OFTEN CALLED the urban jungle, the city serves as a battleground where predators and victims meet, and only the fittest survives. In Rodel Tapaya’s version of the urban, he weaves different elements — folklore, religious items, comedy and parody, slums, and city dwellers — together in one colorful canvas, making his story half fiction and half real, but nonetheless genuine. He calls his latest exhibition the Urban Labyrinth.
Currently on view at the Ayala Museum in Makati City, Mr. Tapaya’s exhibit of 18 new works is his first solo show in the country since 2014. His recent shows were mostly held abroad — his works have been exhibited in the Wakefield Gallery in England, The Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, and the American Cultural Center in Paris.
Mr. Tapaya is a recipient of the Sovereign Asian Art Prize (2014), The Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Thirteen Artists Awards (2012), and was the grand winner of the APB Foundation Signature Art Prize and Nokia Arts Awards Asia (both in 2011).
The new works on display at Ayala Museum until April 15 were all made in 2017 and 2018, thus they are products of his recent experiences.
His works are colorful renditions of the macabre. So instead of initially inciting fear, horror, or disgust, the audience is invited to imagine, ponder, and see what happens beyond the happy colors. For instance, his work Aswangs in the City is a commentary on extrajudicial killings (EJKs). But unlike the real bloody murders that happen in the urban jungle at night, his painting is playful, colorful, and allegorical — a hodgepodge of characters like beheaded flying chickens, wild pigs eating deers in a forest, faceless men, and a makapili (hooded witness) pointing to an animal predator.
Mr. Tapaya said jumps from one painting to the next, hoping that every time he re-starts with a work, he can “talk” to it, and together, the artist and the canvas can get the job done.
In Comedy, Parody, and Tragedy, he highlights a story of a typical slum area. He sketches what happens in a “looban” (interior) and in a “talipapa” (marketplace). There is order in his chaos: the happy colors are consistent with the exhibition’s colorful palette and the presence of faceless men, ghosts, demons, and angels are also consistently there.
His works are not only social commentaries on the issues that hound the metro, but he has also given attention to folk narratives and how they reflect our perceptions of the “urban labyrinth.”
Inspired by Jose Rizal’s story “Ang Pagong at ang Matsing” (“The Turtle and the Monkey”), Mr. Tapaya paints a figure of a man dressed in a white suit and black necktie but with the head of a monkey. The monkey, being a monkey, greedily looks at the bananas. He clearly wants more. A tiny turtle on the ground, which can be easily overlooked as it fades at the side, meanwhile looks at all the monkeys around it.
Called Instant Gratification, “It’s about the mentality of Filipino on immediate indulgence,” said Mr. Tapaya about Rizal’s allegory and his painting.
Asked how does he know if he’s on the right track, or what he’s working on is finished, he said that “the battle is challenging, because at times, my works do not let me win… So I talk to them and compromise on what elements to highlight or not,” he said in Filipino.
“You will feel it,” he added. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman