With traffic across the metro at a standstill on opening night of MANILART 2013 one could be forgiven for thinking that all roads led to the exhibit venue. There was, I understand, a more prosaic reason for this: a bomb threat somewhere along EDSA held the city hostage to traffic gridlock. By the time my wife and I arrived after an hour and a half on the road (normally a fifteen minute journey) we were hungry and feeling bent out of shape. Thankfully, our intrepid spirits were rewarded as we walked into the huge exhibition hall, which had been turned into a veritable candy store of paintings and sculptures. While pop music blared in the background visitors moved about evaluating the offerings on display, artists and gallery owners alike eagerly discussed the merits of their works, while waiters weaved their way through the crowd offering trays of canapés and refilling empty wine glasses. The participating art galleries put their best foot forward, exhibiting works by accomplished and familiar artists. What drew us in though were the works of lesser-known but amazingly-talented painters who rendered their craft in unusual ways.
Our first purchase was a portrait of a pony-tailed boy by artist Taka Coloma. Notwithstanding the subject’s long look the work is exuberance itself all done up in a riot of color. What delights, however, is the artist’s chosen medium: paper painted in primary and neon colors, rolled into small tubes, “mummified” in a solution to harden and preserve them (for life, claims Ms. Coloma), then stuck onto a board jammed against one another, creating a tactile and pixelated, almost sculpture-like piece, the uneven lengths of tubes accounting for the contours of the subject’s face and adding “movement” to the work. It is art like this (I found it in a small art gallery that was located away from the main part of the floor) that gives the fair its reason for being, viz., encouraging young artists to push beyond their creative boundaries while appealing to a broad but discriminating segment of the art market.
The second piece we picked up is a painting by Italian artist Margherita Del Balzo. Entitled Nalen, it is a profile of a beautiful Indochinese lady gazing into space. She exudes a quiet but confident mien, detached from the noise and hubbub of the crowd, a female Buddha. One doesn’t need to shout to be noticed, she seems to tell me. The subject’s visibly delicate strength could only have been due to the technical drawing skills of Ms. Del Balzo, who obviously has had extensive classical training. Most unusual though is her use of a thick and rough paper colored with organic dyes, both materials of her own creation, I understand. The heaviness of the papyrus (I imagine that this is what paper looked like in ancient times) gives a permanence and solemnity to the work that does not undermine the subject’s serenity, but instead preserves it.
If there’s anything that Misses Coloma and Del Balzo have in common it’s their ability to express their considerable artistic talent through the creative use of paper and marry this with their visual art skills. In their hands, paper is not just material on which art is expressed but is an integral part of the creation, imbuing it with character, mood and texture. We came away from MANILART 2013 not just with great finds but, more importantly, with great hopes for what the Philippine art scene has to offer.
(Note: I’m not connected with MANILART 2013 or any art gallery)