Ricky Ambagan: Keeping The Faith


Recent news about this 12-year old Taiwanese school boy accidentally punching a hole on a displayed 17th century Baroque masterpiece by Paulo Porpora went viral. The incident caused uproar both among museum-goers and netizens alike, even the child’s parents initially run aghast.
Visual artist Ricky Ambagan too reacted profusely to the news item. Considering himself with a talent with paints, Ambagan confesses however that painting is the only thing he is good at. The obvious result is what now comprises this exhibition Restored at the Gallery Anna. 
Extending further his disillusionment with whatever is going-on around him Ambagan untangles, entangles and closely draws reactions to what he thought were other bygone privileges of Philippine low life. A realist such as Ambagan, whose broad strokes lean on the downtrodden and suffering many, it is the very task of an artist to evaluate current events and even comment on what seems to be the missing pieces in the good society equation or perishing values in our midst. For Ambagan an occurrence that involves a million dollar masterpiece has never been a mundane activity. It triggered him to create (or recreate) parallel realities as a way of positively reacting that inspires ideal situations.

Secret Garden
Enabling curiosity in the form of a red blanket, each piece has a child peeking behind the scene. Reclaiming his future, he forebodes whatever would be the directions to his visions of the possible. Believer does this and more, it is a performance on canvas. Composed in a theater-like tableau, children are caught up in a stance of claiming what is theirs. Elevated on a labyrinth of confusion and quagmire, truth came in the form of an eagle signifies purity in purpose. In a dark realm with an awaiting ember, a bright lucient approaches them, capturing the favored moment that would and should turn the tide for them.

A recurring theme for Ambagan is his credence in reading for emancipation. His shelves replete with books as settings for learning are obvious with lamps complimenting the uplifting of the spirits. Such as in Secret Garden where flying lanterns abound layering with their connoted meanings. A tiny glimmer of hope could transform and lit up more lives in one’s constant search for the truth. A father of three, Ambagan even uses his children as his models, staking his seriousness to his advocacy to education.

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee
Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee is reminiscent of his earlier works and a continuation of his evolving visual style. There is always a subtle or subdued pun on most of Ambagan’s pieces. His fixation with flight stems from his being often it is in their endless pursuit for survival. Everything is fleeting as everyone floats in an Ambagan piece though occupied in their own portals unmindful how we are all interrelated and affected by the actions of our neighbors.
As if possessed in gravity, his images happen in a dark realm, emphatic on concise behavior such as in Unsinkable. Some light may glow but none are of the glitzy or artificial kind. Uncommon to other paintings, there seems to be an uncertain sound to his paintings. An eerie feeling wraps the viewer when confronted with his works. 

Fountain of Youth

Obviously the most haunting piece is Fountain of Youth, which is a memento mori to start with. We are all passers-by and impermanent like the butterfly. Done in hauntingly smooth strokes, at one moment you have a full life ahead of you the next one you are beset with nothing. One must know the value of true existence before acquiring or even grasping the essence of life. Ambagan does fine rendering in clearly define composition.

Composed poetically like magic realism, commendable was his artistic technique; how he used the acrylic in the behavior oil paint is remarkable. His colors with mostly of the blue and orange palette are like hues of seeing the dawn. Some canvases even have artificially painted ripped canvas, a constant reminder for Ambagan of the 12-year old Taiwanese who triggered him. 

With more than a decade and a half in his art practice, Ambagan never tires of honing his brushstrokes like a devoted master of the craft. From the muddy distortion to the smooth ethereal, Ambagan professes his faith in painting.

Restored however may not bring back your belief in humanity. It may not even have that messianic feel or grand narrative we look for in an artwork. It will make your world a little brighter, less hopeful but more contemplative.
Ambagan toils as painter like clockwork office job. He still stretches his own canvases and usually in front of them come daybreak in whatever mood he will be. The truth about Ambagan is how he pulls us back to how painting should be. Even with Thomas doubting the resurrection of his Lord, with Restored every piece has now a resuscitated life on its own. Restored not only means “to fix what was broken” but to could be “as real” as where your imagination takes you.

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