Rodel Tapaya Info

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Photo: Anjo Lapresca for Rodel Tapaya Archive

Rodel Tapaya Filipino, Born 1980

Rodel Tapaya’s alternative forms of understanding time and place refuse to see indigenous epistemologies and storytelling traditions as anachronisms. While folklore is often disparaged as a vestige of superstitious thought, Tapaya suggests them as a mode of resistance to the primacy of modern subjectivity and modernist form.“My challenge to myself,” Tapaya has explained “is how to make a huge work complex in composition and detail yet with harmony and unity, inspired by stories of the past”.

Born in Montalban, the Philippines, outside Manila in 1980, he grew up immersed in the oral and pictorial traditions of his rural environment situated at the periphery of one of the world’s largest urban sprawls. As a student at the University of the Philippines, he studied alternative interpretations of supernatural traditions through Damiana Eugenio’s scholarly work. Since then, he devoted his career to painting tableaus that not only illustrate but also reimagine her compilation of Philippine myths and fables.

His winning piece for the inaugural Signature Art Prize in 2011, “Cane of Kabunian, Numbered but cannot be Counted” (2010) was described by jurors as a “compelling and monumental-scale work, with its multiple narratives and diverse allegorical references [that] embodies a vibrant strain in contemporary art from the Asia-Pacific region.” His practice of visual translation has drawn heavily from Philippine mural tradition as well as Latin American magic realism and the fantastic visions of Hieronymus Bosch. But even those who do not recognize his allusions can relate to the alienation evoked by his painted creatures such as the Aswang, who is either Prometheus or Vampire depending on who is telling the story, or the Manananggals, characters that recall the legion of Overseas Filipino Workers of the present. Tapaya employs the fantastic to depict the coexistence of other modes of being alongside and within the modern present. In his wide-ranging repertoire of mythological characters, he conceptualizes the fantastic as a form of temporal translation to various points in Philippine History. One writer observes that it “seems as though a conquest is taking place in reverse,” in that it is the forgotten demons and divinities of Philippine folklore that “reconquer modern, secularized society”.

His smooth application of paint, cramped figurative compositions and mix of decorative surfaces comment on the intersections of the tense social, political and environmental realities in the Philippines today. The concerns are visible in his palette, which captures both the vibrant locale and the darkness that overcast his figures in the margins—serving as a reminder of the proximity of colonialism’s legacy.

Since his earliest exhibitions Tapaya has utilized a range of media; from large acrylic on canvases to an integration of local crafts such as under-glass painting, metalwork, and diorama. His intriguing literary-based visual practice has made him one of the most recognizable names in Southeast Asian contemporary art of the past decade.

Tapaya’s first breakthrough came when he won the 2001 Nokia Art Awards which allowed him to pursue painting studies at the Parsons School of Design in New York and the University of Helsinki in Finland before finishing his studies at the University of the Philippines. His winning piece, “Deconstruction,” (2000) which depicts a group of children that appear as mere dots that punctuate the intersection of lines on a sparse canvas, was part of his exploration of the grid as a motif in his early series of paintings inspired by Paul Klee. Like a medieval cartographer, Tapaya began populating the grid motif with legendary creatures, situating them within a cryptic and seemingly self-generating landscape suffused with sinewy patterns of flora and fauna. The grid gradually disappeared in his later works, replaced by graphic patterns that function like a theater of the world; a storyteller’s embellishment that strains the viewer’s relationship to the images with their atemporal intricacy. “That is the way we [Filipinos] imagine stories,” Tapaya has reflected on these effects, “at times, my works do not let me win, so I talk to them and compromise on what elements to highlight or not.” -GFC, November 2021


Rodel Tapaya is a contemporary Filipino artist, celebrated as one of the most important painters working in Southeast Asia. His works are characterized by visionary narrative tableaus, melding folklore with historical and personal references into painterly figurations. By forming thought-provoking instantiations of myth and contemporary existence—such as beastly incarnations of gods beside factories and television antennas—his works become a retelling and a continuation of the oral and pictorial tradition of his milieu. Affectingly intimate and eclectic, his process mines indigenous craft for imagery and tropes that in turn allow his works to exist in dialogue with his source texts and provide insight into an amalgam of pre-colonial culture and contemporary political ethos. “I just find myself looking into these folk narratives […] which lets us see a map of the future,” he has said of his process. Born on July 10, 1980 in Montalban Philippines, Tapaya was a student at the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines when he won the Nokia Art Prize in 2001 which gave him a grant to study at the Parsons School of Design and at the University of Helsinki. After a successful series of exhibitions, he moved his home and studio to Bulacan, the Philippines in 2006 where he currently lives with his wife, the painter Marina Cruz-Garcia, and their three children. His works are held in the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Gallery of Australia, Mori Art Museum, The Hori Science and Art Foundation, Singapore Art Museum, Bencab Museum, Ateneo Art Gallery, Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art, Pinto Art Museum, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Collection, Deutsche Bank Collection, SEACO, and several international private collections. Tapaya was recognized by the Cultural Center of the Philippines with the Thirteen Artists Award in 2012 and was the inaugural winner of the Asia-Pacific Breweries Signature Art Prize in 2011.

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