million Filipinos sprawling worldwide, sparsely positioned Filipinos work in some of the most difficult, obscure and time consuming industries that test their skills and commitment for other people’s progress and welfare. As doctors, physical therapists, nurses, IT professionals, engineers, architects, technicians, teachers and seafarers whatever complicated, dirty, nitty gritty job for the taking, a kababayan is there. 

Fragile by Oliver Menor, Mixed Media on Canvas
Bagahe is our ongoing collective story in an adapted/adopted land. 

Gathering some of the more promising visual artists in Singapore Bagahe is both call and a reply. At a time when newly induced Philippine pride is spreading around the world emanating from sports, beauty pageants, art biennales and that recent premier episode Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, Bagahe foretells our unkempt and honed tales from this cosmopolitan city—ironies, maladies, and drudgeries. Singapore as a context affects their artistry can both be conflicting and liberating. To imbibe a sense of artistic urge within the confines of strict and contained art practice.

Sayed Alwi by Dario Bunyi Tibay, Oil on Canvas, 2016

The dilemma of the personal and the social ensues and further entangles intertwining at the top of the heads of Filipinos as it dangles like a sword of Damocles awaiting its fateful fall. Agam agam by Chris Inton affirms this predicament: if I leave there would be trouble, and if I stay it would be double. So come on, let me know. As it was then, it is instinct that one leaves the comfortable habitats for greener pastures. Sacrificing one’s self, the promise of a better future for one’s family cannot be resisted. To buy that home for our parents who restlessly rented all their lives; to purchase that land your family have been tilling in the hopes of not paying its lease for our forebears. To send our children to the best education in the fervent wish that they will have their own business for you to return back home. The rope in the canvas exemplifies our strength and resilience, our bondage and our continuing struggle for survival is highlighted in Fragile by Oliver Menora. He adds: separated from our families and our roots, we are fragile in a foreign country. We are like blank canvases hoping for brighter images for our lives.

Outsider by Jasmin Orosa, Mixed Media on Canvas

Residing temporarily in a foreign abode remains the toughest challenge for an OFW as he feels more than an expatriate. Acculturation must draw first blood. Such is the message of Sayed Alwi by Dario Bunyi Tibay. Comparing the OFWs as earth-bound astronauts, they acclimatize themselves and bring their “environment” to where they are.

Bagahe is what one acquires from one’s current stay. Loaded with real experience, all preconceived notions are met with blank wall or canvas in this instance. Outsider by Jasmin Orosa is such. Meticulously done wherein one's forehead is marked by emotions and sentiments. Her right hand ached by labors. Left hand throbs from deflecting blows. Shoulders ready to carry more loads. Although not all are lucky, some comeback shortly after sudden eclipse of homesickness, others will never use the luggage they brought when they departed their hometown.
Mindscapes by Wilfredo Calderon, Watercolor on Paper

Bagahe could well be that one inimitable luxurious artistic baggage. It is what you bring to your point of destination from your point of origin—culture, perspective and memory. Mindscapes (Memories of My Childhood) by Wilfredo Calderon is about memories from his youth. It depicts his childhood and all the things that he loved and how he used to play with nature as my playground. Most of these artworks took as much time as when he first got in Singapore.

Strawberry Road in My Mind by Noel Rosales best captures everyone’s sentiment. Orchard Road is both a representation of the tension for both affluence and conflict. People don’t realize the void of incomes passing just through them—from employers to their loved ones in Manila. It is a struggle to keep sanity and dignity intact. Before you know it, it’s time to go home.

Strawberry Road in My Mind by Noel Rosales, Acrylic on Canvas

Unlike their obliged regular remittances to their mother country, just once this Bagahe is going back to them. 

Bagahe is ongoing at the De Suantio Gallery at Singapore Management University. School of Economics, 90 Stamford Road, Singapore. Exhibit runs until September 16.

Initiated in 2007 SininGapor Art Collective is composed of writers, graphic designers, and artists from the Lion City. Bagahe is their fifth group exhibition.


Becoming BenCab


Epiphany for an artist not only comes when he has finally found his distinct visual style, it could also be the creative fruition of that long and arduous process of studying his purpose and experimentation; of being exposed and imbibing his contemporaries and the contemporariness in interpreting the sheer realities he evolves himself in.

