By Harmony Valdoz |
Entering an art exhibit for those with untrained eyes could be quite a fish-out-of-water experience. There are only so much adjectives a mouth of limited judgment could blurt out, namely “cool,” “weird,” and – it sometimes cannot be helped, no matter how utterly mundane – “cute.”
However, this does not mean art appreciation for the non-connoisseurs is completely out of reach. Behind the ethereal, surreal, and almost painfully real artworks on display are creators who are themselves human. It is that base-level connection that forges a common ground for people who are on vastly different ends in terms of art. The shared experience of that which we call ‘life’ fills in the gaps, with colorful stories waiting to be told. The art pieces, while possessing certain degrees of beauty and meaning in their own right, serve as doors to the stories of the artists behind them.
These doors were opened at the ManilArt 2014 through the help of Robert Santos and his art appreciation walking tours. The tours gave both casual viewers and enthusiasts the background on brilliant artists of varying media. This way, interesting pieces were given even more depth and the seemingly ambiguous ones were unveiled of their mystery.
“Art appreciation is very subjective. What is beautiful for you, may not be the same for him. By learning something about the artist, by learning something about where the artist is coming from, what inspires the artist, little by little, we are able to understand why the artist paints in a certain way,” said Santos.
The first stop was Galleria Duemila, which means Gallery 2000, for it reflects a millennial view. For this showroom, the works of Lindsey Lee or “Lindslee” were featured. Lindslee is a young artist who used to dabble in abstract works, but in time began to create more conceptual pieces. This change was brought on by a calamity, the rage of Typhoon Ondoy over the metro in 2009. The supertyphoon made Lindslee rethink the way he presented his art.
“He wanted to push the boundaries of presenting art,” Santos said. “Is art just about painting? Is art just about sculpture? Or is there a different way of presenting art?”
Pictured above are two pieces from the artist. These are actually his self-portraits. If one peeks from underneath, he/she will see what Lindslee looks like.
While Lindslee’s style was influenced by real-life events, the next featured artist, a surrealist painter named Raul Lebajo, was inspired by nature and dreams. Lebajo is considered to be one of the most senior painters in contemporary Philippine art. His works, in the exhibit, were placed at the Artes Orientes booth.
One would notice in his paintings the deliberate representation of leaves, vines, branches, and vegetation. This was done to create a synthesis between the environment and his art.
The third stop featured an artist whose inspiration sprung from a distinctive homegrown experience. An alumnus of the University of the East Caloocan, Max Balatbat identifies his works as architectural abstraction. The brothels and beer houses of his native Caloocan served as the prime inspiration for his works, which were seen at the Renaissance Art Gallery.
“We commonly perceive these venues as dirty, derelict, pathetic, etcetera. However, the artist believes that despite all of these surroundings, there is a certain level of goodness that remains in the people who live there,” Santos explained.
“This also explains why his use of white is quite profuse. It could be that he is giving these people who are in that trade, who are in that business, a certain level of hope and compassion and sympathy,” he added.
Along with the featured work of Balatbat is an accompanying piece, a dog aptly named “Bugaw,” which is a Tagalog word for “pimp”. Balatbat is a multi-awarded artist; among his accomplishments is a Lorenzo Magnifico silver award in the Florence Biennale in 2009.
The next set of works shown was from both a painter and a sculptor, Ferdie Cacnio. He came from a family of artists. His father, Angel Cacnio, is a painter known for depicting scenes from the early Philippines. His brother, Michael Cacnio, is a sculptor. In Galerie Anna were Ferdie Cacnio’s creations, pieces that embody movement and grace.
“What is most amazing about Mr. Ferdinand Cacnio’s works is his attention to detail, with the way the strands of hair are placed, with the way the fabric of the dress swirls, with the way the musculature of the arms is revealed,” Santos enthused.
Mythology is the theme of Altro Mondo, the walking tour’s next gallery stop. On the makeshift walls hung two works, among others, of a Filipina artist that has a unique way of presenting her art. Ambie Abaño, the featured artist, showcased at the ManilArt two renditions of the Roman Goddess of flowers, Flora.
One is a painting of a shy Flora, whose face is half-hidden behind shrubs. The next, entitled “Flora Filipina,” was created through a printmaking process called “woodcut.” Abaño is the former president of the Printmakers Association of the Philippines. She received printmaking education in Europe and the United States.
