A HASTILY-GATHERED art forum attended by fine arts students of the University of Mindanao and local arts groups at the Cinematheque Davao last Friday became a rude awakening for the young (and old).
The father of assertionism Rene Robles with fellow artists Ernesto "Aris" Bagtas Jr. with 21-year-old son and Dale along with Bill Perez, project coordinator of Kunst Gallery in Batangas City were in town for a brief visit and Mindanao artist Rey Mudjahid Millan thought it was too big an opportunity to waste, thus a forum was hastily called.
Came the wakeupper. Starting with Aris, who said he was a theater artist before he took the visual artist's path, he shook the young artists towards introspection when he asked the fourth year fine arts students if they have even imagined what they were to become once they graduate.
Dead silence. That's when he told them to push on if they truly want to take the artist's path and not settle for just having the hand to make artworks for commercial clients.
"Yung art mo, habang ginagawa mo siya, tapangan mo ang sarili mo," he said. Admittedly, there are major periods of an artist when there seems to be scarcity of subjects. Aris has a very practical advice for this.
"Saan ka nagmula? Dukutin mo ang sarili mo," he said, saying that his mother being a nagger is already a bottomless source of subjects. The idea of the hungry artist is not true for as long as the artist works continuously and gives more than is required. It helps a lot if an artist has a good manager, like any other talent. "Importanteng may manager at sundin niyo ang manager ninyo," he added. But first, make sure you have a good manager who will look out for you.
Recalling how it was on his first international exhibit, he said, there are artists whose sense of entitlement marks them as difficult to work with, ergo, difficult to sell. He prefers to connect.
Thus, as they were hosted he showed his gratitude to their hosts by giving them portrait sketches. "Huwag magpapareklamo sa ibang bansa," he advised the artists should they ever be able to exhibit abroad.
"Matutong makisama. At ang pinakaimportante, huwag kang kumopya." Aris is known for his different faces of mother and child, works with religious themes, and other distinctly Tagalog themes. The reason? He's from Obando, Bulacan; his source of bottomless inspirations.
Obando is known for the pilgrimage of infertile couples to dance at the Obando Church to beget children, thus its people have Filipino Catholicism imprinted in their psyche.
This is his reply to his own question: Saan ka nagmula? He has exhibited in Berlin, Luxembourg, London, Xiamen, Seoul, Berchem, Vienna, Paris, Holland, London, and many other places aside from Manila.
Robles has a different story to tell, albeit they both started as poor.
Rendered fatherless at 13 and with no money to pay tuition on his first year in college, Robles earned his first million before he turned 20 when he was commissioned to paint the ceiling of Sanctuario de Santo Cristo in San Juan Metro Manila in 1974, when he was still in school.
He is the only Filipino artist who has collections with King Juan Carlos of Spain, King Khalid of Saudi Arabia, Statmuseum, Kunst und Austellongshalle, Karl Heinz Stockheim, Amerikahaus, and LeCro Bag in Germany, at the Vatican in Rome, Malcolm Forbes Jr., among a long list of international personalities, galleries, and museums.
There was a stunned silence as Robles broke into tears when he recalled how he painted the portrait of the rector of the University of Santo Tomas when he was in first year, and had to explain that he no longer had money to pay his way through.
An artist must have a philosophy, composition, lines and idea, he said, and urged the artists to go out and paint from real subjects and not from photos and through Google.
"Gawa lang ng gawa, walang nagugutom sa pagpinta," he said. "Mag-painting on the spot dahil andoon lahat ng kulay sa paligid, huwag sa picture. Ang picture, four color separation lang yan."
Dale is already earning on his own as an interior designer and an artist, known for his tattoo-like figures. He gets commissioned for interior design works where he integrates their paintings into his designs. Thus, he not only gets paid as a professional designer but is also able to move his and his colleague's paintings.
Dale said he grew up being made to draw and paint by his father and honed his skills and artistry and int he process made his name by joining competitions.
In calling out to the Davao artists to bring out their own art, Perez, who is the one coordinating the sales, travels, and exhibits of the group under Kunst Gallery, said Mindanao artists cannot make it if they cast themselves in the mold of the Manila or any other artist outside of Mindanao.
To this Aris challenged the audience, "Ano ba ang Dabaw? Gaano ka-rich ang presensya at kultura nito?"
He pointed out that from the little they have seen, Davao culture is vibrant and colorful. But this is not what the people see. To this Perez added, "We are painting a gloomy picture of Davao, which you do not want to happen. Hindi naman yun ang actual story. There are colors in Mindanao that we want to see. Itong kulay na ito, hindi mo makikita sa Luzon at Visayas."
Bottomline, these artists who have carved their name as among the sought-after visual artists in the Metro see a lot of talents among Mindanao artists and potentials for the Mindanao art scene, but this cannot be achieved by dwelling on the dark side nor taking inspirations from Manila and elsewhere outside Mindanao.
The challenge is to find the soul. Just to perk up the challenge, the artists went on an on-the-spot sketching to show the level of expertise that needs to be honed, and these same artworks on Manila paper they gave out as gifts to lucky participants.
With a big group gathering for such a short notice (the event was finalized Thursday afternoon and the event was held from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at Cinematheque, the challenge was wholeheartedly received not just by the UM fine arts students but also members of the Tabula Rasa, Guhit Pinas-Davao, and United Durian Artists with art scene veterans Jun and Maree Cayas, Bryan Cabrera, Alex Alagon, Dinky Munda, and Darryl Descallar.
Behind the scene are the Art Talk Davao organizers, this writer, and Mindanao Times editor-in-chief Amalia Bandiola.