Where do I begin? Logically, with the invitation from artist Vincent Padilla to the opening of his “No Time Like The Past” exhibit. But it really goes back earlier to Iskwalado IV when a painting by someone named Vincent Padilla piqued my interest, not knowing that the painter was the Vincent Padilla who had invited me to his previous exhibits. I regret not having gone to the previous exhibits but I sure am glad I went to the opening of “No Time Like The Past”.
But, for context, I have to digress first before I talk about the exhibit. A friend and classmate from UP Law invited me to lunch (the lunch hour being stretchable to any time of the day), I told her I’d be at the SM Megamall for an art exhibit opening on Friday, November 22, and we could meet before the 6.00 p.m. ribbon-cutting. We did meet, we talked about a lot of things (oh, how we gossiped but shhhh…) including how I write about art exhibits. And I told her my technique. When I go to an art exhibit, I scan every piece, I immerse myself in the experience and whichever catch my eyes and stick to my mind — you know, that ones that make me do a double take — are what I focus on. I don’t write about every piece — only the ones that have a tremendous impact on me. And that impact may be purely visual, purely emotional, purely intellectual or, at best, all three.
Our chatty meal over, my friend offered to walk me to the art gallery where I had arranged to meet with Speedy. Vincent Padilla welcomed us, I made the round of introductions and went about to do what I wanted to do.
I took my camera out of the bag and asked Speedy to pose with Vincent. They struck a pose so stiff and formal I thought they looked like trees. And I said something like, oh, come on, surely you can do better than that. They burst out laughing and I took the shot.
Now, the paintings. “No Time Like The Past” is a themed exhibit. All the paintings are scenes from the past and many of the scenes look like old Manila.
The backgrounds are done in sepia while people on the foreground are depicted in shades of white, black and gray. The texture is different too. The sepias are flat; the black and whites are done with brush strokes that gave them an embossed and glossy appearance. Is it just a visual thing to give the impression that the people are somehow emotionally detached from their surroundings? As I mulled that over, I went ahead and looked at the other paintings.
The next two paintings below somehow told me that my “emotional detachment” theory was not entirely correct.
In the painting above, there’s a man (painted in the recurring black and white hues) riding a unicycle.
In the painting below, a man rides a bike called the penny-farthing (also called high wheel or high wheeler).
And I thought that the bikes used in these two paintings were much too whimsical. Apart from circus clowns, no one really rides unicycles. And the penny-farthing was popular in the 1880s, half a century earlier than the era depicted in the paintings. Plus, in the penny-farthing painting, the man in the cart and the people in the background are all done in sepia like the background. Why are they in sepia and the man in the penny-farthing in black and white? Surely, there is a significance.
And that’s the part when I pulled Vincent Padilla aside to ask, “Is there a particular order in which I should view the paintings?” Like, you know, if I viewed them in a certain order, do they tell a story? He said no. And that was when I had a kind of casual interview with the artist that was both unplanned and enlightening, and totally fascinating.
According to Vincent, all the paintings are based on old photographs that he chose at random. Photographers back then weren’t considered artists, he said, the way many are today. And, the way I understood him, he transformed what should have been considered works of art back then into works of art in another medium. And, without him explaining it, I suddenly understood the inverted handwriting that appears in the paintings. Didn’t people write at the back of photographs to record where they were taken and when?
And the people in black and white? That’s us, he says, we’re time travellers in the paintings. That sent goosebumps all over me. I rewired my brain, and… So, we’re not just looking at the past — we’re reliving it. There is no emotional detachment. Rather, the detachment is multi-dimensional because those black-and-white people in the paintings are detached from their backgrounds in terms of time and space.
As Vincent went on to attend to his other guests, I think I stood there for several seconds lost in a soliloquy (I may have been wearing a silly smile) as I processed everything he just said. And then I walked on and discovered my favorite painting in the exhibit.
The time of the Philippine Revolution… The writer in me envies whoever can travel back in time and be privy to the plans being hatched to fight for Philippine independence — to witness that period and document everything that had happened.
The photographer in me craves to be that person who froze this historic image and captured it so that no one will ever forget.
Something told me that those splashes of red are meant to convey that despite the seemingly peaceful meeting taking place in the image, the words being exchanged were steeped in blood that had been spilt and were yet to be spilt.
And, finally, the painting that I liked second best.
Félix Resurrección Hidalgo.
What is it about this painting that I like so much?
The contrast in textures, for one. But, more than that… the eyes.
Those veiled eyes. I wonder if Hidalgo, as depicted by Vincent Padilla in this painting, is daring us to judge his art or mocking us. The eyes say that whatever his thoughts, whatever he was feeling, he was keeping them a secret.
It’s quite an exhibit and I am so glad that I went.