There exists a highly-romanticized idea that choosing to be an artist is synonymous to accepting a life of poverty. Federico Aguilar Alcuaz’s story showed how one could thrive though art. Alcuaz, a national artist, lived in various cities across the globe such as New York, Barcelona, and Paris. These experiences in the western world influenced his works. One of his paintings on display is believed to be inspired by El Greco, a Spanish Renaissance artist. Interestingly, it is a landscape of the skyline of Manila.
While staying in Manila, Alcuaz lived in hotels such as the Hyatt and Manila Pavilion. He paid for his lodging and meals with his artworks. He is not only adept in painting; Alcuaz was also talented in various media.
As Santos puts it, “I would consider Alcuaz as an artist’s artist. Why do I say that? It’s because he was able to use so many different media when it comes to presenting his art. You can start off with ink, watercolor, oil, pottery, wood, tapestry, you name it, he has done it.”
Another Filipina artist with a unique portrayal of Filipinas and an equally remarkable presentation of her craft was introduced in the booth of Qube Gallery. Lhee Taneo, a twenty-three year old Cebuana, used hundreds of seashells to complete her pieces. The awe-inspiring intricate detail is not all; there lies social commentary within the works as well.
The first one shows the body of Darna alongside Wonder Woman’s. Through this, the artist prompts the audience to ponder, “Who are you most likely to idolize, the western or the Filipina superhero?”
Her other featured work is just as thought-provoking as it shows half of Marilyn Monroe’s face topping the face of the Filipina. The piece highlights the glorification of sex and power which makes Filipinas similar to the Hollywood bombshell.
“The access to sex, the access to lust is very much available nowadays, not just to guys but also to girls. So it is, in fact, a commentary on how sex affects young Filipinas,” Santos explained.
Art imitates life, they say, and a quite literal embodiment of this idea that dates back to Aristotle’s time could be seen in the works of Jasper Penuliar. The visitors of the 371 Art Space booth surely must have been awestruck at the sight of the artist’s “Peppermint Series” collection of paintings. The seemingly random combination of candy cane stripes painted on women’s bodies with cellophane beneath and around them has a rather technical reason behind it.
“If you will take a look at the feet, you will see the veins emanating through the feet, through the skin. And if you look at the other foot, you will see the lines by the heel. The painting is so detailed that you can feel the softness of the hair by the nape and by the ear,” Santos expounded.
He added that painting in such a way that the color of the flesh emanates through the stripes, and the way the light reflects through the cellophane, is no easy feat.
A curious case of possible reincarnation was speculated next in a painting filled with meaning by Aileen Lanuza, as presented in the booth of Galerie Stephanie. The piece pays homage to pop art and one of its noted figures, Andy Warhol. On the painting is a portrait of the artist herself, with images of Warhol and his muse, Marilyn Monroe, beneath. Aileen was born at the same time Warhol died, and so sprouted the belief of Aileen that the deceased figure’s creative energy was passed on to her.
The tour ended at the L’Arc-en-Ciel booth with a burst of color. The gallery’s name is the French word for rainbow, and fittingly so. The two artists Santos talked about had paintings very rich in color.
The first artist, Mia Herbosa, hailed from the Ateneo de Manila University and continued her studies at the Art Students League of New York. One of her works is a recreation of Johannes Vermeer’s “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.” A notable thing about Mia’s paintings is her choice of colors. As the tour’s guide said, the variety of tones in her artworks shows her mastery in composition.
Anyone who has ever gone on a road trip passing through NLEX will find Alfred Galura’s landscape paintings quite nostalgic. Galura hails from Pampanga, and the views from this place inspired his watercolor works that feature sunsets. His works are so realistic that viewers could easily feel one with the setting. “That is the magic of Mr. Alfred Galura, his ability to transport the viewer into the scenery itself,” Santos said.
Galura’s life story is an inspiring one. Despite his talent, he did not pursue Fine Arts in his younger years due to economic reasons. He became an overseas Filipino worker instead, but eventually came back to the country to pursue his passion for painting.
Although all of their names are interchangeable with the word “artist,” these people featured in the exhibit couldn’t be more diverse in background and style. But in their own unique ways one will always find something to appreciate; for all humans create, and so anyone who keeps an open mind could sympathize and fraternize.
A fitting quote by Nigerian author Ben Okri goes, “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.”