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Love Is The Only Way
September 2 - 30, 2023
Love Persevering and Flourishing
Love Is The Only Way, Billy Bagtas's remarkable fifth solo exhibition, is a veritable tribute to flexibility, transformation, and the healing power of the most compelling feeling on earth and beyond. Exploring a journey of overcoming darkness through artistic expression, Bagtas takes us on a personal yet penetrating voyage through six engrossing paintings and an intriguing installation. These works embody the emotional landscape of souls coping with loss and the artist's lived experience as his family navigated the profound pain of losing his mother in 2021.
In Father's Portrait, Bagtas paints a larger-than-life feminized likeness as recognition of his father’s caring and nurturing side, replete with a flower and earrings adorning his bald head and a pink smile complementing his mustache. The artist lightheartedly captures his essence with the overlapping linear strokes he is known for. Due to his mother’s physical absence, his father now serves as not only the foundation of the family home but also embodies both maternal and paternal qualities. With inspiration coming from a past lifestyle that’s way different from the way it is now, Bagtas captures his father's strength in the piece being both the main loadbearing post and illumination for the home, as evinced by a gleam that backlights the subject’s head ever so slightly.
Together signifies a renewed bond between the artist and his father after loss and grief. Depicting two figures in a side embrace whose glowing hearts beat under a rosy sky, it symbolizes the dawn of a new chapter in their relationship, emphasizing the importance of shared comfort, understanding, and companionship during difficult times. Two Shadows Under the Moonlight has an enigmatic forest as a setting where what appears to be the same figures stand, illuminated by the purple-tinged moon in the night sky. This painting speaks of unresolved conflicts set aside, and the persistence of love despite shadows of the past. There is darkness, yes, but it conveys calm instead of peril. The random interconnectivity of life's experiences is signified by leaves, stalks, and branches spreading across the canvas, their lushness representing growth and acceptance yet never stifling the figures.
Monstera leaves elegantly represent family members, suggesting proliferation, flourishing, and a newfound abundance of positive energy. The portrayal of these leaves, soft and graceful, reflects living in an environment that encourages thriving, accentuating the artist's paradigm shifts as well as the growth of the closest of relations. White Heart encapsulates changes in attitudes and habits. With his father becoming a "plantito" (a plant enthusiast), his nurturing personality is embodied in the delicate depiction of himself in the midst of plants. Fatherly care serves to keep the core of his soul glowing, helping every being– whether walking or rooted in place– he comes across.
Bagtas’ central piece, It's Only Through Death That You Learn to Cherish Life, however, is not only the largest artwork in the exhibition but also the most poignant and rife with symbolism. In the piece, a figure is in contemplation while luxuriating in a bathtub, accompanied by steadfast companion dogs Neo, Maja, and Jake. The past's influence, represented by an enfleshed reflection at the end of the tub, has transformed into a guiding force. The presence of yellow dots, glimmering orbs and black spots as prayers muttered in faith and love, with sunflower petals, Bagtas’ mother’s favorite flower, and rose petals sprinkling the passion-red bath water, speaks to the journey of acceptance and love as physical and spiritual dimensions converge. Though the figure’s skin appears texturized, they are not thorns or spikes of agony; shedding, after all, is part of the value of letting go, the soul undergoing renewal amidst the warm embrace of beloved companions.
Finally, the installation Scars of the Past provides a satisfying punctuation to the exhibition, as it portrays a verdant face encased in foliage. This composite image of combined objects signifies growth, overcoming past hardships, and embracing abundance. The piece represents metamorphosis, traversing pain, and emerging in exuberant bloom.
The color palette in Bagtas’ recent artworks are noticeably brighter than in his past collections, as he adroitly transitions to bridging the earthly and heavenly realms, reflecting the harmonious connection between them. Perhaps a well-kept secret discipline started in the artist's youth as a performer and dancer with the renowned Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group has finally come to surface. Dance is an integral part of his artistic identity, and now it informs his practice in the visual arts. As his group celebrated its 50th anniversary with the show "Dancing in a New World'' at the Metropolitan Theatre last August 18 and 19, Bagtas's commitment to both his craft and his artistry was tested: he had to paint in preparation for his exhibition between rehearsals, and in turn, painting offered him a comforting respite from his physically taxing training sessions. Practice and discipline come across as integral in both fields, and Bagtas’ mastery of his body in movement, whether in creating small and grand gestures on canvas, or performing in unison on stage with his fellow dancers, was set to the forefront. There is love in each action and impression, and it is evident in the exquisite balance of emotion and technique in this exceptional exhibition. Indeed, this ineffable feeling is the only way to grasp truths and emerge more indomitable than ever before.
Diving into the intricate realm of visual artistry at a young age, Billy Bagtas, a 28-year-old luminary, has illuminated the artistic sphere with his remarkable talent and fervor. With nearly six years of dedicated practice as a Visual Artist, Billy's journey is a testament to the transformative power of passion and perseverance.
Billy's odyssey began in 2013 when he embarked on his artistic expedition at Earist Manila, where he delved into the world of Fine Arts. Painting swiftly became his solace and the canvas his sanctuary, as he poured his thoughts, emotions, and creativity onto the blank expanse. In this journey, painting competitions emerged as stepping stones that bolstered his growth. These competitions not only honed his craft but also germinated the very concepts that continue to resonate in his artistry up to this day.
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