Rodel Tapaya’s main piece at ARNDT’s primary location in Berlin resists blatant interpretation. In his expansive painting, The Chocolate Ruins, the blend of thematically related images impresses a conflated disquiet and a sense of simultaneous ironies. Speaking in the reconstructed and often esoteric language of folklore¬ – myths and legends and their transfer in barbershop talk and current events – his works resurface age-old wisdom to comment on our contemporary life. All the images are visually connected by parts of the cacao plant, scattered across the canvas, each one dedicated to the three major disasters that has devastated the Philippines during the past year; a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, Supertyphoon Haiyan, and the scandal over widespread misuse of congressional funds. Chocolates are easily a substitute for anything that corrupts, be it money, beauty, or tradition; an insinuation to its prominent role in the bittersweet aspirations and decline of Imperial Spain’s colonial rule over the Philippines. Other elements in the tragic tableau show vestiges of church ruins, makeshift shelters, storm clouds with faces, and helpless men. As our living and thinking increasingly adapt to the unremitting charge of information, artists like Rodel Tapaya have developed an ability to isolate particular parts of this dissonance and arrange them in fresh dramatic combinations. Tapaya has an awareness of the world as one would an ancient storyteller with insight developed in the context of the events that have altered into other things, and explores the implication of these dynamic and inexhaustible symbols and narratives in relation to one another. In a time and place when these myths and legends have become ruins as well, of national identity, the painter looks not to new discoveries to catalogue the human condition, but rather pathways among the thicket of things already known to our ancestors and his nation’s literary heritage.
Rodel Tapaya, Tungkung-Langit, acrylic on canvas and mirror glass, 49.5in x 39.5in, 2012, courtesy of the artist
The depictions of these native gods resurface in Rodel Tapaya’s work from oral traditions around ancient beliefs in the Philippine religion, a religion that believes that gods existed in many forms and that there is an invisible realm within our world. Contained in the format of a portrait, they are rendered as abstracted combinations of images that relate to forgotten notions on the nature of the spiritual realm. These seven characters, expressive of their archaic origins, form a pantheon of false representations that turn the idols as portals into the recesses of dreams. The painter is interested not in capturing the likeness but the spirit of his subjects. After all, they existed largely without bodies and their anamorphic faces can be read as reflecting the nature they dominated.
Meanwhile, we are caught by the eyes made of mirrors reflecting our gaze, signifying an ageless and impenetrable existence, one that is enveloped in the splendor of mysterious vistas. In arresting the energy of his images, Tapaya creates work that surpasses the subject’s materiality. The milieu becomes ambiguous and in many works there is no indication of facial features, impregnating a sense of infinity and fluctuation to an otherwise distinguishable silhouette.
These works are exhibited in mirror frames, as if altar saints – treasured relics of a more religious era. The manner of presentation renders them untouchable on both literal and figurative levels despite the approachability of their intimate size and physical presence. These idols become surrogates of the people they watch over. The painter breathes life into the mystique, challenging the recording of the imagination. The paintings, accordingly, are not to be read as honest depictions, but rather, as transcending reality, and as visual rumination on the past. The works emerge almost in worship; an impulse to inhabit known material and discover unexpected points of congregation. In merging abstruse and improbable elements, the lines are erased between our vernacular belief and fine art, spectator and spectacle, retention and imagination across time. – Geronimo Cristobal, Jr.