Riel Hilario does his best work when he goes back to his roots. Trained by santo carvers in his native Ilocos, he revisits this skill in his latest show, Aniwaas, at Art
Informal in Greenhills. The Ilocano believes that a person possesses four souls. Aniwaas is that which stays earthbound, not as a ghost but as an imprint that lingers on. The Aniwaas may take the form of animals, tiny creatures like birds and butterflies.
In this show, Riel exhibits small birds with human faces. These images have recurred in his dreams, that of Santo Niños transformed into birds that retain the Holy Infant’s facial features. Another device that occurs repeatedly in his work, that of disembodied hands, harks to an invisible object, an unseen other that interacts with the piece but remains beyond our visual plane. He uses this in The Wanderer. We also see this in The Reverie of Reason Produces…,his
attempt at Velasquez’s Santa Maria Infanta. He injects a dose of humor in The Fire Girl and Better To Burn Out Than Fade Away, his depictions of children with their heads on fire, inspired by witnessing his daughter throwing a tantrum.
The most beautiful pieces, the ones that make us appreciate Riel’s skill the most, are the larger ones: No Longer to Dream But to Be Dreamt Of, Even Monkeys Fall Out of Trees, Flock Birds of the Same: Whispering St. Francis, and the invitation piece, Birds In My Ear, Spectre in My Shoulder. At Sea,
One Weekend Journey serves as a receptacle for corals and other found objects from the serene Ilocano seaside at Sitio Remedios.
I first encountered Riel’s pieces at Pinto Gallery in Antipolo, shortly after Kakaduwa, his 2005 solo show at Boston Gallery. Kakaduwa refers to another of our souls, the doppelganger that the Ilocanos believe travels in our sleep. Even then, I could sense his affinity to wood, his instinct for chiseling and bringing this medium to life via pieces that meld his background as a santo carver and contemporary sculptor. I am so glad he’s back, coaxing wood into art.
Riel has left a personal memento inside each one of these pieces. This ritual allows the sculptor to give a part of himself to his work. Thus, true to the show’s title, we can look at these wooden forms as Riel’s own Aniwaas.
Aniwaas by Riel Hilario runs from 3 to 20 September 2009 at Art Informal, 277 Connecticut St., Greenhills East, San Juan. Phone (632)725-8518 or visit http:// www.artinformal.com