Ricky Ambagan: Fresh Produce

What Grows on Your Garden

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

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

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

Last Dance

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

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

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


El Pueblas: Dried and Tested


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

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

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

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

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

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


Kristoffer Tolentino: Mass Executions


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Connect The Dots


A Review of The Philippine Contemporary: To Scale the Past and the Possible
Metropolitan Museum of Manila

Long regarded as the masterpiece that ushered in Philippine modernism, I was half expectant to see The Builders (1928) in this monumental survey. Part of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) collection, my old aesthetic sense kept bugging me why the Metropolitan Museum of Manila did not bother to borrow the canon Victorio Edades piece from making the short trip across the street. More out of respect than just being courteous to the late National Artist since the subtitle reads “to scale the past and the possible.”

How Horizon (1915-1964) opened with a portrait of Fernanda de Jesus (1915) by then 23 year-old Fernando Amorsolo intrigued me even more. It was refreshing though to view Amorsolo’s early rendition of the “perfect Filipina” (his words) and not his usual bevy of farmers planting in the rice fields. Horizon also had representations from Isabelo Tampinco and Guillermo Tolentino to the Triumvirate to the Neo-realists, showcasing artistic lineage of Filipino artists who were trained in western thought but were wrought in native sensibilities.

At a time when much of Philippine contemporary art practice suffers from exacting historicity and deft of social imaginings, with the non-inclusion of The Builders, the exhibition could have just started with the free brushstrokes of reds, blacks and whites that beckoned the Philippine abstraction in Episode in Stockholm (1964) by Jose Joya. Historically marking our country’s first representation (together with Napoleon Abueva) to the Venice Biennale that year, it emitted an outburst that was premature yet a perpetual state of becoming present.

Brown Man's Burden by Benedicto Cabrera
Purposely hanged back-to-back Brown Man’s Burden (Undated) by Benedicto Cabrera and Itak sa Puso ni Mang Juan (1978) by Antipas Delotavo highlighted Trajectory (1965-1984) representing the advent of social realism indicating the sovereign struggle during the repressive martial law era. Evidenced in Cabrera’s acrylic on paper is a period photograph of a seated American officer being carried by two Ifugao as reference found in an antique shop while still based in London.

Art critic Alice Guillermo stresses in her book Social Realism in the Philippines how the choice of contemporary subject matter must draw from the conditions and events of our time and is essentially based on keen awareness of conflict. Cabrera produced this rustic monochrome effect evoking an almost fleeting moment appropriately etched as colonial subjugation.

The call of the indigenous using mixed media became the employed vehicle as art became more codified to assert what Filipinos want to conceal yet politically profess. Latitude (1984) noticed how the assassination of Ninoy Aquino the previous year took its gravest toll with issues emanating from poverty and migration of our people become even more blatant. Bartolina series (1984), an assemblage of self-absorbing wood structures by Jerusalino Araos features how discarded wood induced with migrant issues can overlap yet compliment. Okupado (1994) by Mark Justiniani is another testimonial to this creative ploy. Using stainless sheets and stickers of the jeepney as graphic device, the interplay of commanding words like Rebelde and Kupad in what was supposedly this public transportation’s welcome arch was effective.   

MaMackinley by Alfred Esquillo
Philippine portraiture has been case studies in perspectives. Hanged beside each other, the dialogue between MaMackinley (2001) by Alfredo Esquillo and Insecured (2005) by Ronald Ventura proved to be the most potent in contrasts and relevance. 

A gripping image of mother and child, MaMckinley depicted by the Governor General clinging his bare claws on baby Philippine President symbolically summed up our imperial relations with the United States on canvas. MaMckinley is considered a modern masterwork by the popular Esquire Philippines magazine to the aesthetically critical Afterall journal and one of the most exhibited Philippine art pieces. Insecured (2005) by the highest priced Southeast Asian in recent auctions is a raw penciled depiction of one’s meticulous route in surviving one’s artistic career. It is said to be one of the few pieces Ventura has kept to himself and is now being shown to the public for the first time.

