Homegrown: Jaime Gubaton


Barely existing in this densely populated metropolis, wrought in sheer pessimism, confronted with fallacies, suffered by drudgeries, a painter has to do what he only knows and what he does best–to depict alternate realities; one that uplifts the spirits in a virtual realm on canvas, and in the words of award-winning artist Jaime Gubaton in a “surreal-without-the-savage” manner. Reprising this inherent artistic commitment Gubaton sought to overcome even his own artistic predicament by developing a visual style and created unique ethereal and endearing locales.

On surface, marked by his signature layers as basic foreground in featuring his chosen subjects, Gubaton’s works seem like mere makeshift abodes with protruding balconies, curving balustrades and intricate grills. On odd size canvases, induced like paper cut molds of odd but varied geometric patterns, ever the observant, Gubaton has crafted timeless elegies that reveal such visions of the possible and able.

With remnants of his previous brushstrokes--the traffic light continues to blink clamoring for better humanity and progress, his pigeons are more at home along light posts defying electrical hazard for comfort than their boxed holes. Growing up in the city Gubaton was exposed early on with such desperate manifestations of subsistence, his paintings reminds us that one is forced to find beauty in order to endure the harshness of the metropolis. As reserved as he is in person, Gubaton’s potency lies within the persuasion of his subdued earth colors and the distinct composition of his images intensely capture themes in our everyday scenes in a concise rendered in detail.

Evident still are his jeepneys and calesas as he did many a previous canvas. Depending how one views them, they can be laudable tributes to a slowly passing period highlighting Philippine culture. They can also be a nagging cause for concern of how we failed to come up with solutions on how effective we travel to our real and mythical journeys in life.  

Positive as Gubaton’s disposition has always been, his children are fondly depicted like his own, playing in front of him, exhibiting that reserved smirk, beaming with adoring eyes that making us feel most human when all hope is lost. Meanwhile Gubaton retreats and pursues his women by favorably decorating them in organic brushstrokes employing in an aesthetic art nouveau extent. By embracing them with floral configurations he conceals their fears and assures them of their welfare and well being. Here Gubaton is most effective. 

Viewing Gubaton’s initial solo exhibition one feels the lightness of his or her being; they are sensate in appeal, scenic in visual, the feeling is almost infectious. The harder and longer you look at each piece, the deeper they heal the collective wounds of our foreboding memory and fading identity. And for Gubaton, he is just getting started.   

About the Artist

As far as he could remember, Jaime Gubaton has always been observing and putting his thoughts on paper and eventually on canvas. As a student he was already winning in art contests early on, he would even beat other students some even twice his height and age.

A Fine Arts graduate with a major in Advertising from the University of the East Caloocan in 2003, Gubaton would eventually win in bigger and more prestigious national competitions such as the PLDT-DPC National Cover Art Contest, ArtPetron National Student Art Competition, Shell National Student Art Competition, Department of Agrarian Reform On-the Spot Painting Competition, and Metrobank Art & Design Excellence Painting Category.  

For Gubaton, one must paint works that inspire in a style that has never been done before, have respect for Philippine culture and tradition, and lastly, honor your audience whoever and whatever they are in life. Such has been his artistic philosophy.

Ongoing at the Gallery Big, Homegrown is his first solo exhibition.                                                       


R. Jordan Santos: Judging By His Covers


Like all great career stories, when one was forced to learn the inherent rudiments of the trade, when the one who was usually tasked to do to it did not show up at the work place, for independent graphic designer R. Jordan Santos that was 13 years ago. At the tail end of the second semester, at the Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of University of the Philippines Diliman to be exact.

That being March, it was thought about for the Philippine Collegian to come out with its first Women's issue with Maureen Gaddi Dela Cruz of Kultura and Joms Salvador of Features as special editors. With the final exams week approaching, most staffers were unusually busy with their classes and rushing deadlines, this time academic. Some were even sick, only few can commit. Verk Magpusao, the Grapiks editor that time was not even available to do the layout and design forcing Jordan to step up the plate.

