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RENATO HABULAN & GUERRERO HABULAN
February 16, 2023 - February 19, 2023
Revisiting Lives Past
RE-EXISTENCE boasts two generations of contemporary Filipino artists who, in their ways, have significantly contributed to Philippine art through their exemplary depictions of ordinary people. As we reflect on a new appreciation for life post-pandemic, the world beyond the four walls of our homes reminds us of our humanity and our roles as artists to serve our fellowmen. The exhibition shares glimpses of the masses turned into icons of inspiration, dignity, and extraordinary courage. With their paintings, Renato and Guerrero Habulan lay feelings and experiences bare, as seen in the figures of farmers and families and the subtle visual jabs at the hidden forces that power the mechanisms and machinations of authority.
Renato Habulan offers sightings of mastery in his Alla Prima Series, with his palette knife wielding rich pigments applied singularly, attentively, each stroke intentionally commanding its space on the canvas. He compares his painting process to adagio in musicality, its slow melodic tempo caressing the artwork's surface. One jarring move creating an imbalance in paint application forces him to scrape it all off and start again, maintaining a soft rhythm as he builds momentum towards painting his more prominent pieces. Women, children, stevedores, and manual laborers could not have asked for a nobler depiction, as Habulan breaks the notion of traditional portrait-making in terms of his subjects and the lack of adornment in each piece. We usually find fine examples of portraiture featuring aristocrats heavily adorned with sparkling jewels; the artist features figures plucked from farmlands and construction sites, setting them against stark backgrounds, their utilitarian headgear of fiery red bandanas and sweat-soaked t-shirts their only defense against the harsh sun and falling rain.
In Yakap (Embrace), Habulan draws inspiration from the boundless love between mother and child, the child refusing to let go of the mother, who appears to still be in her work clothes. With an impasto technique, the artist fills in the planes and angles of the mother's face and figure with solid and pronounced strokes of the palette knife, the bundle of branches she carries taking on their own life as pigments built up to give them more depth and texture: in contrast, the child is rendered in soft, smooth, thin applications of paint to imbue her with an inner light and let her innocence shine through. Muog (Citadel), on the other hand, envelops a child in bright scarlet, the color of blood and life, as he symbolizes new hope for the adults he is surrounded with– reflective, prayerful, and melancholy as they bear gifts of sustenance and shelter. Habulan gives us memorable flashbacks in his bigger pieces: a return to his Kagampan and Dulang Bayan oeuvres, the same blood-red sky imbuing each painting with its pregnant moment, a breathtaking, fist-clenching instance that occurs just before impending detonation.
Guerrero Habulan, on the other hand, dissects where the seat of power truly lies. A scene from one of his trips-- a transaction between tourists and Baguio locals offering horseback rides-- captured the artist's attention. His mind transformed the mounted man into a dominating figure, an American eagle perched on his hand as a dragon slithers by in Horse Men. Instead of the horses' hooves, locals' rubber boots carry the weight of the passenger, a different figure surprisingly carrying the cloak of authority. The play of superpowers hovers in the background, defining the fundamental forces behind economic upheavals. Bulong kay Juan takes the prodding of outside influences and voices in the next move the boy is planning to make, a loyal and steadfast friend by his side. Pikit Mulat shows two visages of a woman, both confronting the viewer and resting her eyes, showing her awareness and wokeness despite being enveloped in comfort and the safety of a shelter built for her. Sweet Tooth reminds us of the poster boy for a well-known brand of condensed milk and the basketball team relaxing underneath a Japanese parasol as H-bombs fall from the sky. Local children wear him as a costume, uncaring of the dangers surrounding them, while one clutches a lollipop for safety and protection. Si Malakas is a manifestation of brute strength empowering a construction worker as a warrior, with a camisa de chino, blue jeans, and the chiseled abs of a classical Greek sculpture as armor. As the younger Habulan visually slices influential figures open, he exposes not only their bare bones but other, more minor characters with more agency in determining direction and consequences. His pop-tinged pastels do not minimize the visual impact of each piece, with measured dots showing eye-soothing patterns and mechanical processes involved in stenciling, juxtaposing another layer contrasting with the random, spontaneous, and soft elements in his paintings.
It seems that revisiting past works and lives bears more meaning than we think, as exemplified by the Habulans. We never know exactly what we will rediscover, which detail evaded us the first time. With RE-EXISTENCE, perhaps time is due for inventory-taking as we finally relearn what history repeating itself has been trying to teach us all along, in memories, in pictorial settings, and remarkable works of art.
Renato Habulan is a Filipino Post-war and contemporary painter. Born in a working-class family in Sunog Apog, Tondo, he became aware of social conditions in his community at a young age. He graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from the University of the East, Manila. In the 1970s, he was one of the founding members of Kaisahan, a group of socially committed artists during the Martial Law era. He also immersed himself in the community of farmers and laborers, actively participating in theater and performances alongside them. This cemented his position in the social realism movement, as chronicled by Alice Guillermo. Working in oils, watercolor, pen and ink, graphite, and assemblages, he prides himself in an identity unaffected by his varying mediums, with his pieces centered on spirit and feeling. Aside from his practice, he mentors younger visual artists, espousing the principles of creating art expressing not only the struggles of the masses but also dignity in labor and a discipline rooted in three poles: form, narrative, and soul. Habulan is a 1990 Gawad CCP Para Sa Labintatlong Manlilikha sa Sining Biswal (13 Artists) Awardee. His works have been acquired by the National Gallery of Singapore and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum.
Guerrero Habulan (b.1980)
He studied Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City where he majored in Visual Communication. He has rightfully gained recognition from major painting competitions and has won numerous awards including those bestowed by the Metrobank Foundation Inc. Painting Competition and the Shell National Art Painting Competition. He has been a recipient of an Artist Residency from the Artesan Gallery of Singapore in 2012 and was one of the 13 Artist Awardees in 2018. His works have been exhibited in the Philippines and in multiple galleries abroad.
Habulan has always had his eye on the contradictory nature of Filipino identity—its manifold crises brought about by its long and complicated colonial history as well as its neoliberal compulsions to be part of the global society. For the artist, these markers collide and consolidate in his uniquely hybridized figures (a subject, for instance, has two overlapping faces), constellated by a juxtaposition of forms and symbols indicative of notions of consumption, progress, and homogeneity. In order to capture the conflicted state of the Filipino psyche, Habulan combines different figurative styles and approaches—from hyperrealism to pop surrealism to the “ready-made” images of silkscreen printing. Habulan’s signature method allows him to synchronously present layers and dimensions that otherwise would have been invisible. What the viewer gains are an insight into how identities are never fixed and settled but are continuously prone and open to influence and contestation.
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