Insecured by Ronald Ventura
Noticing most of the chosen artists came from either University of the Philippines or University of Santo Tomas one is reminded how much has changed in these two bastions of Philippine art. The old UP with Amorsolo and Tolentino at the forefront were the first conservatives to espouse classical realism. UST with Edades at the helm was obviously more an advocate of modernism. The past twenty years saw their reversal of fortunes with UP fine art students making the crossover to the avante garde and taking the conceptual stance as mentored by UST-bred Roberto Chabet. Breeding the likes of Nona Garcia, Geraldine Javier, Wire Tuazon, the Ching brothers and more disciples, all at one-time shared the spaces of Surrounded By Water (their samples have their own room in this show) while UST strengthened the imaginative visual styles of classmates Esquillo, Ventura, Melvin Culaba and Andres Barrioquinto who honed their painting skills by winning national art competitions which still preferred the representational and wall-bound pieces. 

Eschewing grand narratives for multiple of presents, Philippine contemporary art persist on dwelling much on identity, socio-politics and spirituality as its main corpus even with the absence of the paint brush, New Direction speaks of the heterogeneity of preference to the fast and recent visual languages.

The Mabini Art Project by Alfred and Isabel Aquilizan (drawingroom.com)
Relying much on photography with the obvious text to what was written in blue and green in Maria Isabel Cruz’s Open your Soul To Me for Tomorrow May Never Come is an example. Engaging in ethnic heritage can one get offended when the revered bul-ol is sandwiched in between metal poles in the case You and Me (2013) by Paris-based Gaston Damag? Framed: The Mabini Art Project (2013) by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan took a manual pun of what is fine and folk, of what is commercial and academic in Philippine art practice.

With auctions houses and new independent art spaces figuring in the scene, Philippine contemporary art stubbornly asserts its own distinctiveness. Whatever the show lacked in space it made up in pedigree. Aside from Edades, a good exercise is to identify who were left out.


Paglaum: Paper and Clay, Hope in Between


Usbong 5. Paper Clay on Canvas, 30 x 40 in.

More than any other art form (photography included), one would like to believe art historian and critic Thomas McEvilley when he said painting is still the preferred aesthetic medium in observing how our contemporary world behaves. Its drawing power has often been associated with the recentness of its approach, direct engaging in dialogue and sometimes even rebellion from its long tradition. 

Given all these, one often takes for granted how much is painting’s privileged capacity to heal a tired or even wounded soul, like a soothing balm on a painful migraine. 

Having been trained by our senses to view visuals made from the usual oil/acrylic, watercolor/water-based media, comes Paglaum, an exhibition of paper clay art by artists from the once typhoon ravaged city of Tacloban, a refreshing take on an art scene currently being preoccupied with art auctions, biennales and prominent provenance issues.

Usbong 5. Paper Clay on Canvas, 36 x 24 in.

At such a time as this where the signature of the artist is preferred rather the meaning of the work, Paglaum defies artistic media prioritizing message than the eventual direction to regain whatever artistically, spiritually or even physically exiled by Yolanda a year ago.

Resorting to paper and clay these artists were not limited by the scarcity of art materials in continuing to create images. Usbong series by Dante Enage dwells on redemption and afflicted sensibilities to the viewer. Enage uses the bark of the red lauan tree used in tuba (a local wine made from coconut juice or coconut toddy) to pigment his paintings. It is his vision in bringing the arts and culture of the Waraynons to a larger audience through this medium and the symbolisms found in his work. 

Done in abstract yet in confidence, Ernie Ybañez is undaunted in Bloom. For Ybanez, art must revolve and be progressive. By this definition the behavior of paper and clay suits best for him as something good must come from the rubble we only have to pick up the pieces. Ybañez’s art awakening was in the 70’s in Cebu, learning the basics by interacting with Cebu’s landscape artists on their on-the-spot painting trips in the countryside. He is now back in Tacloban, he is also concentrating in his art.

Bloom. Paper Clay on Canvas, 36 x 24 in.

Imagining a Lightness of Being, 36 x 24 in
Using mats as his graphic handle, Raul Agner waxes poetic in Imagining a Lightness of Being. Having tried various media like pen and ink on paper and acrylic on canvas, he has immersed himself with human and social issues, local history and culture and ordinary people’s aspirations for better quality of life such as the almost a year he had to struggle into. As banig has been produced by the Warays for centuries, art should interweave image, message, and meaning for it to inspire people. His works are also in pen and ink on paper and acrylic on canvas and paper which touch on human and social issues, local history and culture and ordinary people’s aspirations for a better quality of life. 