“On that slow Friday general assembly,” Jordan reminisces: “I volunteered to do it. I think it was even a relief for everyone. Layout work carried stigma of being a lonely, thankless activity nobody wanted to do. You end up being the only one left awake during press work when everyone else was done with writing, illustrating, and developing their photos. However if you were an artist who wanted control on things, layout gave you that. You had a say on how big a photo will be, how many illustrations needed, or to even edit a lengthy article with advice from the section editor. But it isn't for everyone. 

Book designing however will take to its full swing a few years after. Ani Almario, Jordan’s boss at the Adarna Publishing House entrusted him to doing the cover for her father’s new book of poems, Supot ni Hudas, for UST Press. It had an image of the constellation Pliedes or the seven daughters of Atlas, manually illustrated against a stark gray horizon. Its simplicity has now outlived its prose and to this day it remains one of Jordan’s most revered executions. National Artist Virgilio Almario would eventually commission him to do a few more book covers for him such as Memo Mula Gimokudan, Tatlong Pasyon Para sa Ating Panahon and Si Rizal: Nobelista. Being honored by this ongoing trust by our greatest living Filipino writer, Jordan continues to challenge himself to come out with even better covers, matching his latest prose and poetry every time the invitation is extended.

Juxtaposing his self-styled illustration with photography taunted his initial cover designs on books. Somewhat like his trademark pieces favored more photography on black surfaces with tinges of red. He then rounds it up with the usual suspects in fonts to finish the job. This is reflected in at least three of his works in Love’s a Vice by Mike Bigornia as translated by Krip Yuson (NCCA, 2004), Misterios and Other Poems (UP Press, 2005) by J. Neil Garcia and the recently launched, Manila Noir (Anvil, 2013). 

Persisting illuminated slits on slabs, Misterios and Other Poems renders a voyeur-like peep into the personal and social meanings of J. Neil Garcia’s poetry. He further decodes this process further by allowing the sacred and the sublime to co-exist on the same plane, making it illicit or banal depending on the viewer. For Jordan: It still stands as one of the works I'm most proud of. It was a very tricky execution where I was able to combine S&M images, a church, and even the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus.

Ever the realist, Jordan relies heavily on photographs being imposed upon like stretched canvases in rendering his covers. The drama of a black and white image has never failed to present its almost cinematic message across--blatant reality right smacked on one’s face.    

Affirming its aesthetic functionality, Jordan freely allows the photo speak for itself, altering or embellishing (or not embellishing it) it in the least possible way. He adds: this design direction has roots in photojournalism where photos should show what really happened. You cannot do that if you've altered a photo. Current photojournalism though is changing, with post processing becoming a norm. 

Such is Confronting the Ecological Crisis (Center for Environment Studies, 2001). With a hint of sepia, Jordan merely placed the best possible image to represent the subject matter and best font there is. The reflection of the title contemplates to even larger dismal plight of the theme.

Final Press Ready

Primarily an illustrator first before becoming a graphic designer it was in the rigorous weekly training of the Philippine Collegian, the only college paper that comes out weekly, churning out 60 issues for an academic year, that would eventually be his standard work ethic. He illustrates and designs fast and efficient because of this imbibed college media experience.

After being an in-house and project development officer for Adarna, for four years now he has been an independent graphic designer. He does main publication design but word of mouth made him do related work such as illustration, identity, and design consultations.

A typical process of book designing first involves defining specifications which according to Jordan most designers tend to neglect. After initial meetings with a client, as a general rule he will not start work unless all materials (manuscript and photos) are turned over. This saves both the client and him time and redundancy of efforts. One thing Jordan does best is his diligence to his craft. After reading the manuscript he researches on the net and even scouts the fields of what is there.

He does the rounds in the bookstores, visita biblioteca as he calls it, which is sort of conditioning for him before he does his initial cover design studies, inside pages and choice of fonts, and design treatments. After getting his client’s direction he digs deep in the trenches of design (his words).

