Three Generations of Joey Cobcobo

EVOLVING ART. The art of Joey Cobcobo is among the few in the contemporary art scene that is consistently experimental, evolving, and divergent. Its unfailing trademark is to go off tangent from the sought-after styles and predictable themes that are common in the art market. It is his passion for self-discovery that draws his curious followers and the serious collectors of art to stay and focus on the evolution and versatility of his art.

His manner of presentation has thrived since he emerged in the art scene with his first generation of representational art that drew inspiration from his Ifugao and Ilocano roots and Christian upbringing. In Lola 101 part 1, 2, 3 and 4, he applied monotype printmaking techniques to capture the essence of grandmotherhood on leaves, flowers and stems and printed them on shifu crocheted handwoven paper fabrics. These second generation of works were exhibited in Avellana Art Gallery, Ortigas Library, and BenCab Museum.

ENTER THIRD GENERATION. The art installation in Propaganda at the Lopez Museum in 2015 marks the beginning of the third generation of his works where the materials he used were sourced and reflective of his Mandaluyong neighborhood, right in the very place he first saw light.

This multisensory and interactive experience—from the eye-catching wooden ladders that pierced through the ceiling to the pre-etched wooden clogs (bakya) used as stamps that encouraged viewers to walk into a map of Mandaluyong spread out on the floor to impress and rethink their social responsibility—is meant to communicate Joey’s message to a vast and diverse audience.

SHOW AT ART VERITE’. In this day and age of pluralism in art, Joey’s secret sauce is in the selection and mix of media and techniques that he has mastered from previous generations of art-making. He chooses what will best deliver his message, something that goes beyond superficial aesthetics that earned him CCP’s Thirteen Artists Award. Traditional mediums from his first and second generations of work—oil on canvas and woodcut serial prints—are coveted pieces, but for this recent body of work, Joey revisits, reinvent, and reveals.

For this exhibit, Joey gathered unfinished works from eight years ago. He mixed and applied a spontaneous flow of colors and layers upon layers of paint to achieve a sense of historical finality from his earlier works. The result is a 29-piece ensemble of dynamic paintings that are full of surface texture, heavy layers of paint and reconstructions of selected prioritized memories and effectuate imagination.  From the titles alone, the viewer can pick up playful, suggestive, and nostalgic themes like Armas on Plexiglass, Ginumburza, Ratbow (When syllables are read in reverse it is pronounce as?), and Bawal ang Sweet.

BAAZOOKAA. All pieces went through introspection and retouching in Joey’s three-story home-studio, located right in the middle of a busy marketplace in Mandaluyong City. His home-studio has designated spaces for people-watching, creating art, and a computer shop business where he grabs ideas for his drawings, painting, and carvings for his printmaking plates. His finished product is a demonstration of how the process of art-making is affected by the environment.

Baazookaa, inspired by the bubblegum brand, is a catch-all word that fuses together all of the pieces for the exhibit. It recaps the dynamic styles, themes, and techniques that Joey has intrepidly explored to come up with three generations of art.

EPILOGUE: MONOGRAPH. A week ago at around past midnight, I suddenly sneaked out from a drinking session and traveled to Joey’s home-studio so I can learn about each piece for his upcoming exhibit and have this text for the exhibit catalog ready before the show.  Text in this blog will be published in the exhibit catalog and an excerpt from it for the press release for the show.

Baazookaa will run from May 5 to 17, 2018 at Art Verite’ Gallery in 2f Shop at Serendra Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City. For inquiries contact Art Verite’ Gallery at +632 9151982 / +63 9273296273/ / /

Published in: on April 29, 2018 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Cultural Tour of Metro Manila

FESTIVAL DAY.  An hour before sunrise, the palengke in Cubao and Divisoria begins to swell with early shoppers. The prayerful flocks inside the churches of Quiapo, Baclaran, and in the Sta. Clara Monastery in Quezon City. The rising sun lights up the preserved ruins of Intramuros and the elaborate façade of the Metropolitan Theater and the National Museum. In EDSA and Makati City, there is a choking traffic from the morning and afternoon rush hour and anarchy rules on the streets where sidewalk and roving vendors offer a wide-variety of street food from boiled and skewered bananas to santol and green mangoes with bagoong. There is a festival in front of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

From morning to sundown, Metro Manila is exploding with so many flavors and things artistic and cultural to experience so we asked artists, writers, and fellow travelers to provide us with a personalized cultural guide to our beloved national capital.

