From a raconteur that brings oral traditions to life, Rodel Tapaya has turned into a chronicler of countryside vistas. In this latest body of work that make up Memory Landscapes, Rodel’s exhibit at The Drawing Room in Makati, he moves away from his narrations of forgotten Philippine folk tales. Instead of regaling us with the fantastic creatures that people his visual narratives, he invites us to witness the panorama that surrounds his Bulacan home.
Rodel imbues his landscapes with a mystical, eerie, air. For this series, he starts with a dark base of chrome and black underpaint, the ground from which he piles on layers of brighter, lighter colors. In the manner of British artist Peter Doig, he creates tapestries that feel almost abstract, where lines blur into a nearly indistinct mass of tangled drips. This stylistic shift extends to how Rodel renders his figures. Here, they flit through his paintings like ghostly apparitions, like the misty shadows that dart through our consciousness as we dream. He paints his figures in hazy, blurry clumps of mostly white and gray; they seem like pasted paper cutouts that belong to a different plane, but somehow blend into the landscape.
Witness the celebration that goes on in Dancing In The Moonlight. Yellow pools of light twisted amongst brambles of midnight blues and browns serve as the backdrop to couples clasped in close embrace. With Rodel’s treatment, you could almost imagine that you stumbled on a wedding, perhaps of goblins or changelings, otherworldly creatures that populate an enchanted forest, rather than a fiesta in the backfields of Hagonoy. A benign banca ride through fish pens in Passing By The Calm Waters feels more like a glimpse of the mythical Charon rowing down the River Styx. The calesa traversing a country lane of The Road Less Traveled seems like a sighting of a ghostly gallop through overgrown foliage. Even the innocuous activity of gathering flowers in a field dotted with fireflies takes on a spectral atmosphere. What is that creature that grasps a bunch of marguerites in Fireflies Season?
The 30-year-old Rodel moved to Bulacan in 2008 after marrying fellow artist Marina Cruz. They built a studio next to the house where Marina grew up. The two, both self-effacing and unfailingly polite, are considered one of the power couples of the current contemporary arts scene. Their list of sold out solo exhibits, plus Philippine Art Awards and Ateneo Art Awards appearances, attest to their critical and commercial successes. Earlier this year, they mounted a two-person show at the Ark Galerie in Jakarta.
Rodel himself has just come off a busy year. Last June, he made his Beijing debut with Mythical Roots at the SOKA Art Center. In November, the Singapore Art Museum invited him to participate in Thrice Upon A Time, a special exhibit to celebrate 40 years of bilateral relations between the Philippines and Singapore. He also remains a favorite in the Southeast Asian auction circuit. His pieces command respectable prices from both Sotheby’s and Christie’s clientele.
Before his marriage, Rodel worked out of a cramped studio on busy Maginhawa Street at UP Teachers Village, just off Diliman. His earliest paintings reveled in this urban setting. He caricatured characters in this neighborhood: the beer garden habitué, the local gossip, the Wowowee hopeful. When he relocated, he admits to an initial disconcertment at the change in his surroundings. “Siyempre, mahirap mag-adjust. Malayo ang mall. Mabagal ang buhay. Pero natuto na din ako.”
Because they live next to salt beds and fishing grounds that overflow when the tide comes in, Rodel has learned to read moon charts. He rediscovered Filipino traditions and his love for local legends. He started to enjoy his proximity to nature, to live with the quiet. And his art has followed suit.
“For this show, nag-enjoy lang ako sa process”, Rodel reveals. He luxuriated in applying stroke upon stroke to canvas. He relished the rhythm required to put his pieces together. For those of us who have followed Rodel’s career, the show brings another facet to his body of work, another exciting iteration. The pieces beg us to come closer, to scrutinize the details indiscernible from the photographs: the furious brushwork, the scratches that reveal color underneath.
“There is something more primal about painting”, Peter Doig has been quoted as saying. Rodel Tapaya Garcia will definitely agree.
Memory Landscapes runs from 22 May to 14 June 2010 at The Drawing Room Contemporary Art, 1007 Metropolitan Ave, Metrostar Bldg, Makati City. Phone (632)897-7877 or visit http://www.rodeltapaya.com or visit http://www.drawingroomgallery.com
This post has been reworked from an article in the May 2010 issue of Rogue magazine. Check out http://www.rogue.ph