"My influences," he continues "are actually comic book in origin -- sequential art people who tell a good story. In a way, my take on designing covers is that there is a story there, and is presented in design. Chipp Kidd is a major influence. He's the Neil Gaiman of cover design, in such a way that people always point to him when you want to be introduced to cover design."

For Jordan, one must not only be inspired in the confines of one’s field of expertise. In fact as graphic designer one must even be worldly (his word). Aside from collecting comic books, movies, Jordan has been a keen observer of other media of design like CD labels, packaging, posters. He adds: the more you know about the world, from current events, politics, pop culture, human nature, the more you'll be able to be armed with knowledge you can use in design.

Erotica Books (Anvil) was Jordan’s first foray as an independent graphic designer. With sensate and sensitive a subject, he diffused lust and pinned down any sexual undertones by incorporating symbolic forms and special fonts. As Jordan would say: The challenge was to come up with a cover design that was erotic, but not titillating or scandalous. Easy to say, hard to execute. We ended up with a design that was smart and witty.

The Book of Beginnings and Endings (National Book Development Board) won for Jordan the Best in Design-Publishing/Book Design for the 2014 Adobo Awards. Again photos as complimentary images were manifested on the covers: The idea was to come up with two publications, a writing journal and an annual report that features beginning and ending quotes—and leaves me to do my thing. We ended up with a cover featuring a photo of two trees, one at the height of blooming and the other of shedding its leaves. Both publications were originally meant to have red accents. Camille Dela Rosa of NBDB suggested at the last minute if we could change the accents on the Annual report to green to make it more distinct.

More than a one-man show book designing is a collaborative effort, a conspiracy actually with the writer, editor, marketing people of your publisher. For Jordan it is a service where one has to meet his client’s needs. He adds: It's not an expressive medium like painting. It could, but only on specific projects. You cannot force it. This was one of my earliest challenges where I treated book design or cover design as an expressive medium. I've come to terms with this, and limit my expressive design to non-commercial projects for myself or with friends.

Sometimes a cover is when preparation and opportunity meet. For quiet sometime Jordan had been taking a lot of photos that he could use if he was given a Noir book. When Anvil Publishing wanted a Philippine edition for Manila Noir cover to differentiate it with the US edition, Jordan was more than ready to step on the plate. Although the US edition was not as striking it was meant to be part of a series: Anvil decided with the one most manipulated of the studies I've given. The side is a sunset scene of electricity cables along Marcos highway and the angel comes from a shop that creates religious statues behind SM City, North Edsa. My only gripe was that the printing wasn't that good.

Between Loss and Forever by Cathy Babao-Guballa (Anvil) remains one of his most emotional and had Jordan finding it hard to detach: The original plan was to use some old fashioned painting of a mother and child. I suggested, how about we use photos? If the book was about facing grief, it should reflect on the cover and that photos of the writers holding their kids pictures would be best to convey this. We ended up with a collage of photos contributed by the authors, and only when I started placing the them did it dawned on me that as easy it was for me to give a photo based design solution, it must have been hard for the writers to share them and I should treat it with respect as well as give it justice. The background texture was meant to remind you of sticky photo album pages, the ones where you place photos between it and an acetate sheet. Photos have a white border reminiscent of photo booth sessions or ID pictures taken from a photo studio. The black and white photo on the front cover features poet and painter Maningning Miclat with her mom, Alma.

Wanted: Designer

A good graphic designer knows what’s best to promote himself and how to effectively appeal to his audience. In fact, Jordan half-jokingly thought of advertising himself the way a local plumber did – to place his name and contact numbers in those small pre-cut tin sheets placed on a post. He pitches: My work for Anvil Publishing is my most visible work locally. I've been doing covers for UP Press for years while still working for Adarna House, and even now as an independent. Bare necessities ang promotion ko. I have an online portfolio (www.coroflot.com/saintjordan), I give away calling cards, but I live on referrals.

