3.5.14

Jeff Salon: Painting Out Loud

BY JAY BAUTISTA |

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.

1.5.14

Detonating Lightbombs: Q & A with Zoe Peña

INTERVIEW BY JAY BAUTISTA |

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.

DEX FERNANDEZ
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!


RINGO BUNOAN
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.

WAWI NAVARROZA
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.


NORBERTO ROLDAN
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

21.4.14

Ricky Ambagan: Bookmarks

BY JAY BAUTISTA |
(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.

8.4.14

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.

27.2.14

Jared Yokte: Paint Thy Neighbor

BY JAY BAUTISTA |

Somewhere in a quiet nook in Tarlac, a thriving communal existence is being depicted on canvas after canvas by a very observant neighbor named Jared Yokte. Barely a year there, having decided to raise his family away from the hustle and bustle of city life, the remarkable result came in the form of some 20 paintings that comprise his first solo show mythically entitled Mabulaklaking Angkan.

He may have chosen the easiest of subjects yet Jared has rendered them in his distinct in fact very tedious visual style. His ethereal characters may have been disguised as myths only to hide their peculiar personalities and yes, identities. Collectively called Agda like an ongoing play set on stage, they all somewhat perform profusely, dimly-lighted on each featured panel. Even in the starkness of their moods, what should have been concealed has become brightly translucent. 


Mabulaklaking Angkan, 2013. Oil on Canvas


Obviously the main piece and from which the title of the show emanates is this 8 feet by 6 feet Mabulaklaking Angkan which like a welcoming door greeting the viewer as one enters Olive Creek Gallery. Its imposing magnificence shouts the futility of what we do and why we do things that matter. Trapped in their own quagmire, his subjects, pointlessly, restlessly ride the bicycle for the mere hang of it, unknowing of their destinations. Worse, some would even fall off this senseless carousel. Some would even hang on for desperate survival on its peripheries, only to be taken away without purpose. Jared wonders how have we come to this? What instances have led people to inhabit the city, to work our selves to death not even knowing what drives the soul out of us. And this cycle unrelentingly repeats through generations after generations. Replicated by education breeding the same children, only to be part of this same exercise of drudgery.  

Sumpaan, 2013. Oil on Canvas

 Upon seeing his works done in this peculiar brushstroke, intermittently one’s phobia of meeting these sort of hairy domestic creatures was eventually set aside, paving the way for their invitation to watch, neighbors or not, collector or not, promdis and affluent art enthusiasts in the metropolis. Like every promising contemporary artist of his generation, Jared explains his works are mostly autobiographical in narrative and interrelated with one another. Like comic strips these could form one simultaneous reality. They speak generally about the Filipino family. He adds: Ang pamilyang Pilipino hindi lamang nasusukat sa pagsasabi ng po at opo, pagmamano, pagbati at iba pa. Ang kanyang karakter ay kadalasan nasasaksihan sa pakikisalamuha natin sa araw araw. Mga karakter na totoong nangyayari na binibigyan ko ng komplikadong pananaw. Ang kwento ng bawat obra ay magkakaugnay.





His paintings are manifestations of his constant experiments: I love to experiment different media. My painting session always starts with experiment while serving as my appetite before my real artwork. I find my style very intriguing and mysterious although I would like to think less emotional.

At 27 and very much in love to Elle, his fellow artist-partner, Sumpaan is also proof of his being down-to-earth romantic. With common interest in the arts, they both found love in the city but he fulfilled his promise to leave Manila and raise their family in her hometown of Tarlac. Not to be downright serious, humor is typical of Jared. As shown in a sideshow in Sumpaan street dogs are more than physically engaged than the lovers in the foreground who have become willing voyeurs in the half drawn curtain.



Teleserye, 2013. Oil on Canvas

Another favored piece is Teleserye. This most uneventful activity of watching TV could be the most attractive rendering for us. Teleserye speaks of the kind of life-within-a-life Jared has led these past months, being domesticated while being a faithful chronicler in his neighborhood. Here he documents those long hours his and every household neighbor dedicates in front of the screen, like clockwork simultaneously tuning in front of the boob tube. As Jared has his canvases to fill up to earn their daily bread, he is also slowly being taken away by whatever predictable plot with its manipulative technicolors. He could not escape himself as he is also framed his own tempting sordid existence. 