MANILA IN 24 HOURS. Famous for his contemporary rebulto on wood, Thirteen Artists Awardee and serial creative Riel Hilario provides this itinerary:

My 24 hours would start mid-morning at 10 AM. Breakfast in Intramuros area. San Agustin Church and its Museum, then its the Masters Hall at the National Museum. Lunch at the esteros of Binondo. Head out to Makati to the Pasong Tamo galleries. On to Ayala Museum and merienda at M Cafe. An easy walkabout in BGC. Head south to Conrad Hotel for some drinks. Sunset watching at the Bay. Perhaps a gala show at the CCP. So end the night there or back in Makati. Next morning, breakfast in Greenhills. Some galleries in the area. Exit Manila before lunchtime.

MANILA’S MERRY MIXES. Food historian and award-winning writer, Felice Prudente-Sta. Maria shares:

Sample folk food. Some names may sound Spanish or Mexican but the dishes have a Filipino heart and soul: tamales made with coconut milk; adobo cooked in palm or sugarcane vinegar; sourish and brothy sinigang; the savory, boiled, meal-in-a-pot pochero with native banana, cabbages, sweet potatoes and a flavor-layered eggplant relish; kare-kare oxtail stew with subtleties from peanut and annato. Don’t pass up a morning cup of thick chocolateh served with a sopas ranging from budbud or suman (finger shaped rice or millet with coconut milk and wrapped in palm or banana leaves), buttery ensaymada, or biscuits baked in a wood-fired oven. And don’t miss afternoon merienda with its array of baked goods ranging from street breads to fancy egg yolk-rich yema puddings.  Halo-halo, mix mix, a symphony of syrupy fruits, beans, custard and ice cream to which have been added textural punctuations like pounded and puffed rice called pinipig. Philippine rum and brandy are internationally acclaimed. Liqueurs from island citruses dayap, dalandan, and kalamansi and tuba wine from coconut palm stamp island happiness on the tastebuds forever.

A DOSE OF CULTURE. Staunch heritage advocate and the man behind FEU’s vibrant student concert performances, Martin Lopez recommends:

Start and end your day at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Build up your appetite by following the joggers around the CCP including up and down the main driveway. Cool off and have breakfast at Pancake House in Harbour Square across the CCP Little Theater. Return to the CCP to see what is on exhibit. Then, cross Roxas Boulevard and head to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and spend a couple hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. You can have lunch there. If you can still take in one more museum, spend the afternoon in the National Museum of Anthropology or the National Gallery of Art. Alternatively, you can spend your afternoon walking the cobble stoned streets of Intramuros. Catch the sunset from the roof deck of the Bay Leaf Hotel. You can have cocktails and dinner there. Finally, return to the CCP for a performance in one of its halls.

MANILA I’M COMING HOME. Artist, writer and editor of the iconic 10-volume Filipino Heritage, Alfredo Roces regularly flies from Sydney to Manila to attend art shows and meet fellow artists shares: 

Last time I was in Manila we did a quick tour of museums. As we were in Urdaneta Village we started with Ayala, then the CCP, then the Met and then the National Museum. That was interesting. I would say try to add Intramuros, Fort Santiago-San Agustin Church. Catch some current events. We saw the Artfair and an art auction. Divisoria is interesting.

EPILOGUE: MANILA SUNSET. So there, a personalized cultural guide to Metro Manila from our country’s art and culture authorities. So find some time to explore our national capital until sundown and watch how the tropical sun paints the city with that unrivaled incandescent golden glow that makes us sing:

Hinahanap hanap kita Manila
Ang ingay mong kay sarap sa tenga
Mga jeepney mong nagliliparan
Mga babae mong naggagandahan
Take me back in your arms Manila
And promise me you’ll never let go
Promise me you’ll never let go
Manila, Manila
Miss you like hell, Manila
No place in the world like Manila
(Manila by Hotdogs)

Published in: on April 16, 2018 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Charlie Co

HARBINGERS. The co-pilot announced his welcome spiel and weather update. From 29,000 feet the plane began to descent, slicing through thick clouds like a charging mechanical white horse from the Book of Revelation. An outline of the island was revealed. The sun was shining bright in Negros Occidental, the country’s sugar bowl.

From the moment I saw patches of cotton-like cumulus clouds around Mount Kanlaon, I knew that I will be spending a great time in Negros’ Sugarlandia. As the plane readies to touchdown, it casts a shadow that took the shape of a sinister figure with outstretched wings straight out from Charlie Co‘s apocalyptic paintings over the vast plantations of sugarcane.