For Benedicto Cabrera there were dual epiphanies. First when he was 22 years old. Seeing from his window a hungry scavenger woman named Sabel coming into their house in Bambang begging for food. The downtrodden would be his muse that would haunt his canvases in the next succeeding years. Second will be five years after when Cabrera was 27 years old living in London. Appropriated Souls seeks to investigate how both artistic approaches evolved for Philippine painter who would one day be a National Artist.

With nationalist sentiments seeping through the economy as reflected by the Filipino First policy by the government, the Sixties was a time when much of Philippine art catered to all that is positive, promising and progressive as well. The trend cascaded bright candy-colored palette that appealed to collectors and the dictates of First Lady Imelda Marcos favoring artists such as Fernando Amorsolo, Carlos Botong Francisco and Vicente Manansala. It was in this temperament that the struggling Cabrera creatively countered his influences by churning out dark and macabre hues depicting his Sabel. To even highlight the moment he would signing his artworks as BenCab so as not to confuse with the other Cabreras who also painted that time.

The earliest Sabels (‘67) in this retrospective were rendered raw and muddy in earth tones, same as the Sabel in the greasy-stained flesh that inspired them. Abandoned by her husband during the war, Sabel would scorch around the streets of Manila in search of love and affection. She would find warmth lying in the warm asphalt and in the artificial embrace of garbage bags that wrapped around her filthy body. Transfiguring her mental state into another even higher realm, Cabrera captured them in hasty, haphazard strokes, layering them in a certain box manner, typical of Cabrera’s future oeuvres.

Cabrera’s early Sabels were protest in composition and rebellion in themes altogether. She seemed ghoulish in her morena skin and her deranged manor relegated her in a corner of his canvas. Cabrera found her beauty by bringing further her chaos and squalor. The transparencies of plastic in induced motion enabled his virtuosity in paints.

Succeeding Sabels would be rendered adept with the often changing and confusing times. As mad woman to geisha, from mother country to commercial model for an international watch company; rendered in its initial brute style to abstract expressionist; from the social realist to the minimalist tendencies to its most recent done in her most abstract form with only gray and red lines dictating her silhouette.

Sabel epitomized our deeper longing for emancipation, as her poverty was our own negligence. Almost unforgiven she seems like the last muse one can immortalize on canvas yet Cabrera has rescued her from oblivion and continues to recast her from memory.

Cabrera would stretch, appropriate, and even reinvent her in whatever homage thereafter. He was as mad to his methods as her. Cabrera jazzes her up from year 2000 onwards as she would eventually be glamourized and commercialized like Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. The abstraction that she was in the early depiction would be lesser gothic but more of the confident in strokes and finer still in meaning as earth hues became red, pink, and black. She will be asked to be painted over and painted off to accommodate her variation. The line is long and the price is high to pay.


The second epiphany came late 60s, in an antiquarian shop in London. Somewhat an exile, one could imagine the long haired and bespectacled Cabrera passing his time in that long stretch of Beauchamp or Portobello Road, wrought in deep nostalgia for home, rummaging 19th century images of our identity in old prints, maps, Spanish colonial Philippines. Reminiscent of one’s roots these early Filipinos were seen as other photographer’s lenses.

It is also in this wing that one rekindles Cabrera’s first major style called Larawan series in the early 70s. He used these images in his unique mixture of photorealism, linear drawing and broad colorful strokes that has become his trademark visual style.

Larawan series appropriates not just old period photos but a reclaiming of our common struggles as a people; of having been perceived differently like being robbed of our identity by foreign authors in the promulgation of the exotic in their books. Cabrera’s appropriated images are like bringing home at a part of ourselves and its reclaimed iconography on the canvas.

Larawan seeks to reclaim what was lost in contracting colonial translation. Cabrera's does further justice by overturning the power relations against our colonial interlude. Mestizas garbed in turn of the century tipos del pais, rustic men clad in Barong, bare footed period vendors. More than documenting the period they are virtual character studies. His men are dignified such as Master Servant and Illustrado.

Cabrera’s women have often been the more potent force in displaying his artistic gravitas. In Woman in Flight 1976 a mist of yellow is violated with dash of red over an image of a sturdy female. Often we would see them as submissive yet Cabrera’s reference of her image he salvages by confidently violating them in a single bold stroke often of contrasting color. Her women and children may just be sitting yet up not down. Such as in Two Mestizas (2000) or Filipinas (2004) they are to choose his favorite word, defiant. His women are abled with fans, some vending clay pots, winnowing baskets, and fruits yet they their stance is dissenting and dignified. 