Looking long and hard at these works one imbibes hope not as an assumption but as an urgent construct, as a do-it-right-here-right-now kind-of-thing. It is not longed for but an exacting act and Paglaum seeks to reclaim not only victims’ dignity but the urge to rekindle. After a year, and with an impending super storm again, it hurts more but the tears have dried up. It seeks to reclaim whatever or whoever actually owes the people of Tacloban at no cost to them. That life begins when art matters again.  

Paglaum was exhibited in many venues such as Resorts World, Manila Art and Manila Fame.


Jeff Salon: Lost Stars


Ask any child these days on how to make and simply fly a kite chances are you would meet a long blank stare. The most you can probably solicit is a mere shrug at the thought. And if you are luckier he or she would google at your curious query at a later bored time.

In Buradol (Bicolano for kites) Jeff Salon reprises even deeper to his most favored of themes in childhood--the lost joy of flying kites. Capturing almost ten years of his early life navigating the starched strings of this bamboo-formed airborne plane wrapped with plastic, roaming freely the unadulterated skies at the open fields behind their house in Camarines Sur.

Alapaap. Oil on Canvas, 5x4ft
Early on, as soon as he would wake up, without fail one would find Salon either making a kite or flying one. As the wind gushes towards his face, he feels he is on top or even one with the clouds. Evident in Alapaap one assumes immortality as a kite. Looking up to the big sky one is grateful for the gift of redemption as he appreciates the heavens--exaltation to the most high. As one flies his kite, like a true artist one cannot help but notice the floating characters how God had manually curated the skies, it was here that Salon observed that there are no same clouds as they form our favorite animals, flowers or even the faces of our loved ones.

De Kahon is part of the Buradol Series
Typical to Salon is how he multiplies his messages in a series of artworks, representing the happiness of kite flying in ten parts, in this case assembled in small-boxed pieces. Done in his usual earth tones of brown and gray, Buradol series does more to paints as Salon even expanded them in three-dimensional pieces using actual wood and nylon string depicting his images on them.

Being aerodynamic by nature, kites usually take the shape of anthropomorphic forms like fish (the gills have their purpose in flight), bats, birds or even water buffaloes. Oftentimes they are airplanes where a pointed front controls its direction and the tail navigates the wind from below. In fact in kite parlance, he who holds the strings is a pilot while the co-pilot is the one who releases it while walking backwards.

Reflected in Buradol series kite-flying levels off whatever class or gender there are in youth groups. Salon’s friends have gone far and away from the fields and from where they fly are now patches of a larger subdivision. In these trying times, it uplifting that Salon’s images of children are built on sterner stuff. They are tough yet meek at heart and competitive when flying side by side but they can help repair a kite once he sees a kid badly needing assistance.

In these scenes, Jeffrey also pays tribute to his father who is not only a great teacher but a fine carpenter who taught him how to handle the saw and hammer a nail and build whatever his mind sets him to create or recreate.

With figures predominantly in almost ash gray tones, with the strings in hand, by looking at these works Salon allows you to escape time or better yet he simulates you in his time. These were the moments Salon and his friend dreamed their dreams. They learned life by making kites, how one should not sacrifice quality of materials just because it is cheap or available. The better the bamboo the more protective the spine as more weight will pull you down. The pointer of the kite is most important as it directs the flight, like being focus on where you want to go. One could say he learned the rudiments of his being artist through by mixing art and science of kite flying as well.

Buradol sa Uran. Mixed Media, 2014

Capturing every ethereal emotion Buradol sa Uran rekindles fond memories of Salon growing up in his hometown in the province. Starting with a frame in the form of a house, the kite shaped canvas features other activities he enjoyed as a child like idling on top of water buffaloes. He compliments the use of metallic colors like gold and silver mixed with primary hues like red and yellow. Typical to Salon is his clouds that places you in between a dreamy state or a foggy situation either which way he hopes one can get out of it. His clouds blend to the rustic primary finish he adopts as base–a semblance of decay with a promise of escape or epiphany, Salon is most effective in conceptualizing this.   

Tanaw. Mixed media, 5x4ft. 2014

As December ushers the start of amihan, bringing coolness in the breeze, Salon recalls they would even extend up until the wee hours of the morning come yuletide season. Tanaw reverses the perspective and assigns the viewer as if one is being/feeling feted as a kite himself. As one surges upward, one notices how we are caught in the quagmire from below–from the larger picture of how largely polluted our oceans are or how densely populated our desperate metropolis to how families have been divided not material poverty but of the spirit. Despite having the freedom from above one opts to be spared from gory and even gruesome setting we may not see but be witnesses to. Although Tanaw is a self-portrait, Salon opts to cover his vision in the presence of inevitable bi-polar negative and positive vibes. There is always the silver lining (as his primary canvas) where the rainbow celebrates the brightness of a new tomorrow.

