Vermont Is For Lovers Too

BY JAY BAUTISTA | Their first show together was six years ago in a small gallery in Katipunan which I believe has already closed shop. They were still Fine Arts students then, and not even a couple. After numerous solo shows and group shows, they are back together. In life and in art. In sickness and in health.

It was raining on the opening night of Strange Familiarities, Familiar Strangers, the two-person show of newly married Rodel Tapaya and Marina Cruz-Garcia on May 20, 2008. It was cool inside the Alliance Francaise Total Gallery along Nicanor Garcia Avenue. Very much how the artworks were created, in Vermont three months ago.

Vermont Studio Center Residency Program is the largest residency program for visual artists and writers in the United States. Founded by artists in 1984, it hosts 50 fellows who are housed in a 30-building campus along the Gihon Reiver in Johnson, Vermont. For 12 weeks, the artists focus on their art without the disturbances of daily life: phone calls, meetings and visits from friends and relatives. What you see in the exhibition is a product of such a stress-free environment.

A mixed bunch of art collectors, cultural attaches and a significant smattering of Who’s Who in Philippine art gathered to witness what seemed like a wedding reception. I glanced at the couple who, once in a while gazed at each other, as they were separately entertaining their guests who packed the venue despite the bad weather that night.

What I like about this pair is that they keep on reinventing themselves, discovering their individual styles. Marina and Rodel represent a generation of artists who have chosen to be more personal than social. No grim-and-determined activism or calls for social upheaval on their canvases. They are about stories which are biographical with a deep and lyrical narrative.

Viewing the semi-circular hanging of the paintings, one wonders how Marina as daughter behaved in her growing-up years in Hagonoy, Bulacan. I imagine her looking at her mother and her aunt
twinswhile she played with her doll house (an object she has immortalized in many a painting). Her Doll House show two years ago at the Art Informal (AI) in Greenhills was one of the best shows of that year.

When Recollections opened the following year at the same venue, AI owners, Tina Fernandez and Joel Alonday, could not have been prouder to see how her art has matured with each finished canvas or paper.

The subject of twin sisters (her mom and aunt) recurs in her post-Vermont show. How she paints a layer over a neatly painted picture is signature Marina. The red work strikes the viewer even more
this is the first time she has used red prominently. She also does so well in putting other elements like girly gestures and accessories on canvas.

The "Piano I" and "Piano II" immortalize the biggest fixture in the couple's perfect temporary abode away from home. The draperies here were drawn along the dark background, carefully describing what homesickness is.

"Bestida I, II, III" are another highlight of these randomly depicted images of Marina’s childhood. The colors of these three art works compliment each other so much that I hope they will stay together. As a child, Marina, I imagine, wore the dresses even how tattered they became. And when Marina splatters another coat of paint on them to give them a sudden jolt and another layer of mystery, do you hate her or love her for it?

Marina’s works takes you on a journey into her consciousness, then she suddenly pulls you back outside her head.

With these smaller works, Marina proves that she is versatile on both canvas and paper. One need not see bright colors or large images, as there is always something new even in an old Marina artwork. She is best in capturing moments like "Dentist’s Chair," or the unattended corners of their studio in Vermont. Meanwhile, "Ducks Remind Me of Home" and "Walking Through the Trees" are melancholic remembrances of Vermont. Why do I get the feeling that they long for Vermont now that they are home?

On the other hand, Rodel experiments this time, and viewers were floored when he came out with these Greek-like busts of people they met while in Vermont.
He has memorialized those people who made his time in Vermont meaningful and worthwhile. This is how Rodel paints when he is happy and in love. Collectors can debate about his works; of how relevant (or not) they are in the evolution of Philippine contemporary arts, but Rodel doesn’t care as long as he enjoys making his art.

The appeal of Rodel and Marina's works is how they brought back an appreciation to painting. Rodel and Marina makes you think long and hard at each art work. One is forced to carefully consider the mystery and sublimity that went into the process of creation.

To look at a Marina and Rodel painting is to have a different attitude towards Philippine art. They offer a perspective based on a continuous search for signs and expressions of our times; their art is not academic or mired in postmodern kitsch. Art must enrich your life, and if the artworks of Rodel and Marina force you to reflect, then you feel alive and liberated.

To Marina and Rodel, may your marriage be boringly happy and painterly-wise.

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