Jordan still keeps his love for comics by designing for his comic group called Polyedron Comics. The main title is Cadre. The plan is to continue making well-designed local books, one at a time. An Ambeth Ocampo book is on his bucket list, but it has to come from the publisher or the historian himself. He ends: What local writers aren't aware of, much is that when a publisher carries your book or paper, you can suggest an outside designer to do your book. Tell your publisher and as long as the designer follows certain design house rules, it'll be fine. Some publishers may tell a writer that they have to shoulder the design fee though if they choose an outside designer. But if you'll be able to get the designer you want, what's a little extra expenses? Good design is always worth it.


Jeff Salon: Painting Out Loud


With much of modern-day distractions plaguing our fast-paced lives, 28 year-old Jeff Salon is relieved to have experienced happy childhood to survive his daily struggles as visual artist. With children still as his artistic focus, Salon waxes sentimental this time, shifting inward in Dream a Dream reminiscing deep about what it meant to be a boy charting his destinies in a small town. Surging loose to what these memories may evoke, he thrives to actuate their fateful occurrences on these canvases.

More subdued in his tone than in his previous output, mixing brown and gray he realizes his subjects by accenting them with metallic tint to connote his strength on his memories. This mixture of the earth’s hues shines brightest when light translates them to the viewer.

Soul Rise Melodies, Oil on Canvas, 2014

Soul Rise Melodies not only reflects Salon’s other passion—music--but how he uses the kind of determination he espouses. Not even an explosion of influences and the pull of temptations or material disturbance as represented behind him can take Salon out of his zone whether he is painting or whatever he is listening to.

Growing up in Camarines Sur, Salon was resourceful enough to make his own toys like carving boats from wood, flying kites in their unique art forms, and drawing unique images on sand. He would go to his secret haunts or to scenic spots where his slippers would take him no matter how far they were or little money he had.

Endless Bliss, Oil on Canvas, 2014
By the time he was painting these scenes, fun-filled moments came rushing in. How Salon missed his friends in Endless Bliss seeking to capture the ties that bound them in friendship. A typical work for Salon is children at play like this. He captures their movement to the point that some of their physical appearances vanish as the whiff of appears. Their laughter hid their fears, what did not scare them made them stronger. We are what we were then only to go our own separate ways. We just grew taller, grew bigger and maybe wiser.

Touch of Innocence, Oil on Canvas, 2014
With more brown than gray, Salon’s paintings refer to memorable moments or personal glories. Teaching us what course of action to take or how appropriate we live and what we could learn from their memories. Salon’s brilliance is in the details like letting some of his paint freely drip, usually green or any color so one can see the contrast. He splats on some of his pieces giving it fresh feel of the paint.

Another visual style is using graphic patterns like flowers, stars, or even birds on the images signifying the character of the images. These are reminders of his habit of spending time on the roof of their house when he was a kid, they has become his signatures to his art. Ever the good son, these are things from home he always takes with him. 

Touch of Innocence it is purity personified. When things don’t go our way we look back to a time when we were innocent and carefree. We always knew what pure happiness meant and how it felt. As children mature at an early age they lose their childhood and being child-like forever.

Summer Love, Oil on Canvas, 2014

Every promdi knows the story of Summer Love. Long before the advent of internet and mobile phones, the image brings you back to that embrace of a playmate you spent most of your summertime with. Like the younger sister you never had, you would get her that lone ripe fruit up the tree she was begging or she held your hand when you confronted the bullies in the neighborhood. However when the rainy days pour in, flooding the fields of your friendship, you would learn from your mother that her parents sent her to Manila for better education.   

Clash of Fierce welcomes us to the complex jungle that parallels the contemporary art scene. Packed with wolves, in case of tigers and horses. Paved with as many artists as fierce as these animals willing to contribute a style, an icon or two. With the event of local auction houses and new independent art spaces one still finds a lot of practicing artists searching for their respective places in the community. Some like hanging up the tree, submerged in the swamp or roaming in the expanse of land. Some resort to copying the masters or even outwitting a competitor for a particular creative perspective or commercial brushstrokes in order to survive. Not all is sad though and not all have the monopoly of images as Salon claims. All artists have a stake whatever claims they have. However not the strong but only the fittest survives.