 Nothing is sacred to Jared not even his irreverent grandmother in her bright colored dress such as in Materyalistik Kong Lola. Unable to stand her unusual tactics and, as the title suggest, materialist ways, she is now immortalized and is now probably owned by a collector who thought money may not be necessary the root of all evil. Interesting how flowers figure in Jared’s background, no matter how overpowering it is to over all layout of his image. 

Having known the artist since his student days in University of Northern Philippines, Jared is a deeply spiritual and even philosophical person who interpreted Biblical scenes in his early works. His sense of perfection is disquieting, a rigorous process similar to a trained athlete. He paints every single day, no ifs and buts, like a biological need to express. 

Most of the interiors in the paintings were culled from memory. Ever the observer, he paints his floors and walls as they became familiar him: here’s the old house in Davao, or the dormitory in Vigan and lately from their own abode in Tarlac. Evoking both meaning and sentimentality, the private spaces form another layer to his rich narrative. One can only imagine the complex interplay of emotions in each of his pieces typifying the migrant contemporary artist who grew up, educated in, and is now based on many non-permanent locations. Making the paintings even more valuable, with more distance covered to which they have point-by-point reminisced and emanated.    

Although he did admire some old masters during his college years, he claims he doesn’t have influences of late. He adds: I just try to open my mind about the art of today but I don’t like going any art exhibitions. Nakakaapekto sa mabuting epekto yung malayo ako sa art scene. Una, mas marami akong nagagawang pyesa dahil sa environment. Pangalawa, malapit ako sa pamilya ko na pinaghuhugutan ko ng inspirasyon. Pangatlo, life in province is very simple and stress less. I want to work on large scale works this time. 

Mabulaklaking Angkan was Jared Yokte’s first solo exhibition held at the Olive Creek Gallery last December 2103.

30.12.13

Ramel Villas is Homegrown

BY JAY BAUTISTA |

The long yet evocative history of Philippine art is replete with self-taught artists who have been struggling hard to be identified. They feel they can be creative enough and endowed with the same working hands to fill up a canvas or two. Not since becoming the first apprentices who assisted the masters in depicting murals in churches and public buildings have they emerged from a more practical need as they could not afford or were excluded from the formal fine art schools since the early 19th century. This probably explains why most of our earliest surviving religious and genre paintings and portraits from this period were standardly unsigned. They remain admired yet unrecognized to this day. Aesthetically, there seems to be a folk-like style in terms of how they freely compose their images from imagination, something unobtrusive with how they compose their subjects.

One such painter is Angono-based painter Ramel Villas. Although very much of what he knows is similar to visual oiuido, the art of Villas displays unrefined yet lush imagination. He proudly confesses he does not suffer from any lack of self-esteem or does not longs for the company for other artists brought about by his lack of a fine arts diploma. Even in Angono where he is based, in this highly artistic small town of Botong Francisco with a living school of more self-taught artists inspired by his apprentices, Villas still remains an outsider. Never mind it was just a mere coincidence that the Villas had decided to find a studio there for his art practice.  


The Novelist, Oil on Canvas 48 x 36 inches, 2012
Fond of that sentimental old world charm, it was that endangered yet functional typewriter, smacked right on an intense man’s head in The Novelist that got me interested to write about Villas. How this haggard-looking mustached man with his bloodshot eyes contemplates the viewer, compelling him to stare some more in the process. One immediately notices the rough texture of Villas’ brushstrokes, devoid of any of that Photoshop application commonly used these fast paced days. The viewer is further drawn deeper to his playground of metaphors: how Villas hands you the perspective, leaving you how to come up with your own version of such hopscotch narrative. A unicorn evoking attention while a castle of a bygone era looms. Given their desperate stance are the lovers who are about to part ways? And with time against their side, the option to escape as imposed by the hot air balloon remains to be the only spurious option. Their only moment is now.

More than decorative in intent, Villas uses symbols so well, functioning like some guide you that hint as how to conjure up with your perspective of the story. 