Appropriate Souls dwells into how an artist has appropriately responded at unexpected moments in his respective time such the spontaneity of Sabel and formalities of Larawan.

Cabrera’s brilliance lies in his war against clichés in art. He fights them in sordid manner, rebelling against any form of formality be it in color or line. At a time when formal genre prevailed you had his images haunting you long after you have seen this show.


Ricky Ambagan: Keeping The Faith


Recent news about this 12-year old Taiwanese school boy accidentally punching a hole on a displayed 17th century Baroque masterpiece by Paulo Porpora went viral. The incident caused uproar both among museum-goers and netizens alike, even the child’s parents initially run aghast.
Visual artist Ricky Ambagan too reacted profusely to the news item. Considering himself with a talent with paints, Ambagan confesses however that painting is the only thing he is good at. The obvious result is what now comprises this exhibition Restored at the Gallery Anna. 
Extending further his disillusionment with whatever is going-on around him Ambagan untangles, entangles and closely draws reactions to what he thought were other bygone privileges of Philippine low life. A realist such as Ambagan, whose broad strokes lean on the downtrodden and suffering many, it is the very task of an artist to evaluate current events and even comment on what seems to be the missing pieces in the good society equation or perishing values in our midst. For Ambagan an occurrence that involves a million dollar masterpiece has never been a mundane activity. It triggered him to create (or recreate) parallel realities as a way of positively reacting that inspires ideal situations.

Secret Garden
Enabling curiosity in the form of a red blanket, each piece has a child peeking behind the scene. Reclaiming his future, he forebodes whatever would be the directions to his visions of the possible. Believer does this and more, it is a performance on canvas. Composed in a theater-like tableau, children are caught up in a stance of claiming what is theirs. Elevated on a labyrinth of confusion and quagmire, truth came in the form of an eagle signifies purity in purpose. In a dark realm with an awaiting ember, a bright lucient approaches them, capturing the favored moment that would and should turn the tide for them.

A recurring theme for Ambagan is his credence in reading for emancipation. His shelves replete with books as settings for learning are obvious with lamps complimenting the uplifting of the spirits. Such as in Secret Garden where flying lanterns abound layering with their connoted meanings. A tiny glimmer of hope could transform and lit up more lives in one’s constant search for the truth. A father of three, Ambagan even uses his children as his models, staking his seriousness to his advocacy to education.

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee
Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee is reminiscent of his earlier works and a continuation of his evolving visual style. There is always a subtle or subdued pun on most of Ambagan’s pieces. His fixation with flight stems from his being often it is in their endless pursuit for survival. Everything is fleeting as everyone floats in an Ambagan piece though occupied in their own portals unmindful how we are all interrelated and affected by the actions of our neighbors.
As if possessed in gravity, his images happen in a dark realm, emphatic on concise behavior such as in Unsinkable. Some light may glow but none are of the glitzy or artificial kind. Uncommon to other paintings, there seems to be an uncertain sound to his paintings. An eerie feeling wraps the viewer when confronted with his works. 

Fountain of Youth

Obviously the most haunting piece is Fountain of Youth, which is a memento mori to start with. We are all passers-by and impermanent like the butterfly. Done in hauntingly smooth strokes, at one moment you have a full life ahead of you the next one you are beset with nothing. One must know the value of true existence before acquiring or even grasping the essence of life. Ambagan does fine rendering in clearly define composition.

Composed poetically like magic realism, commendable was his artistic technique; how he used the acrylic in the behavior oil paint is remarkable. His colors with mostly of the blue and orange palette are like hues of seeing the dawn. Some canvases even have artificially painted ripped canvas, a constant reminder for Ambagan of the 12-year old Taiwanese who triggered him. 

With more than a decade and a half in his art practice, Ambagan never tires of honing his brushstrokes like a devoted master of the craft. From the muddy distortion to the smooth ethereal, Ambagan professes his faith in painting.

Restored however may not bring back your belief in humanity. It may not even have that messianic feel or grand narrative we look for in an artwork. It will make your world a little brighter, less hopeful but more contemplative.
Ambagan toils as painter like clockwork office job. He still stretches his own canvases and usually in front of them come daybreak in whatever mood he will be. The truth about Ambagan is how he pulls us back to how painting should be. Even with Thomas doubting the resurrection of his Lord, with Restored every piece has now a resuscitated life on its own. Restored not only means “to fix what was broken” but to could be “as real” as where your imagination takes you.


