Traditional art, social media smarts: Marius Black’s hopeful, woodblock Manila

Cover art Paolo Lacambra Lopez

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Digital Reporter

Only now, over a decade into his career as an artist, Marius A. Funtilar feels he’s finally found a semblance of success. With it, Funtilar — known professionally as Marius Black — says he’s come full circle.

“If [I] were to tell my younger self that it would take me 15 years [to reach this kind of success], I would have given up then,” he said.

Last Dec. 14, Funtilar launched his fourth solo show, “Unnoticed Beauty”,  at Kendo, a cafe-cum-gallery in Cubao, along with an accompanying book exploring pieces from his Manila Ukiyo-e series, where he recreates scenes from the urban jungles of Metro Manila in the style of traditional Japanese woodblock print.

Funtilar’s early work consisted heavily of self-portraits and comics produced with his wife. Culled from the world around him, his scenes were dominated by stark black and white, with streaks of yellow and red. He describes those early pieces as attempts at releasing a darkness in him, manifesting in surrealist oil paintings.

Today, Marius Black is best known for the beautiful narratives of hope he tells through his bright depictions of everyday Manila. Same setting, different story.




Manila Ukiyo-E is a series of hand-painted art prints depicting the daily goings-on of Manila’s denizens, “not giving up their right to exist and still enjoy life here in the Philippines.” Funtilar hopes the series might serve to inspire audiences by highlighting the silent courage of struggling through day after day in Metro Manila.

Funtilar begins each piece with his digital camera, snapping shots of his surroundings. He uses these photos as references for his artworks, outlined in pencil, then inked.

The hand-drawn pieces are then scanned and printed on watercolor paper. Funtilar brings the scenes to life with watercolors, gouache, and color markers, making each artwork in Manila Ukiyo-E a print-original hybrid.

“I found what was buried in me: I love colors, I love working on papers,” he said. “I just came back.”

A wider reach

As Funtilar worked through the darkness of his early art and began producing what would become his signature style, people began to take notice. But it wasn’t in galleries that he found his following. Like so many modern success stories, he found his success on social media.

“I had to unlearn all that I learned as a gallery curator,” he said. “The landscape is changing so you have to rethink everything, from how you produce to how you show your art.”

On platforms like Facebook, Funtilar was able to reach a wider audience. On Reddit, he could interact with fans and get commission jobs — more now than he can handle, he admits. And it was through social media that he received his biggest gig yet: working with the Light Rail Manila Corp. (LRMC) to create large-scale Manila Ukiyo-e pieces for the LRT Ikot campaign.

Back in October, Funtilar’s ‘Antay’, a bright rendition of the LRT EDSA station, made its rounds online, catching the eye of LRMC president and chief executive officer Juan F. Alfonso. As with the rest of the series, ‘Antay’ found the beautiful in the ordinary. Gritty in its realism, but hopeful in its depiction— mirroring Funtilar’s own paradigm shift.

“I was able to make something, subconsciously, a scenery that is heartbreaking but palatable, I guess, but colorful. I give it a story just to [show] what I see as hopeful,” he said. “It’s how I want to imagine the world to be, from what I see.”

Funtilar’s work can be found on his website and on Instagram @mariusblackarts.