In this tabula rasa, Salon continues to assert his own distinction by advocating the causes of children and in keeping alive the child in his sepia-to-almost bronze tint. His realism is dynamic that your eyes are led to move, rather than stare in the static. With Dream a Dream, Salon believes that his realities are fulfilled because he never stopped dreaming about it. So can you.  

Clash of the Fierce, Oil on Canvas, 2014

Dream a Dream is Jeff Salon’s 2nd Solo Exhibition ongoing at the Art Center, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City.


Detonating Lightbombs: Q & A with Zoe Peña


Her mother loves textiles, antiques and furniture – things with a lot of character and history while her father collected ceramic jars from his travels as a pilot. Zoe Peña thought maybe in an off-tangent way, they were responsible for cultivating her strong love for visual and visceral beauty in objects and why she does what she do now. Her love for Philippine Art though was of her own kindling, deeply rooted and can we say torrid?

Among the first graduates of the Art Management program in Ateneo de Manila University in 2010, Zoe started off writing for artist’s exhibitions and for galleries in Manila. It was however in 2008 when she helped Louie Cordero and Gary Ross Pastrana put together Futuramanila in Osage Hong Kong while still in school that she thought of the possibilities of working in art there some day.

In 2011 she was able to realize this when she founded Lightbombs Contemporary, an art advisory based focusing on Philippine Contemporary Art in Wong Chuk Hang San Wai.  

Zoe has gathered 28 Filipino artists around the world for the exhibition, New Natives. In the exhibition notes, Petra Magno writes it “deals with displacement on many levels and, more importantly, the work deals with displacement outside of outsized nationalism -- a trait that afflicted and afflicts the post-colonial Filipino. The post post-colonial Filipino, the 'new native', doesn’t dismiss the problems that are still alive in the country’s politics and society. Rather, the departure from realism has necessitated a more conceptual approach to such issues, creating art with more room for interpretation, art that risks looking politically irrelevant precisely because the very notion of politics has shifted to accommodate the new century, the larger world. Here it is: the new narrative, the new native, discussing plans for a new home."

We are sharing you Zoe’s reply to our questions regarding this milestone.

Happy Schizocouple
Archival print, Arylic, Thread, Glitter, Ink
36 x 36 inches, 2014
How was Lightbombs Contemporary conceptualized? Can you tell us the thrust of Lightbombs Contemporary?
I started Lightbombs in 2011 as a way to converge my passions for introducing new artists to collectors. Artists I used to work with before (artists from New York, Hong Kong) would contact me and so would collectors that I worked with before. Molding it as an advisory, it was also a way to impress upon the importance of collections management and development in the primary market for contemporary art - so documentation, cataloguing, initiatives to build provenance, collection portfolios - these were things I really loved to do because it really helped me learn in depth about an artist and those that appreciate their work. 

Later on, it then grew into a solid idea of promoting Filipino artists while still maintaining that focus on collections management. I think I have always been a bit daunted to really take on Philippine art because it is what I love most. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it properly. And so the first two years of Lightbombs was experimenting and growing because at 23, living in a new country, exploration was the only thing that made sense. Now at 26, I feel confident in knowing I can represent Filipino artists the best way I know how to which is through transparency, curiosity and passion. And this is where we are now!

