What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit – John Updike
Manilart is in its eighth year this year and celebrated with the theme ‘Ushering in a new Golden Age of Filipino Art’. I had the pleasure of attending the opening on Thursday 6th October and as I walked around the cubicles of art on display I felt an old friend return. That buzz of excitement, that thrill and that emotional wave I get, that I used to get, when captivated by a magnificent piece of art.
I grew up surrounded by art and music – it was my life through my entire childhood. Weekends spent wandering through local art shows with mum. I even went to art collage for a bit but don’t be fooled, I am no great talent. I have a creative mind and every so often I would create something I felt was special but that was about it. In my early twenties I had been around the art scene a while and had woken up one day to the realisation that it just was not me, not really. In fact I did not know who I was or what I wanted and so I turned my back on art completely.
Fifteen years later as I worked in my corporate job with a different kind of creativity, I found a familiar pang return. I began yearning to inhabit galleries again, to smell wet paint, ink and plaster and feel once more, my emotions burst forth. I wanted to feel raw again, as a work I was observing seeped into parts of my psyche that I had locked away long ago. I started an evening painting course that fed my soul until I became ill in pregnancy and had to stop. Babies take away that creative time you once had so much of but I found outlets in other ways. Baking, cooking and craft with the children. Organising birthday parties and decorating cakes.
I find myself now, still with little time on my hands, but channelling my creativity through writing and my love of photography. Yet that desire to be amongst galleries still pulls at me. An earlier attempt to start gallery hopping over here in Manila was such an epic failure, resulting in being stuck in gridlock traffic for two and a half hours with limited food or water and two unhappy children. After that I just kind of gave up for a while.
Now here I found myself, walking slowly around Manilart feeling my emotions at the surface once more, feeling raw and it was a relief. Like someone pulled the bandaid off and said ‘give this some air, you will feel better’.
I was curious to learn, and I am still am, about the art world of the Philippines. I did not quite know what to expect and I was so excited to find a world that is vibrant, contemporary, daring and mixing deep passion and politics with playful and imaginative imagery. Great diversity exists and was on display. I noted a lot of heavy influences of masters such as Bosch, Klimt, Chagall, Kandinsky, and the Impressionists – Monet, Degas and Van Gogh; as well as a few of the more classic and renaissance masters.
I felt swept away in stories the artists told and as I wandered around I laughed to myself when I saw painfully introverted people shuffling along with heads down and that look on their face that suggested they would find more pleasure pulling fingernails out than being here, in this crowd. Those people were usually the artists. It brought back memories of my own time working in a gallery.
Making my way around I spoke with a few people, and had the wonderful pleasure to meet Raul Lebajo, a master in the Filipino art world. Long considered a major figure in the late Modernist movement here, Raul pioneered a style called Environmental Surrealism, whereby dream like imagery is fused with themes of nature and the environment. A small elderly man, Raul’s clothes hung off him making him seem frail and certainly different to the images I had seen when I researched him online. Images of him in action with his paints show a determination and fire in his eyes. Standing quietly next to his paintings, Raul seemed to be unfazed by attention or events such as this yet displayed charm and genuine gratitude for what was bestowed upon him. His paintings were bold and captivating.
I walked out of the event through a grotto of intricately carved ostrich eggs that were lit up, sitting in totems. A magical display and an apt exit as a chamber quartet played. Driving home in the rain and Manila traffic I reflected on my time there in ManilArt, and hashed out a plan to further engulf myself into the art world. I am so excited by what waits to be discovered.