July 16, 2022 - August 06, 2022
Hope is a Verb
On that fateful day in October last year, as Michael Villagante was about to embark on the XIII Florence Biennale, for some strange prophetic reason, he spontaneously wrote the word padayon (Hiligaynon for Continue the Struggle) in bold black ink on the tube bearing the rolled Pagtahan on canvas he was to hand-carry on a long flight to Florence. His inspiring message confidently armed him connoting to overcome further difficulties that constantly challenged his journey to this Italian city famous for its Renaissance art, architecture, and monuments.
The XIII Florence Biennale may be the youngest of all international art competitions yet it has attracted the most participation of more than a thousand artworks by 500 artists coming from 85 countries in five continents worldwide. The Florence Biennale has served as a worthwhile platform both for emerging and established contemporary artists.
Villagante would receive the Lorenzo Il Magnifico Award, the highest award, and the only Filipino to do so.
Banaag. is Villagante’s third exhibition at the Art Cube Gallery. chronicles the framed prequel scenarios leading up to Pagtahan as Villagante creatively forays the padayon spirit that beamed and won for him in Florence.
Sugat well-summarizes the two-year quagmire plagued by the coronavirus as represented by ox and tiger. Caught in an allegorical tug-of-war while sitting against a crown of thorns piercing their mortal beings, a butterfly emerges from its own hopeful metamorphosis of change in how we live in the world. Villagante is a visual poet extremely capable of the surreal and sublime. His personal palette of Naples yellow and red. raw sienna, burnt umber remains effective in complimenting his imagery and owning a bespoke iconography only Villagante can come up with.
Adding sordid mystery to his subjects, typical in Villagante he often does not reveal them in their naked bodies often covering their faces with masks. His work Dalawang Libo’t Dalawampu signals the year of the rat, the year that people were faced with the struggle of the pandemic.
Takip Mata is crawling in the darkness of uncertainty. Causing intense anxiety, our blind faith acceptance of the worsening situation marked by the increasing number of coronavirus cases—checked our reality– some included our friends and family members. The skull is a fixture in a Villagante piece. First to appear in his winning piece Sagad Hanggang Buto for MADE in 2012 it emanates the beauty of impermanence. Notice the lacking letters u and a culled from the word bulag it refers as you and ako—reminder that you and I have a responsibility to one another.
The skull again makes a reprisal in the boob tube in Error as it emphasizes the trial and error scheme the DOH reported on a daily basis—a sure sign of incompetency on the government.
With a deteriorating house slowly falling apart on one’s head, Lamat zeroes in on the slow degradation of the negative effects of staying at home. Due to the pandemic, many lost their jobs causing rifts with their families, and the students were alienated and could not cope with their online learning. Even Villagante was not spared, as he had to undergo a near-death medical operation causing him a plunge in his self-esteem and a lagging art career, he was supported and helped by his wife who discovered baking cakes and sold them to neighbors to survive day by day.
Meanwhile, the positive side of being home can be seen in Ligtas as we are all safe in the comforts of our homes. We can also quarantine and be spared from the high cost of hospitalization while recovering in our own safe spaces. The lotus flower has been Villagante’s sure sign of hope. Despite it being dirty, the flower exudes fragrance as it floats. Here it is encased in glass. Notice the note on the chest ikaw tayo ako represents the missing letters in the word ligtas. An in-your-face warning that unless we pull our act together we will not be saved.
Munting Kalayaam was the momentary respite when the lockdown eased a bit. A heart with wings connoted partial freedom that eased our fear of the unknown we were all feeling.
Being a Born Again Christian, it was faith that kept life going for Villagante. In Lilim he honors the Lord and how his life was moved. Considering Villagante’s preference for yellow-green mossy hues, he abhors the glossy and showy. Using a dry brush he achieves that dark and matted finish. He does not use linseed to evoke a pastel-like texture.
Laro Tayo signals temporary freedom as the coronavirus is dwindling and the kids can finally play outside. Using his son’s rocking horse to exhibit the second chance we long for, Villagante holds the promise of a better tomorrow in his children whose future we merely borrow.
In the vernacular, Pagtahan means to be relieved after crying; that everything will be fine after.
Despite what appears to be a prevalent mood of gloom, the theme of Pagtahan speaks of collective desperation for hope amidst the ongoing pandemic—in the context of the various gruesome wars--we have been constantly faced with for two years now. These battles according to Villagante unravel on many fronts, be it personal as well as social, and are of manifold presence as he has meticulously painted the many layers using his signature four-color-palette of yellow ochre, cerulean blue, burnt amber, and Naples yellow red.
An alarming issue that has affected Villagante is climate change and to better describe the ongoing conflict of the environment the fierce eye-to-eye match-up in the form of a growling lion and scathing wolf at center stage
War is further enhanced by a mushroom cloud in the middle, reminiscent of the Hiroshima bombing of the Second World War. One can even witness bombs growing on trees like lanterns, an allegory that violence is easier catapulted than one can avoid. This image is an inspiration from an early Rodel Tapaya’s iconography.
Five continents are represented by five naked bodies occupying the lead role on the canvas with Asia taking the lead.
To further contextualize the painting, the eruption of Taal is partly seen looming in the background as a precursor to the coronavirus pandemic that enveloped all of us last year. Four frontliners dons in PPEs are walking on a tightrope to eschew the criticality of the situation and the inherent seriousness of their vocation.
Despite the prevalent grimness of the picture, Villagante espouses the message of faith as seen in the presence of a guiding angel and even witnessed by his wife and youngest son being reared in the middle of the canvas.
In Banaag, evident in ten paintings, is how Villagante has staked the impending mortality of our lives and through his art how to find that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
- Jay Bautista
Michael Garcia Villagante is a Filipino visual artist who was born in Masbate and grew up in Maypajo Caloocan. He received his Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from the University of the East in 2001. He has joined and won various local competitions in the Philippines such as Shell National Art Competition - 3rd Honorable Mention (1997) and a Grand Prize at the Metrobank Arts and Design Excellence (2012).
In 202, Villagante joined the XIIIth (13th) edition of the Florence Biennale in Florence, Italy. It is a major contemporary art and design exhibition in Florence and one of the world’s leading contemporary art exhibitions. He was the first Filipino who won First Place (Gold) for the Lorenzo il Magnifico Award for Painting.
His winning piece “Pagtahan” (Cessation of crying) was able to manifest the concept of the competition which is “Eternal Feminine | Eternal Change” and was able to surpass over 1,000 artworks from different countries.