Connecting the Dots


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

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

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

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

New Beginning

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

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

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

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

Pangaea, a solo exhibition of Ricky V. Ambagan will be from October 9-15 at Galerie Roberto in Manila Art 2019, SMX Convention Center, SM Aura Premier, Taguig City.


Game of Thorns


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

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

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

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

Sum-ok, 2019

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

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


Paws and Reflect


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beginning is ongoing at the Art Verite


Michael Froilan: Painting to Stand Still


Day Off
For most artists one’s first solo exhibition is his carefully conceptualized visual statement to a rather complicated contemporary art scene. Like an illustrative shout out, it beams as his coming out party to the world after lurking on group shows after group shows for quite sometime. Countering this usual trend, award winning artist Michael Froilan opts to go reflectively inward this time. Against the artistic tide, he shuns away from political impulses and avoids wallowing deeper into historical occurences. On the other hand, it is form that is his substance, then his statement is his medium. By displaying simplicity of his messages, he is like an old timer with paints.  

The direction of Still Moments seeks to surface/resurface what he is capable of creating; how much of himself can Froilan put up with these recent works. Furthering into melancholia by becoming more reflective, he focuses on his real life situations by reflecting empathy as mood, amplifying it with bareness of space and pausing time in a capsule. The brilliance of Froilan lies how he instills solitude of action, as if the viewer arrived too late or even too early to the scene. Injecting the personal he leaves many clues but no specific answers as he forces the viewer to complete the narrative of his story.

Froilan’s interest lies in simple domesticity of things with minimum action, without any signs of mobility. Commencing with his interior spaces hinting the viewers peeking in, they exist in flat planes placed side by side in voyeuristic cutaway dollhouse motif. Froilan uses interior rooms of his mind at his domesticated abode with his family members and close friends as characters.
As a fine arts graduate of EARIST he is a true contrarian--deconstructing proportion, and artistic perspective. His spaces set the appropriate mood while favoring sparse colors that are not too glossy, yet very natural which gives solitary figures to stand out.

Consider Complex which is Froilan’s intriguing self portrait. The heirarchy of floors discusses the many facets of his existence. At the ground floor is a landscape painting which represents what he painted at an early age to earn his keep as a painter; the second floor are his classical paintings and portraits reflecting his desire to copy the masters; the lion at the third floor is an epitome of aggression, not the angry kind but his eagerness to achieve his dreams. Froilan is the swimmer reflecting the times he wanted to quit life.  

Continuing his narration is The Dreamer which dwells in the psychological realm of inner life. For Froilan he does not see himself not an artist. He longs to mixing his paints while holding his brushes up high to convey his images on his canvases.

Another creative tactic is how he allows classical paintings to emphasize the moment. They are either decor or devices that amplify the situations. Ranging from his influences from Johannes Vermeer, James Whistler, Peter Paul Rubens, to Claude Monet with the progression situating from Baroque to impressionism. However it is David Hockney, Edward Hopper, or Rene Magritte that he wants the audience to emphatize with at this ongoing moment. Froilan studies even the circumstance or context of which the master has painted.

The Faithful, The Undecided. The Unbeliever.
Woman in White pays tribute to his wife whom he praises to high heavens for being symbol of strength and resiliency but at the same time exudes purity of the spirit and femininity. In fact she is so strong to be alone in her life, without him on his side. Torn pertains to her dual being as a loving wife yet capable of wholeness, void of affection from the other gender. 

Before he took up painting full-time, Froilan and his wife would converse about anything while partaking their favorite wine. When Froilan became in demand as a painter, he saw hiw wife les and less, reasons why she longed for his company. These are evident in the paintings I’ll be Seeing You and In the Presence of Absence where one can almost feel her longing for him. One feels the isolation and being disconnected. In his desire to make up for his loss, Froilan churn these out and let her know his shortcomings making him less guilty in return. 

With the presence of flames, Space Between Us evokes tension to viewing audience. The existential complimentary nature of man and woman  persists that one cannot survive without the other. As conflicts may arise, as seen in the two stairs on the sides, in the end they mend and reunite to one another. One loves because one needs.

