This Paint Boy Is Going to Rock Fukuoka

BY JAY BAUTISTA | For once let us celebrate Pinoy pride not in the form of a singing idol.

By the time you read this, Don Maralit Salubayba has packed his brushes and paints and is off to Fukuoka, Japan, for a three-month residency at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.

Started in 1999, the Fukuoka Asian Art Residency Program invites artists, researchers and curators to dialog with fellow Asians and hone their crafts. FAAM prides itself as the only museum which collects only Asian modern and contemporary art.

So far 34 people from 20 Asian countries have benefited from this program. After Alfredo Esquillo in 2001, Don Salubayba is the second Pinoy to receive the residency.

The First Don
A graduate of Philippine High School for the Arts, he received his Fine Arts degree from the University of the Philippines in 2000. He has exhibited at the Ayala Museum, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Boston Gallery and Kulay Diwa Galleries and in Scotland and New York.

He received an Asian Cultural Council Grant to participate in a residency program at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Saulito, California, and at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York in 2004-2005.

I asked Salubayba how come he seems to be spending a lot of time in residencies or invitations to exhibitions abroad. Is he more comfortable with a foreign audience? Does he feel more appreciated outside the Philippines?

He replies, “It is not that I am more comfortable with a foreign audience, I merely try to take advantage of any opportunity that comes my way. After all, how many residences are available for artists in the Philippines?"

"The good thing about residences is that, aside from being a venue to meet and interact with other artists and curators, it is an opportunity to concentrate on my work and experiment with techniques and ideas. What ever I learn and experience there, I look forward to sharing with others here—especially with my students at the Philippine High School for the Arts—when I get back."

Salubayba's recent show Images From My Floating Third World at the Drawing Room in Makati City has proven that all the years of hard work paid off as he deeply explored his indigenous painting methods, taking him almost eight months to finish nine works.

He adds, “I borrowed the phrase 'picture of the floating world' from the Japanese ukiyo-e prints between the 17th and 20th centuries which referred to the impetuous youth culture that bloomed in Japan’s major cities. The youth subculture were a world unto themselves."

“For Images From My Floating Third World, I had collected a lot of photo-based sketches and doodles. What connected them is that each were about Pinoy imagery: boxing, buko, barbero, etc. I finally chose nine images which told a story, then made them larger.”

Salubayba is one of the members of Anino Shadowplay Collective, a group of multimedia artists dedicated to popularizing the art of shadow play. Traces of his years in shadow play production may be glimpsed in his current work like in how he downgrades the interplay of colors in favor of shadows in Image From My Floating Third World V as the astronaut-like being sucks the marrow out of an alien. This is my favorite piece in the show and its odd shape makes me want it even more.

What emerges from a photograph image, blown up and painted over again and again, is a resonant picture of what Salubayba originally wished to convey. He is a force to reckon with when he deconstructs colonial representations like American soldiers, men in white suits reminiscent of pensionados in the post-war era, public school students in vaudeville costumes, and even small-town barbers.

The Don Deal
Definitely the Philippine High School for the Arts influence is a massive one for Salubayba. He points out, "The fact that the school gives a young artist four years to 'play' and 'experiment' with craft and to translate his ideas into art is a rare and tremendous opportunity."

Salubayba lists as influences: historical events, his baby, talks with his wife (“ututang-dila”), people, and Anino Shadowplay Collective. "These are the ones that fuel my concepts and image bank.”

Another major influence is his friend Bobi Valenzuela, the independent curator. “Bobi is a big reason for who I am today," he says.

"Bobi is a mentor, friend and ninong. I treasure our chats, debates, kape, lakad, byahe. Bobi always described me as a 'prodigal son' because I never listened in class (but was able to deliver when needed)."

Salubayba has only praises for his friend and mentor. "He’s a one-of-a-kind curator," he explains. "He tells stories through art objects and space.”

His Image From My Floating Third World III is a self-portrait as a young student. His face is under a cloud of doubt. What does he ask from the viewer here? What does it say about identity? Photographs transferred to canvas like this one show his struggle with identities in a post-colonial world.

In his book, After the End of Arts (1997), art critic Arthur Danto observes, “The new and curious thing about art is that you can no longer tell whether something is art by looking at it. Rather anything can be art and anyone can be an artist, as long as it is about physically embodied meaning.”

He notes, “it has become apparent that there are no stylistic or philosophical constraints. There is no special way works of art have to be.” This so-called "death of painting" signals a triumph for pluralism as the dominant visual narrative in the international art scene.

Being on the lookout for new forms from old truths in art, one artist I hold in high esteem is Don Salubayba. And I beg the indulgence of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, why is my paint boy not been named as a Thirteen Artist Awardee?

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