GALLERY ORANGE. Hosting day one in Negros was sculptor Joe Geraldo. A month earlier, we planned out this four-day Negros odyssey to make sure that my itinerary covers more than just tours to historic and heritage sites but also visits to art spaces and artist studios. From Silay airport, we sped off on two motorcycles en route to Victorias for Ossorio’s Angry Christ mural. We passed through the sugarcane fields that I saw from air a few minutes ago and raced against trucks loaded with sugarcane. There was something decadent watching the sakadas in their colorful clothing go about their day out on the fields with nonchalance under the scorching sun and tenacity for hard labor.

By noontime, we were out of the farmlands and entered cosmopolitan Bacolod City. Joe brought me to Gallery Orange, where I was confronted by artworks that depicted disturbing scenes from the canefields and rural Negros that I had glimpses earlier that morning only they were set in a doomsday future with stylized mechanical horses and humanoid clowns engulfed in a choking texture of blazing reds, oranges, and yellows. These were poignant social and political commentaries painted by artist Charlie Co.

CHARLIE’S ART HOUSE. I first met Charlie in 2013 at Art in the Park  where his clown sculptures were the focal pieces of the event. Years later, I found the same clown sculptures displayed in Rustan’s Edsa Shangri-la Plaza. This trip in Bacolod was my second time to meet Charlie. That afternoon, we met him at a cafe he co-owns with his wife. Ann Co Cakes serves as a rendezvous place for Charlie’s Manila-based patrons, friends and followers. Here, we sat and conversed about his art over coffee and homemade brownies before heading to his home studio.

I immediately knew that we arrived at Charlie’s art house upon seeing a couple of robotic clowns with rounded joints, pointed Pinocchio noses, and colorful lines and patterns alluding to the sakada’s cheerful clothing. These figures are repeated in Charlie’s free-standing sculptures and works on canvas as a traditional portrayal of the Negrense like in the Maskara Festival but fashioned from Charlie’s playful imagination and self portrait as happy on the outside but can be sad and at times angry or suffering from pain in the inside.

MEMORABILIA OF SECOND LIFE. Charlie revealed that he suffered several life-threatening illnesses. Serving as memorabilia from surviving a kidney transplant, he fashioned a transparent mannequin where he displayed blister packs from the drugs he was required to take for a lifelong medication therapy.

In one corner was an iconic Dragnet Chair by Kenneth Cobonpue that Charlie painted the cushion with yellow clock faces and asked his artists friends to adorn it with clocks for his birthday. This is another memorablia to what Charlie calls his second life and testimony to his extended time on earth.

6 HOURS AND 38 YEARS. Born in a decade before the declaration of Martial Law, Charlie lived and pursued his art and social commentaries in his hometown. Together with some intrepid Negros artists, he pioneered in making Negros art and the harsh social gaps between the hacendero masters and destitute sakadas known to an art-conscious Manila and a global community provoked by third world social realism.

Charlie’s home in Bacolod City is also his studio where his artworks were made over a long stretch of time. Despite his debilitating diabetes, he still paints on large canvases and draws intricate details on paper six hours a day. For Charlie, art-making is not achieved at an instant. In fact, it took him 38 years of practice and life lessons to put on canvas the expressive strokes and fiery colors he uses for his historical retelling and social commentaries of current events.

EPILOGUE: SALVADOR MUNDI. During this visit, Charlie was preparing his piece for the 2018 Art Fair Philippines. On a huge canvas is Da Vinci’s Salvador Mundi with the ever present sinister harbingers engulfed in Charlie’s choking fiery hues in the background. This artist’s commentary is about the Christian icon that was sold at an auction as the most expensive artwork in history to a Muslim businessman for $450.3 million dollars.

Published in: on March 4, 2018 at 12:34 am  Comments (1)  

Riel Hilario

A SERIES OF CHANCE MEETINGS. Japanese surrealist writer Hariku Murakami says that ‘Even chance meetings are result of karma.’ He explains that things in life are fated by our previous lives, even in the smallest events. In our travels to art communities in towns and cities we had a series of chance meetings with our homegrown artists  and it is always a privilege to be invited over to an artist’s home studio so that we can listen to their story.

After several serendipitous meetings, first at Canvas Gallery and then at Cafe Sabel, when I went to Baguio on a Whim and having late lunch at Crescent Moon Cafe, we finally sat down with artist Riel Hilario in his home studio and got to know his series of chance meetings that led to his art as we know it today:

ARTISTIC JOURNEY. TOF: You started to focus on sculpture late in your formative years as an artist. For several years after Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) and UP Fine Arts you were in into painting, art writing and criticism, curatorial and cultural works. What made you shift into sculpture?