Dondon Jeresano: His Real Estate Business


I believe I was born an activist through art.

--Dondon Jeresano

Estado comes at a time when a fresh mandate has just been handed over by the people, suspending much of our disappointment and illusions in temporarily disbelief from the previous presidential administration on the side. At a period when much of Philippine art being produced these days are from the dictates of auctions or personal emojis, Dondon Jeresano continues his in-depth expositions to the blatant wrongdoings of society by unraveling deeper into that quagmire of what destructs the very root of the system that governs us. Using architectural interiors of the very institutions that commands the governed as loci, Jeresano conforms aesthetically with the whys and not necessary the hows of their contexts to the messaging they seek to impart to its viewers.

When architect Daniel Burnham planned Manila during the Commonwealth period he made sure elegance and permanence as the cornerstones of American legacies following Roman and Greek examples. These institutional buildings of our branches of government—executive, legislative and judiciary--would reflect the sense of dignity and power that emanated from what they represent. The three states of power consist of the visible expressions of governance, laws, and justice as symbols of our acquired democracy in action.

Lost in Paradise
Lost in Paradise is a rowdy depiction of a dysfunctional presidency’s as seen in his sordid representative office at the Old Malacanang. With loss of faith and respect, the aesthetic chaos is best represented by the composition lambasting our leaders prioritizing themselves than others. With the floors creative deconstructed, fluffy cakes speak of the lust for greed; of having it and eating it too. As his signature take, Jeresano prominently floats showing him involved to its solution. Man is inherently lustful for power and fame as Jeresano’s art cascades to find significance to this artistic fixture. He imparts it is in rising from one’s fall, when one learns, his lessons one becomes strongest in every challenge.
The Supreme Court Hall of Justice in An Apple a Day is often venerated as sacred ground breeding equality to the law. However it is often the scene of purges with blood-stained clothes of hapless victims, piling up amounting to delayed justice. A drifting apple embodying the truth blends while headless magistrates abound showing disrespect for the law and order complete the goriness of this picture. How often has this estate been used as the affirmation of a lie well told a thousand times you are even convinced of its reverse falsehood.
An Apple a Day
Main Attraction is a powerful allegory of poverty being neglected by a shanty inside the classic interiors of the Old Senate Session Hall. Disturbing sensibilities social realism has never been pleasing to the eyes. One should train to view how it strains the eyes. Jeresano presents it at it is—right smack to your face. The Old Senate Session Hall was the oldest and longest home of our lawmakers. It has been the last refuge of the those who have less in life. Pillows-abound representing dreams of ordinary people such as a place to sleep on with roof over their head.

Main Attraction
With a background in architecture Jeresano’s realism remains steadfast as a fusion of social commentary and contemporary imagery. It always has strong political contents while his aesthetics revolve around anatomies and allegories of people confronting the dark perils of their lives. Always leaning towards the cause of the multitude have been oppressed, he tackles problems as his luring appeal lies in the composition making sure his symbols freely converse each other. It may not sit well in the proper gallery set up. It may have the formal mechanism of art but it seems comfortable seen outdoors or in the streets.

He usually starts by finding his themes by painstakingly researching for them. He then finds the architectural perspective to go with it, even the choice of exterior or interior is compulsively interesting. Upon finalizing, he then sketches on canvas only to finish with color.

Untold Story 1
Jeresano’s art yearns for something beyond. With architecture backdrop as particulars, a dialogue among iconographic images attempts something critical and profundity emerges. With an antiestablishment pun in presence of barber chairs these tales are what seems to be a consistent influx of sham drudgery and broken dreams. What is not taken seriously leaves bad taste in the mouth and gut as in Untold Stories where small pieces forming triptychs compliment and enrich his main pieces.

Estado doubly reflects the current situation of the prevalent disillusion from the powers-that-be. It is also the governing body that rules at the present in all of us. Jeresano would want us to be vigilant of whatever false hope our government imparts to us. A realist by heart, it is his distinct visual style he has crafted that marvels us to move forward. He is most comfortable with and his audience could best identify. It is the blatant reality we all witness daily, even turn a blind eye to.


Jeresano identifies with the low and downtrodden. He forces himself to paint what they should know in their lives as his desire to let his art pinch the heart of the viewer. As an activist he does not clenches his fist rather he painterly applies his advocacies and issues on his many a canvases. More than this challenges him he wants people to recognize themselves in his paintings; upon revealing only can their emancipation begin.    

 Estado is ongoing at the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo City.