The Challenger. Oil on Canvas, 8x5 ft. 2014
The brilliance of Salon is how he conceals his intents and purposes to his creative devices appointing his viewer the subliminal connotations to his meanings. The rendering in The Challenger is apt for a children’s book however see how his unified kites confront death as it explodes in an almost cinematic progression beaming a skull from behind. The allegory in the redness of flight/fight against what constitute progress wasted on the young—ideals against technology etc.

Like the kite one can only be swayed or even find its way out of this mess, based on how it wants to intensify and command on the available air to guide him. By flash movement in the overlapping kite flyers, war and its ugly head has been a recurring presence in Salon’s works he remains positive as the child overcomes the adult in Salon. Notice how Salon abhors stillness by incorporating cartoons to subvert the brutality of it all. Only Salon can paint children is softer but fierce in stance. 

The late Steve Jobs did not allow his children when they were young to use computers at home. The inventor and Apple co-founder believed that the best way for them to learn the rudiments was to be with nature and play outdoors. With gadgets kids these days are losing their motor skills, or just being in touch with the earth. Even with the recurring theme of combat and violence, Salon’s realism may not be as political as social but they imbibe empathy by examining your senses to a maximum reality. 

As a visual artist, Salon has always kept his ear to the ground in being considered the last generation who learned to play in the streets. Those were summer spent without ipods, Cartoon Network, Twitter and Facebook but he was pleased as unraveled in these latest works. His only worry that these paintings don’t end up as instructional materials in a dusty museum in a not so distant time.

Buradol is the 3rd Solo Exhibition of Jeff Salon. It is ongoing at the Nineveh Artspace in Sta. Cruz, Laguna as part of its 11th anniversary celebrations.


Jay Aldeguer: Tall T-Shirt Tales

From souvenir shirts to tourist taxis, Jay Aldeguer has etched his name as one of the most creative and innovative entrepreneurs in the Philippines. His life story is as colorful as his popular and much loved T-shirts carrying the Islands Souvenir brand.

Jay started out his business in a cart in a mall. Then he opened his first branch in Cebu, making three times his investment in the first year. On his third year, he was already invited to set up an outlet in SM. Today, Jay has 70 outlets in the country, including stores and kiosks. The business has expanded globally; Island Souvenirs is in Japan, USA, Singapore and Macau. His souvenir store concept has evolved into Islands Banca Cruises, Islands Stay Hotels and now Islands Taxi Service. Aldguer has also ventured into media and entertainment. His Escape is the leading events company in Cebu; and his CeBu! TV Channel 28 is a 24-hour regional channel featuring the city and its people.

Jay was 27 and the youngest to be awarded “The Outstanding Young Men” for Business Entrepreneur by then President Fidel Ramos in 1992. He received the Agora Award for Business Entrepreneur, and the Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year.” He is part of the first batch of the prestigious PLDT Bossing Awardees.

When Vision Petron added a new T-shirt Art Design category in 2011, Jay was invited to lend his expertise in this new but very popular expressive medium of the youth. We asked him a few questions about t-shirts and how a frustrated artist like him can be a successful businessman - while still having fun: and pursuing his passion:

Q. Your success story mainly involves a company can make it big even if it is far from Manila. Can you tell us how your company, Islands Souvenirs started? Can you walk us through your struggle to inspire others?

A. When I was 21, immediately after college, I went backpacking to Europe as a graduation present from my parents.  I’d collect souvenirs in every place I’d visit.  Initially, I bought figurines and books and other items until I realized I wasn’t going to last the rest of the trip if I continued buying heavy items and stuffing them in my bag.  So after my second leg, I decided to stick to souvenir shirts which not only turned out to be great souvenirs but also a great change of clothes.  When you’re backpacking, you don’t have the luxury of doing your laundry all the time.  I ended my travel with a couple of dozen shirts from different places.

But it was my travel around the Philippines after Europe that gave me the idea of a potential business. I remember I was in Baguio at Mines View Park when I asked the sales lady for their top-selling shirt.  To my amazement, she pulled out a shirt with the exact same design as the souvenir shirt my parents bought for me when I was ten years old. 