Riel: There were a number of factors that made me shift my focus on sculpture, especially wood carving as my main practice. But the there are two major ones I can cite.

First, I had several encouragements from peers, my teachers and from collectors as my initial attempts to do wood sculpture were received well. It was Roberto Feleo who directed me to research rebulto-making in Ilocos Sur in my senior year at PHSA. Later I had a few forays into wood carving but it was only in 2001 that I showed my first series at Pinto Art Gallery in Antipolo, to be followed by a solo of freestanding works at Boston Gallery in 2005.

Second, it served as my self-directed therapy following a debilitating episode of manic-depression in 2007. I had schizoid visions and dreams that were terrifying and disturbing I felt the need to find an outlet that was more tactile than painting or writing. The following year I started carving wood sculptures based on the tradition of the rebulto, but following the urgings and suggestions of my visions. The practice had a cathartic effect and also helped me refocus my cultural work to do research on the craft.

REIL’S MYTHOLOGY. TOF: Let’s trace the origin of your style in art. Allow me to give my personal description of how I see your art we first saw displayed at Pinto ArtMuseum and feel free to shoot me down if I’m misrepresenting your style. It’s folk, colonial santo minus the encarna. They are ageless contemporary sculptures on antique, mythical and surreal images straight out of a religious-folk experience. It’s like San Sebastian with shots of arrows meets a winged Assyrian god or Isis .  How did you develop your mythology? What is the inspiration behind it?

Riel: There were two major stages in the development of what you may call my style. The first stage was between 1998 to 2005, when I was trying to emulate the look and style of folk and colonial santos as part of my research into their forms. It was the wood santo collection of Dr. Joven Cuanang that really caught my attention and when I became an artist in residence there from 2001 to 2004, I developed a taste for distressed, old, and venerably worn santos and their potential aesthetic quality.

The next stage came naturally as a result of my direct from subconscious manner of carving as part of my therapy. While I was making works from my visions, it increasingly appeared that I was in fact tapping into archetypal forms. Appended with readings into the mythic image by Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung et al, I found that my subjects echoed the way gods were represented and even found through dreams etc. This was in 2008 to 2010.

Following my residencies abroad in 2012 and 2013 (Paris and New York), and doing research in folk art and church art, I realized the need to return to my roots in the Philippines, especially in Ilocos where I spent my formative years in summers. I incorporate local practice into my work, and continued to develop the visual schema of the appliqued elements of votives on the main body of the sculpture. This “style” if you will came from my discovery of Apo Baket, the Sta Lucia rebulto in Sta Lucia Ilocos Sur. Its main body is covered in silver votives shaped like eyes, each representing an offering of thanks for a cured ailment which the saint is believed to have intercession. I have been doing this with my work since 2008 but it became a staple of my rebultos quite recently.

PERSONAL HERITAGE. TOF: You belong to a generation of traditional santo-makers. You received your early training in sculpture from a santo-maker in San Vicente, Ilocos Sur. What were your fond memories while watching and learning from santo-makers as a child? 

Riel: I am a descendant of wood workers in San Vicente Ilocos Sur. Our main product was the so called Vigan furniture, an art deco-inspired series of living room furnishings and muebles. One of my uncles ran a santo-making shop which he inherited from his father and grandfather. It was in this shop where I observed rebultos being made.  I was deathly afraid of the Nazareno in my childhood and seeing how these were being made from blocks of wood that were commonly scattered in our yard was an epiphany for me: gods were being made there.

But it was during research trips in 1994 and 1998 that I “formally” trained under my uncle, Jose Lazo Jr. who taught me the basic rudiments of the craft. When I last did my carving project (a San Agustin which I gifted to an Augustinian nun), he gave me some of his father’s tools, a few of which I preserved. Now, where ever I do research on local carving traditions, I collect tools from that locale as part of my study into “chisel work”.

GROUND TRUTH.  TOF: You’ve traveled extensively to various towns around the country to validate your research and experience the craft -making first-hand. How is Ilocos santos or rebultos different from the others made in traditional santo-making towns like Paete, Betis, Bacolor, Bohol, Bicol, etc?