The ongoing Sao Paulo Biennial has discarded well-worn themes and usual revolutionary ideas in guiding their artist-curators on what to exhibit. Rather it prioritizes on feelings and emotional response of viewers in generating attendance in the sixty seven year old world’s second oldest biennial after Venice. Froilan has paralleled his masterpieces with this premise that art must seek emotional response rather than be high brow rhetoric. Art must make you feel foremost. 

In music, rests is as important as notes in constructing musical composition. In fact, the silent notes are oftentimes more deafening yet their significance as loud as notes connote. Froilan has painted what seems to be restful in both space and time we are all familiar with. For art is capable of presenting what life is cannot.      
In the Presence of Absence


Melvin Culaba: Like a Refrain in a Song


Ang Konsecia ng Pintor

Unlike most artists who prefer utmost solitude award-winning artist Melvin Culaba listens to the teleradyo while mixing paints on canvas. With an immediate distance from the squalor of Baclaran he is in sync with the goings-on, with the trappings of grime and construction around him. He would witness vendors being rounded up by the civilian police or be mesmerized by the glittering neon lights of recent gambling hotels. That is how affected he is to his subjects, Re-current Themes is his most personal and most political showcase to date.

Culaba is fuming as noticed in the bolder and harsher strokes, each has an emotional intent and moral undertones. He deeply reminisces the milestones of his existence causing him to pause and reflect while holding his palette knives in the context of the interiors of his makeshift studio in their humble home.

Sa Kaharian ng Im-PERYA-L Pukada...GO Bananas!

As seen in these eight paintings we continue to confront the same ills and same struggles of society spanning five presidents. Our socio-political issues just keep on going back and remain unresolved. Our problems are systematically bureaucratic because it is the very system that we continue to inquire point blank.  

Interiority Complex (Ang Konsencia sa Pagpipinta) is the centerpiece in triptych involving Culaba himself while in his studio as he steps back in perspective.

Ang Konsencia ng Pintor is his largest attempt at portraying himself as nothing delineates the personal from the social atrocities. Santambak is a beautiful and remarkable chaos in discarded party chairs—an allegorical representation of the current mess we are into. Culaba waxes poetic with Bansang-Moro Buchikiik, ik ik ik where an abandoned motorcycle refers to recent killings of men riding-in-tandem.

Speedy Bagal

Titles no matter how long are important to Culaba as you would get a hint what the point in the painting is he driving at. Sa Kaharian ng Im-PERYA-L Pukada...GO Bananas! features his sister with other Filipinas in a group photos as they once huddled in work in Japan sometime in the 80s as entertainers. A familiar palace defaces as background with the greedy crocodile as its official symbol of corruption marked by gargoyle-like bulldogs posing as pimps offering every kind of patronage.

The oval-shaped Ang Larawan, Kabayan is his ode to beauty, or lack of it, that often has been gravely exploited. Culaba also deals with the 3,000 OFWs who migrate everyday in the hope for a better future abroad.

Dogs have constatly figured in many of his images and they take various meanings depending on their context. In Sa Letrang BBB at DDD (Dig Dig Dig) Culaba uses them as one that searches for the truth as evidenced by their diggings.

A discarded car used to occupy in front of Manila City Hall. Over the course of time rust already took over most of it. Speedy Bagal pertains to our chaotic road worries—our concrete pavements being fixed and being tore down again when the rainy days come. A snail is his postmarked for delayed service.

Ang Larawan, Kabayan
Tipanan ni Undo at Inday sa Luneta....sa Panahong wala pa si Puto-Bomber at si Puta-Shop offers that needed whiff of nostalgia when genteel life was more basic than normal. Back in the day when there were no malls one carefree strolled along Luneta while being photographed at the Rizal statue without the photobomber of a condominium we witness today.

Culaba is old school he still sketches his planned output. Most of his time are in meticulously composing his images before transferring them on canvas. He is painting on the edge meaning he only finalizes them with the wet palette technique when he is as close to his deadline as possible. He usually ends up with earth colors of flesh, gray and brown hues.

Culaba assumes his viewers are abreast to follow his expose in his exhibitions. He has brought back the imagistic language of storytelling in art. His brilliance lies how he intertwines the parallelism of his life with to what is taking place in our society at large in a quintessential visual journal. So far he has been effective and affective on both counts. If one needs to review the past years of our collective lives including his then we can just visit again these eight paintings and weep.

Re-current Themes is Culaba’s 4th Solo Exhibition for Kaida Contemprary Gallery