The Jorge B. Vargas Museum in the University of the Philippines’ Diliman campus ends the year (and begins the next) by playing host to an exhibit by contemporary artists Rodel Tapaya. Once again, the
museum provides art lovers and, more importantly, university students, with the opportunity to partake of current work by a key artist practicing in today’s cultural landscape.
In Bulaklak ng Dila, Rodel continues his visual narratives based on long-forgotten Philippine folk tales. His work has always championed the re-telling of these stories via his paintings and dioramas, in part to keep oral traditions alive in other forms. Rodel has put together a major show: from the size of his pieces (he brings out three murals that stand from six feet to ten feet high, the largest at 20 feet long) to the range of media he has utilized. He has also completed drawings and paintings on wood, as well as his first forays into sculpture.
Isang Kahig, Isang Tuka is an installation of foot-high half human-half chicken figures. Based on a legend that recounts the origin of birds, Rodel fabricated this 60-strong chicken army from resin and wood. He collaborated with Pampangueño carvers,
appropriating torsos they would normally use for Santo Niño statues, pairing each of them with a chicken headdress that mimics the construction of a Moriones mask. He debuts his sculptural skills via fiberglass busts of three gods from Philippine mythology, Manama, Gugurang, and Maguayen. One detects the influence of Roberto Feleo, given the subject matter. But the rendition is distinctly Rodel’s.
The three aforementioned murals on canvas carry on with a style that Rodel has adopted as a visual signature. His grotesque, yet comical, humans and disproportionate creatures exist in landscapes of bright, joyful colors that bring to mind Mexican
art and crafts. Baston ni Kabuyan Bilang pero hindi Mabilang, a 10 ft x 20 ft painting on a single canvas, will surely count as one of his more important works. I personally liked Nang wala pang ginto doon nagpalalo, nang magka-ginto ay doon na nga sumuko?, more modest but still impressive at 6 ft x 10 ft. The response to the riddle that serves as the painting’s title is palay–rice. In this piece, Rodel narrates the origin of rice, while injecting his own commentary. Residing as he does in Bulacan, he has witnessed firsthand how urban development has swallowed up rice fields. Look closely at the bottom right and see the bags of rice that seem to fly, Rodel’s take on our country’s dependence on rice imports.
Rodel has filled the exhibit area with smaller paintings ( 4ft x 5 ft and 2.5ft x 3.5 ft), landscapes that showcase his current technique of looser strokes applied on dark underpaint. We see this in his additional pieces on canvas, two paintings on plexiglass, and several portraits on wood. He frames his wooden portraits with highly-embellished tin sheets, the sort used to decorate carrozas and altarpieces. He also shows drawings in ballpoint ink, and one diorama, Alamat ni Lumawig.
Rodel began 2010 as part of the Singapore Art Museum’s special exhibit on Philippine art. A few months later, he had a solo show, Memory Landscapes, at The Drawing Room and a joint exhibit with his wife, Marina Cruz, in Jakarta. We hear of his presence in international art fairs and regional auctions. He also made it into the Shortlist of the 2010 Ateneo Art Awards. It seems only fitting that he wraps up a busy year with a show of this magnitude.
Bulaklak ng Dila runs from 10 December 2010 to 5 March 2011 at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center, Roxas Ave., UP Diliman, Quezon City. Phone (632)928-1927 or visit http://www.vargasmuseum.org