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

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