Baguio, the top destination in the Philippines then, did not even have a decent souvenir shirt to offer.  That, I recall, was a “light bulb” moment that inspired me to look into this business.  While there were handicrafts and woodworks souvenirs galore, I felt there was a big potential for “practical” souvenirs.  Furthermore, the souvenir industry had been perceived as a cottage industry, one that never evolved not only in the Philippines but even in the most sophisticated international destinations.

Having gone back to my hometown in Cebu was also timely since the airport had just been converted into an international airport and the world-renowned Shangri-la Resort had just opened which was the beginning of Cebu's climb as the country's top travel destination.

Being a Cebu-based company is actually very strategic especially because of the industry we are in and the fact that the top destinations such as Bohol, Boracay, and Palawan are nearer to Cebu than they are to Manila. 

Q. From where can you trace its continuing success? What is your definition of its success?

A. Success in the realm of business is able to execute one's dream or imagination and make it sustainable and profitable.  Aside from that, we find great fulfillment in creating an impact in the community and the country.  For instance, the destination shirts we produced in the early 90s helped change the Filipino's colonial mentality of constantly wearing destination shirts of foreign places that has "California" or "Hawaii" on them.  Because of our exciting and colorful designs which projected the true fun character of the Philippine islands, Filipinos started wearing them a lot and the shirts became "mini billboards" to promote the different places in the country. 

Our formula of "tweaking" an existing but thriving business has worked for us in all our other subsidiaries starting with Islands Souvenirs to Islands Banca Cruises, Islands Pasalubong, Islands Stay Hotels, and Islands Pinoy Deli.

Q. What is in a T-shirt that makes it still an effective marketing or branding tool in promoting values or an advocacy?

A. A T-shirt is about self-expression – a way for the wearer to express his beliefs, likes, dislikes, and other personal details in a cool and hip way. Most people underestimate its importance but the marketing power of a T-shirt is simple and very effective. It is a wearable medium of communication. Regardless of what kind of design, message, or statement is on the shirt, the wearer immediately becomes a brand ambassador and a human billboard, relaying the brand or design to others. The T-shirt empowers the wearer. In a way, he represents the brand or whatever statement the shirt projects. This in turn transforms the shirt into an inspirational symbol.  Also, a T-shirt evokes a sense of tribe among the wearers, creating an exclusive clique where individuals bond over a shared concept. The T-shirt can be a vehicle for these people to express shared ideals.  

Q. What for you makes a good t-shirt design?

A. A good design can be as simple as one having a strong visual and aesthetic impact.  But some designs become more than just a visual expression; some convey a strong message and a projection of one's character and feelings.  For instance, our customized “i heart” series was very simple but captured the imagination of millions professing their love for their place. Another recent example was the #Bangon T-shirt series during the calamity-laden Visayas in 2013. The shirt and campaign was an instant hit and allowed us to raise funds to contribute to the rehabilitation of the Yolanda and Bohol quake victims.  The shirt design was simple but the message touched a nerve especially at a time of despair. 

Q. Can you provide tips on how to come up with a winning entry?

A.  Differentiate. As a very fluid medium, the design is very critical in terms of its ability to stand out, to capture the imagination, to relay the message, and to create an immediate impact without being too outrageous. It is all too easy to follow a current trend in aesthetic especially if there is a common design concept. The challenge is how to be different yet remain strongly relevant. 
Simplify. Avoid being too many things at once. Have a single-minded focus. This strengthens and solidifies the concept, making it more credible and believable. 

Q. You have been our judge in the T-shirt art design category since we introduced it in 2011. Can you remember what your expectations were then? What do you expect from students now? Or what do you still want to see the competition evolve into?

A. The fact that Vision Petron added a T-shirt design category signifies Petron's commitment to continue being relevant especially to the youth.  This is a very strong statement that Vision Petron is going to great lengths in helping the youth express themselves through art.  In 2011 during its first year, the entries were rather overwhelming both in number and in quality.  There was an immediate interest among students to participate as it was a less daunting medium and something most students could relate to.  I feel, though, that there is still a lot of room for improvement in terms of style and rendition.  There seems to be a prevalent trend of executing the same look and style. So the ones that won really stood out from the rest.  And those that stood out are few and far between. I'm confident though to see more variety in style in the coming years as there has been a steady progression since the category's inception in 2011.

(Reprinted from Vision Petron Folio October 2014)