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They Were Among Us

“They Were Among Us”:  Vincent Padilla’s Encounter with Time Past

 

            In her book “On Photography” Susan Sontag writes: “A photograph is not just the result of an encounter between an event and a photographer; picture-taking is an event in itself, and one with even more peremptory rights --- to interfere with, to invade, or to ignore whatever is going on. The omnipresence of cameras persuasively suggests that time consists of interesting events, events worth photographing. After the event has ended, the picture will still exist.”

                                                Raising the Ante

            And if artist Vincent Padilla will have his way, his paintings based on these photographs will co-exist in time together with the images that engendered his artworks. In a series of shows devoted to the exploration of emotional and psychological connections with old photographs, Padilla keeps raising the ante. He has, after all, no choice but to do so: looming large is the legacy of National Artist BenCab’s “Larawan” works, after which paintings based on photographs would be counterproductive, redundant, lame. BenCab had, after all, already claimed the territory, and to such magnificent results.

It is to the credit, therefore, of Vincent Padilla that, despite the daunting challenge that lay ahead of him, he has redeemed himself, for he had neither scruples nor doubts,  that his own photography-based works would reveal what the original photographs never did. He would transform his own canvases as a concealed camera.

                                    Pages of History

            Currently on view at Galerie Anna is Padilla’s solo exhibition, billed as “They Were Among Us.” Padilla focuses his lens, as it were, on notable historical figures, mostly public personalities in the arts and politics, so famous that streets and avenues are named after them. Plucked from the pages of history, they deliberately lose their time-line distance and detachment from us even as we relish our connection with our sense of history, where the past participates in the present. Thus, it seems, History is just a jeepney ride away.

            Understandably, the artist in Padilla ties him, like an umbilical cord, to such luminaries as Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino montaged together, the pioneer professors of the Escuela de Bellas Artes (among them, Vicente Rivera y Mir, Miguel Zaragosa, Teodoro Buenaventura, and Dean Rafael Enriquez), and in one iconic photograph, Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, with Dr. Jose Rizal. History as hero-worship is accountably evident in these works.

Interestingly, Padilla has maintained his characteristic layering of manuscript writing in reverse across the pictorial space, serving much like a subtle running filmic music in this these visual discourses with history. And as the manuscripts are hardly legible, teasingly puzzling and painstakingly handwritten, they seem like forerunners of the contemporary practice of merging words and images.

Other notable historical figures assert their presence: President Manuel Quezon panning for gold, Rafael Palma leading the members of the Philippine Independence Mission, all wrapped in heavy winter overcoat; William H. Taft presiding over the Philippine Assembly (where Padilla has brazenly interposed himself in the scene, painting the proceedings), and the bandolero-hero Macario Sakay, in  characteristic  long tresses, with his band of brigands.

                        Timeless Instrument

The viewer may construe that history may vanish upon the destruction of these photographs, paper being so perishable, for only photographs may prove the existence of a past reality. Vincent Padilla proffers his paintings not merely as a more stable medium of recording the past, the act itself being a reproach to photography, but as a timeless instrument created by man and not by machine.

“They Were Among Us” is on view until October 9.