Mr. Brightside, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 36 inches, 2012
Art writer Philip Paraan who wrote on Villas one-man exhibition at the Galerie Anna (where most of these pieces were hanged) commented that these artworks “as vessels of thought, his paintings evoke hope and the intention to find beauty and harmony in chaos. This artist has been known to paint lush and detailed compositions, at times remarked to be even too detailed if not lacking focus or what others would say, an image overload. But such is the visual gambit that Villas embraces, to achieve a dynamic spread and dispersion in unity where all elements can be focal at any given time.”   

Mr. Brightside seems to be the perfect painting for this season of joy and hope. In fact Villas volunteers to infect you with his luminous message of positivity. Villas adds: Clear sight, happy inside, I am Mr. Bright side. Part of my process is to just keep painting as my thoughts flash with images from dreams. With the smiling face with a butterfly for an eye in front of you one explores various icons that is close to the subject matter i wanted. It is like connecting to the audience, like surprising 
someone by showing your face.

  
Feria, Oil on Canvas.48 x 36 inches, 2013 
Placing third at the Art Association of the Philippines National Art Competition in 2009 made Villas decide to be a full-time painter. He was also finalist in this year’s Tanaw: Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas National Painting Competition with his work Feria (Latin for "free day").


Feria, as part of the fiesta, is his tribute to this dying culture of honoring the patron saints of towns. Villas realized: art as a wonderful blessing that is delightful to share. I might say that I'm just telling stories in a visual manner however I'm not a preacher. All I want for people is to see my stories. It will be a delight if people will find something essential in my works.



Oftalmologo is an example of that he has what comprises as “three stars and the sun” sentiment. Having some sense of history induced in this piece while displaying his usual take at various levels of interpretations. A wall-bound Jose Rizal field trip if you may, everything you need to know in a capsule: The feathered plume with his writings, the crocodile reference in his novel El Filibusterismo, the soup heater (not lamp as others claim) where his Huling Paalam was safely kept, the love of his life. As an ophthalmologist, he is also a figurative seer of our nation’s future. On this day of his martyrdom, Villas piece philosophically asks where are we in seeing the vision of what Rizal saw.

Like a reverend soul trapped in a 31 year old body, Villas who is the eldest in a brood of five from Quezon province, considers his depictions to be his longings. The layered images on top his main subjects are “his thoughts out loud.” He volunteers to add: I will always wonder about works of Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. Magic comes in appearance of daubs and slashes of paints in raw, loaded with emotions. In painting manner I'm respect tradition. Meanwhile, Salvador Dali sparks confidence in me in letting my dreams out.

Oftalmologo, Oil on Canvas. 48 x 24 inches, 2012
Reviewing the works of Villas the science writer Philip Jose Farmer comes to my mind. Farmer had his Riverworld series where he would often interlude real personalities like Mozart, Jack London met with his fictional characters in another world. Remember this was started in the 70s thus it was political, pleasurable and personal (even Farmer was there in his stories). A critic said it was “theology, pornography in an adventure.” Think Sir Richard Burton meeting Mark Twain. Like Farmer, the possibilities are without boundaries and Villas is just warming up.

Paraan unravels some more for Villas: His emblematic game purposely rearranges, in a playful and curious way, images and themes with known and immediate references showing his penchant for jolting images with such flexibility. His canvases produce such mingling of elements and understated juxtapositions that usually transcend time and boundaries and even cultural affinities as if they refuse to stay in their domain and normal associations. With his consistent mutation of usage and context in symbols, he seems to acts against the mechanistic way of seeing and representation but in the end results in with terrific cumulative energies and awe. Like a steady flowing stream, his art he could sound the mind’s dark depths more subtly than would the overtly grotesque and disturbing juxtapositions.

Villas explains more on his process: Creating a piece is a form of meditation for me. Every work is like a journal but not all of them are my own stories, but extract of my observation. Images around are symbols. I don't consider them as support, but they are the essence and the heart of the piece. It is a challenge for me to put together symbols that most of the time people may find irrelevant and image overload. One goal in my composition is to find harmony over chaos.

In the midst of burgeoning art fairs and biennales where art concepts literally occupy spaces in a room, there seems to be a lack discourse and discussing much about two-dimensional paintings. The belief that a canvas can still sum up one’s thoughts is still startling and quite comforting. This untrained yet skillful should we say “craftsman” like Villas, whatever he lacked in acquired rudiments in the classroom, he very well make up with the forcefulness of his brushstrokes with organic originality.