Riel: I am indeed doing such trips to do ground truth research on the first hand experience of carving with the communities. However, I am still in the early stages of this part of my work and it would be quite presumptive of me to make such comparisons at this phase. For instance, in March 2018 I will be in Negros to do such a trip, but I have yet to visit Marinduque for the Moriones tradition. But based on my observations on collections from these places, I would say there are some distinct wood carving mannerisms that seem to be dominant in each collection, barring idiosyncrasies of the wood carver himself. Some traits include Gothic austerity in design in Ilocos, detailed Roccoco intricacies in Pampanga, neoclassical/Baroque tendencies in Paete, and the robust roundness of forms from Bohol. But again, I am no connoisseur, Im just an observer of practice.

EPILOGUE: AGIMAT TESTING PROJECT. The Potencias of Papa Isio is a 4 x 6 feet oil and acrylic on canvas by Riel shows a votive to Dionisio Magbuelas, also known as Papa Isio of Negros, who led his forces of babaylanes versus the Spanish and American soldiers using the power of prayer and amulets (Photo above by Don Clavo de Comer).

Meet Riel and his ageless contemporary sculptures on antique and the mythical and surreal images straight out of a religious-folk experience on January 27, 2018 during the opening of the Agimat Testing Project at the Ang Komunidad Art Space at GK Bunyi St. KM 22, Dolores, Taytay, Rizal.

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Crescent Moon Cafe

LET’S HAVE LUNCH. A city in the Sierra Madre, Antipolo has that air and topography of a mountain resort. Being close to Metro Manila cities, its weekends are usually crowded with urban folks longing for that quick rejuvenating drive to the countryside.

It was already past lunch time when we arrived in Antipolo City to attend the opening of an art exhibit at Pinto Art Museum when an agreeable invitation came from artist Riel Hilario, ‘Let’s have lunch at Crescent Moon Cafe. I’ll introduce you to Tita Lanelle.’

POTTER’S WAREHOUSE. Crescent Moon Cafe and Studio Pottery is a place that anyone would love to be invited for lunch at because of the eat-all-you can buffet and the food that is served in coveted stoneware ceramics designed and handmade by celebrated potter Lanelle Abueva-Fernando.

From Pinto Museum, we headed towards Sitio Purugan. There we veered away from the main road then entered a gardened compound tucked away in a suburban neighborhood. We walked inside a warehouse filled with unglazed cups, bowls, plates, and saucers in different forms and sizes.

FRIENDLY KOIS. We walked through the garden following a foot path. All over the ground were curious objects that captures our delight for handmade and folk arts like the deformed wine bottles repurposed as outdoor decorations and the wind chimes made of clay and seashells. In front of the main dining hall is a fish pond with friendly kois that come to the surface inviting visitors to give them a pat on the head. It was revealed later to us that the pond was a crater made by a World War II bomb.

Riel speculated that lunchtime patrons that overrun the place on weekends must have left because it was unusually quiet that afternoon. He then confessed that it is required to make a reservation when dining in at Crescent Moon Cafe and that he missed doing that.  But this artist is a regular customer and has regularly brought in new comers like us. He assured us that if the lunch buffet is no longer available, we can have the set meals instead.

LANELLE ABUEVA-FERNANDO. We entered the main dining hall, a cathedral-high ceiling draped with festive Asian textiles and large screened windows on three sides that allow fresh mountain breezes to go through made this space airy and bright yet still has a cozy and homey feel to it.

Here, we were greeted by Lanelle Abueva-Fernando. The famous Antipolo potter took Fine Arts in UP then spent years in the volcanic island of Hachijo in Japan as an apprentice to a master potter. She took further studies in ceramics in the United States before returning to the Philippines. Partnering with her husband who has the passion of cooking, they put up Crescent Moon Cafe and Studio Pottery.

THE ALAGAO APPETIZER. Served on the buffet table were Filipino food that were either treated with coconut milk, laced with chili and tomato sauce, or flavored with lemongrass like the chicken afridata, the crispy noodles, and pork belly.

But Riel invited us to start with the signature appetizer that is the alagao wraps. We followed his lead in putting small amounts of ginger, onions, basil leaves, green chili, kamias, grated coconut, fried shrimps, and peanut sauce and roll everything with the minty alagao leaf.

EPILOGUE. That afternoon at Crescent Moon we were the only customers having late lunch. Over lunch, we learned more about Riel, his art, and other things. We enjoyed our healthful meals which ended with suman and a sliver of mango.

The wait staff cleared our table and we left the compound heading to Riel’s studio for more chitchat. Off course that visit to an artist’s home studio is another story worth sharing.

-26 June 2017, Eid al-Fitr End of Ramadan

Published in: on June 26, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment