DATE/ TIME/ VENUE:
Opening reception: 11 December 2014, Thursday, 6pm
Artist talk: 15 January 2015, Thursday, 4pm
Duration: 11 December 2014 to 15 February 2015
Bulwagang Carlos V. Francisco (Little Theater Lobby)
Neil Pasilan is a self-taught artist who hails from Bacolod City. He started making art as a young man, when he would spend his days sculpting figures out of discarded clay. He would have daily “exhibits” with his neighbor, with only themselves as their viewers and grandmothers yelling in the background. This love for art, as well as its more existential offerings, is deeply rooted in the artist who moved to Manila and survived by selling crafts and products that he would make by hand. Twenty years later, Pasilan now focuses on painting and mixed media works, but still cannot seem to exorcise his affinity for terra cotta.
Along the Way is composed of eight mixed media paintings and five sculptures rooted in terra cotta. Pasilan’s paintings are made in his signature naïve style of rough figures with guised faces. Their surroundings vary as he shows familiar city scenes interspersed with landscapes from his own memory.
Pasilan starts his paintings with an idea in mind, but frequently veers away from the image he had initially imagined. He often works from his own energy or flow, his sculptor’s hands guiding him in creating the final vista. The painting itself begins with a print of a vague form on a separate sheet, which he then imprints onto his primed canvas. From there he starts painting on the canvas, mixing acrylic and oil on top of the embedded monoprint. Pasilan also covers portions of the canvas with wax, which creates an abstract “surprise” image over the work. Finally, the artist finishes the work with scratches and found objects before applying a layer of fixative. This complex process is derived from his training in making batik prints.
The paintings included in Along the Way are primarily done in shades of blue, green, and yellow, a palette chosen by the artist specifically for his exhibit at the CCP. The three largest pieces in the show, Watching the Bay, Panaginip at Katotohanan, and Waiting for an Open Door are familiar images to those who’ve wandered around Manila. They tell the stories of people who have grown frustrated with their lives. Panaginip at Katotohanan or ‘dreams and truth,’ in particular, shows the two sides of this national condition through the two tormented beings in the painting. The sleeping man represents those with dreams and aspirations while the vague figure in the water is seemingly asking him for help as he slowly drowns. The drowning man is momentarily an alter ego of the figure in the foreground, perhaps the version of him that has given up on his dreams. The drips in the horizon line, commonly seen in Pasilan’s paintings, are made to look like reflections of the shanties in the foreground.
May Liwanag sa Dilim, roughly translated to ‘there is light in darkness’, is a self-portrait of the artist, intended to remind viewers that if your heart is pure, so is your mind. It may have been inspired by or an off shoot of an earlier work, Liwanag Puso at Isipan, a large acrylic on canvas piece which was exhibited in West Gallery earlier this year.
The other pieces in the exhibition are taken from scenes from the artist’s younger years. Last Memory of a Beautiful Place, Follow Me, Two-way, and Homecoming are records of experiences that Pasilan learns from and looks back on at the present. Follow Me is a fishing scene, with the guide holding the ubiquitous light that represents the artist’s belief that without spiritual guidance in one’s life, it is easy to lose your way. Two-way is about how man is always given choices in life. The shadowy figures in the background reflect others who are also in the same boat as the main figure, that of being faced with a decision to go one way or the other. Homecoming is a particularly important piece for the artist as it best encapsulates the theme of the exhibit, which is the journey that we are all in and the people and places that we come across. This looking back vis-à-vis looking outward is part of the artist’s spiritual and artistic journey. He explains that the life of an artist is often lonely, a solitude that can only be eased by friendship and faith.
Of Pasilan’s exhibited sculptures, Tulog, Backyard, and Honest Worker are all representative of scenes from the streets as well. Backyard is an abstract composite of various personalities while Honest Worker is the artist’s homage to those who continue to strive and do good, and is composed of terra cotta, cement and found objects. Good Man and Totem, are images taken from the artists’ spiritual philosophies. Both of them were cast on existing religious icons that the artist distorts and reproduces in his final sculpture, almost merging them into the aesthetic of the streets.
Talking to Pasilan, one can get a glimpse of what he has gone through in life and his varied experiences with art, from exhibiting for kicks as a young man to joining the circus, so to speak, and moving to the big city, and then finally, to where he is today as an artist who has finally made a name for himself in the professional art community. With all of these changes and developments, Pasilan maintains the honesty and sincerity of his work. His growth has brought him to a place that allows him to reflect on his surroundings as well as on what is truly important to him. Spiritual and hopeful existential themes are important to Pasilan as he believes that it is a way for him to give back to art and his way of assigning value to his work. The artist is a social realist at his core, but one who relies on introspection and his own skills and personal contributions to make change.