Island 3
Digital print on fine art photo paper
12 x 20.5 in. (framed: 29 x 34 in.)
Edition 1, 4 and 5, 2013
Was it a decision to be based in Hong Kong? Your timing seems perfect, as you were there already before these international art fairs started organizing there, is there really a market for Philippine art in HK?
I definitely wanted to be based in Hong Kong after I helped Louie Cordero and Gary Ross Pastrana put together Futuramanila in Osage Hong Kong. I was still in school then so I think ever since that show in 2008 it was a very conscious effort to get back to Hong Kong because I could see the possibilities for working in art there. Also, I was (am still) in love with a man that lived in Hong Kong. Life fell into place and keeps me in Hong Kong.
I think there is a market for anything in Hong Kong, whether big or small. These days especially Philippine art has been tipped as the next big thing and while we are aware of the buzz, it’s not a focal point. I have always done everything in life based on my gut so it’s very exciting to see things coinciding with Lightbombs’ passions. It opens new doors for everyone involved, I think.
How are you since you opened? Is art advising something common there and does not apply here?
We are a young outfit and very niche so there are challenges but at the same time we are very privileged to be able to introduce Filipino art to enthusiasts. I love seeing how a brow furrows and relaxes when looking at a work they’ve never encountered. Art advisories are more understood in Hong Kong I think in terms of numbers and anyone that is curious about protecting their investments in art.

Terrarium no. XX
30 x 20 inches
Archival Pigment Ink on Hahnemüehle
Photo Rag Fine Art Paper
Editions of 5 + 2 AP
Edition 1, signed verso, 2013
With new galleries and independent art spaces opening side by side with local auction houses in the Motherland (as you would call it), having the perspective, can you comment on the current Philippine art scene?
I think it’s all fantastic! I think the opening of new ventures forces everyone else to up their game. Standards in the art industry are very complicated to talk about but I think everything is moving forward and that is inspiring.
On New Natives, how did you choose the artists? What were you looking for in their works? Was there a criteria?
It truly was the most casual and organic process in the beginning – I wanted to work with artists I loved and knew. And then it turned into an opportunity to really do something significant because I realized there is so much that people have not seen or know about these Filipino artists. What we hear about are big numbers from auction houses and that’s fantastic too because they allow for some light to be shined upon Filipino contemporary art. With regards to the works in New Natives, I trust each and every artist’s creative decisions for their work, so I wasn’t working with too much of a criteria except for, I suppose, size constraints because Hong Kong is a city that is lacking in spaces ideal for art exhibitions. That aside, my job is to love and support their practice and understand it so that my passions may be shared with others.

Sacred Is The New Profane 1 (diptych)
Assemblage with Found Objects
24 x 48 inches, 2010
If you may, can you name highlights of the show?
Ringo Bunoan’s Island Series,Victor Balanon’s The Kindly Ones, Michael Arcega’s A Tautology, Norberto Roldan’s Sacred Is The New Profane, Dex Fernandez’s Happy Schizocouple, Costantino Zicarelli’s Beyond Evil series, Marija Vicente’s Play Money, Felix Bacolor’s Gloat works and everything else in the exhibition, to be honest! 
I’m sure you will get to meet or be introduced to more Filipino artists, will New Natives be an annual event?
As much as I like the possibilities of an annual New Natives, I think because this venture was driven very earnestly by instinct that it would be hard to repeat this. This is a special show and if we something akin to this exhibition, I would like for the next one to have an identity that is as strong and as distinct as New Natives has.

New Natives exhibition is ongoing at Lightbombs Gallery. www.lightbombs.com


Ricky Ambagan: Bookmarks

(for Gabriel Garcia Marquez 1927-2014)

Very few Filipino artists figure prominently in as many national art competitions and still produce a distinct body of work as they eventually mature in their foregoing artistic careers. In Here Comes the Sun Ricky Ambagan revisits his past visual triumphs while traversing in new realms of visual dialogues. Thematically tempered by books, these bundled pages in between covers, some pieces personally essay like art journals in coded languages while others become more social in their current pronouncements. Transforming these near-obsolete tomes into stages of conflicts, each layer in the bookshelves serves as a arena of issues, possibilities and realizations.

