Language of tsinelas art

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THE COLORFUL canvases hanging in the Avellana Gallery illustrate positive words. In the aptly named exhibit Kumpas ng Kamay, the paintings feature hands spelling out words in Philippine Sign Language — and reading the gestures is not a problem a series of smaller paintings hung along the three walls serve as a guide to the English alphabet.

One might assume that the realistic illustrations of human hands were done in oil or acrylic paint, but actually they are made from recycled rubber.

Bataan native Alger Guevarra moved to La Union as an adult where he developed an enthusiasm for surfing. During Mr. Guevarra’s frequent surfing adventures, he noticed the increasing amount of plastic and trash littering the shoreline. In 2015, he came up with the idea of reusing some of the trash, creating a new painting medium of tsinelas (slippers) art.

“The materials are recycled. They are slippers left along the shores of the beach and some are old slippers donated by my friends,” he told BusinessWorld at the exhibition opening on Dec. 7, adding that some of the materials are also the rubber mats of surfboards.

In the early days of his practice with the medium, Mr. Guevarra would cut up the rubber slippers manually, then he discovered a rubber grinder which simplified the process.

The old slippers and mats are ground down into a very fine powder, Mr. Guevarra explained. It is then filtered then mixed with a liquid emulsifier before it is brushed onto the canvas. The vivid colors of the slippers dry like paint.

He was inspired, he said, by the old masters who would grind their own pigments in the days before commercial paints.

Humanap [ako] ng identity na walang katulad (I was looking for a unique identity),” Mr. Guevarra said on finding a niche medium as an artist.

The paintings in the exhibit spell out words such as “Joy,” Love,” and “Hope.”

“This way, my stories can be expressed in a simple manner. Although sign language is mainly for the deaf and mute, but in ancient times, sign language was used as a primary means of communication,” Mr. Guevara said of the subject, in the curator’s note.

Lahat tayo pwedeng maka-relate (We can all relate),” he said.

Mr. Guevarra is a self-taught painter who began a career as a visual artist in 2008 and facilitated art workshops for children through the Bantay Bata program. He has received honorable mentions and awards at the Recycle Competition by Ripley’s Believe It or Not in 2015 and in the Robinsons Land National Art Competition in 2018.

Kumpas ng Kamay is on view until Jan. 31, 2020, at the Avellana Art Gallery located at 2680 F.B. Harrison St., Pasay City. The gallery is open Mondays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman





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