While growing up Ambagan reminisces being impressed by the presence of encyclopedia volumes as semantics of affluence upon inhabiting the private spaces of his friends’ homes. Books would become his acclaimed prerequisite as one acquires a certain taste in lifestyle reflecting one’s stature in society.
In his famous essay Unpacking My Library critic and intellectual Walter Benjamin sought the dialectical in the function of books. Aside from the pleasure of actively squinting of one’s eyes in between lines, books aid to alleviate in the rudiments of writing creatively or exhibiting the obvious upon viewers its collective decorative interface.

Shadow of Wisdom, 2014
Acquiring of books has become status events as recent auctions prove more collectors purchase books in lots for the sheer aesthetics they project. Shadow of Wisdom is a solitary testimony of the long and short argument of the demise and eventual futility of books being read. As our digital age challenges its impending existence, devoid of emotion this lone advocate remains steadfast as it puts up a last defiant stand against the fading of this old world reminder. An unread book on a shelf is a marker of a better time spent than reading it, of the time your mind wonder that there are greater minds than yours and a book is a tribute to that achievement.
Let It Go, 2014

Although stark in depiction, Let It Go looks forward to the blue horizon of how books will matter to the next generation. Shelf life is the difference between actual books and electronic kind, and this cannot replace the romance of turning its original pulp and be engrossed by it. A reprisal of Ambagan’s winning piece in the GSIS National Painting Competition in 2011, books remind us of what we know and more of what we don’t know, that a people is as progressive as the gathering illumination of knowledge will liberate them. Ambagan’s depiction of light emanating from many sources represented with the flight of lanterns inspires as it enthrals our responsibility to initiate our own spark for the literacy of others.

We Will Rise uplifts the prevalent gloom wrought from last year’s fortuitous disasters, setback in sports and political and spiritual dilemmas. We see an amalgam of contemporary personalities who were in the news from an embattled boxer Manny Pacquiao to an auspicious Pope Benedict to dignified yet still hopeful Yolanda victims. With a pieta scene looming in the centerpiece imbibing compassion, each section of the shelves are like cubicles of status updates of what is happening in our midst. Ambagan’s pieces can be read as alamanac for the year that was. Emphatically composed, his play of images are whimsical as the graphic device involving shelves can be viewed as small worlds in themselves. 
We Will Rise, 2014

Kilometer Zero, 2014

Kilometer Zero exudes sentimentality as Amabagan recalls another favored recognition in a national art competition five years, this time for a government metro train system. He wanted to duplicate this work for himself as it has brought him commercial and critical success. Using distortion as a visual style, Ambagan has captured in astrayed brushtrokes the actuated motion of an MRT train. Ambagan himself is witnessed with his son in the forefront of this frame which is on top of a shelf contextualizing that this is an afterthought, a remake of his devotion to familial love and ode to his initial struggle as an artist. 

Reflective of Ambagan being well-versed in visual communications, Boom! captures the drama of what goes in the divergent minds of advertising people in a normal brainstorming session.  Second to nature they debate regularly on their concepts and progression of ideas. Seems surreal as a plethora of conniving yet contrarian in characters like vintage airplanes, Van Gogh biography, the ever-present Albert Einstein, a gallant Napoleon Bonaparte even the Beatles subliminally float like a multiple of presents. Allegorically driven by performance as seen in the platform diver, it is not necessary a pretty image as this diptych seems to be. Comical bombs contrasts as they immediately tones down all half-baked solutions adding texture to the overall picture.

Boom! 2014
Ambagan’s recent works stare back as they remind you why we are attracted to art in the first place. Here Comes the Sun may also mean temporary respite, as Ambagan continues to experiment from his tried and tested, raw and rough brushstrokes to thinner but more definite layers grounded in earth color palette.  From featuring throngs of people in the metropolis and Baguio City, whether they are in pedicabs or part of the desperate multitude earning their keep, he shifts to more upscale ambience, more ethereal in iconography.  

Here Comes the Sun has always been a song of redemption as it is relevant now for Ambagan. There’s an anecdote that as the Beatles were finishing Abbey Road, its last album before eventually breaking up, its composer George Harrison was avoiding the other members of his band. And the phrase "here comes the sun" was how he really felt every day when the day's recording session was over. At his prime, Ambagan churned out these pieces were as comforting as Harrison’s but as essential as his subject matter—books. It is also scorching welcome to that intense season of the year and to the many passionate things we associate it with -- summer.

Here Comes the Sun is Ricky V. Ambagan’s 5th Solo Exhibition. Ongoing until May 6 at the Galerie Anna, 4/F Art Walk, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City.


Roberto Feleo on Appropriation

At the Philippine High School for the Arts where he used to teach and the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines Diliman where he has taught for almost twenty years Roberto Feleo is both a legend and an individualist. Feleo techniques as his students would call it. Amidst the prevalent western orientation in our approach to art practice, he painstakingly continues to merge the mundane and the sacred in folk history, mythology, politics and spirituality. His artworks use non-traditional materials from cut out figurines, furniture parts, egg shells, and saw dust.

As one of our pioneer judges during the early years of ArtPetron National Student Art Competition we requested his opinion on appropriation in Philippine art, which was featured in the ArtPetron Folio magazine in 2008. Here is what he wrote:

Appropriation cannot simply be dismissed as reproducing or copying a work or its parts without considering content and context. Content refers to the intention, idea, and interpretation of a piece. Context refers to meaning derived from a work, within its historical, cultural and personal parameters. Context lends credibility to interpretation of a work.

Alfredo Esquillo Jr., MaMackinley, 2001, Oil on Canvas.
(image from afterall.org)
Appropriated works or pastiches as they were popularly called in Modernism and earlier periods, were used in the academe to study the works of great artists, particularly their contour and the modeling of color, technical concerns which reflected the progression of art. These appropriated works were signed as copies. Appropriation would later evolve into an objective process in questioning originality.

Another form of appropriation exists – that which is taken from a culture that was induced to a peripheral position and is considered another form of appropriation exists – that which is taken from a cultural extortion. Informed sources refer to this as colonization or colonialization. This issue is related to multiculturalism, which involves the indigenous, minority culture that have been displaced by the dominance of Euro-American hegemony and which encourages diversity and heterogeneity.
Lee Aguinaldo, Homage to Vermeer, 1983,
Photo collage with acrylic mounted on plywood
(image from manilaartblogger)

Consequential to the Philippine experience is more than four hundred years is more than four hundred years of Spanish American domination effecting a thinking that belittles everything native.            The indigenous traditions of weaving, pottery, metalsmithing, and woodwork were relegated to craft. It was only towards the end of the 19th century that the Malay word “sining” was used exclusively for the arts such as painting, sculpture, design, and engraving.

Curiously, the tradition of painting in the Philippines started with copying Christian icons (stampitas) and their attributions as prescribed by the church. (Colorings rendered by Maranao women on their men’s carvings is, of course, an exception.) The propagation of faith necessitated the reproduction of the images. As such, appropriated works had built monuments to the nation’s christianization.

In the 1920s, Victorio Edades came home from the Unites States bringing with him modernism a new art movement that would spark the great debate between the conservatives and the moderns in the local art community. The influence of Euro-American painters in Philippine painting would further be entrenched during World War II. Branded as degenerates, an entire generation of European artists migrated to the United States. After the war, America mustered its publishing prowess to promote New York City as the art capital of the world. American influence in painting spread worldwide through books filled with photographic reproduction of Euro-American painters.

The issues mentioned earlier should provide greater clarity in tackling appropriation within the national experience. Philippine events provide a continuum to the present.

Santiago Bose, Native Song, 1999, Oil on canvas with mixed media
and color process prints on paper (Gift of Malou Babilonia in 2007,
image from education asianart.org) 

Beholden to the development of painting in the West, Filipino painters, with a few exceptions, fail to appreciate their very own visual traditions. It is about time they recognize their society as defined by geography as multicultural and therefore a rich source of images and ideas just waiting to be tapped. Otherwise they will always be regarded as colonialized.