IN CELEBRATION of the fiesta season, Raul Lakan Ilaw’s first exhibit, Debosyon, spruced up the Hiraya Gallery last May 28.

A graduate of the University’s then College of Architecture and Fine Arts, Lakan Ilaw had a successful career in local advertising as an art director. In 1993, however, he relocated and found greener pastures in the United Arab Emirates, and later in Shanghai, China. In the decade that he worked abroad, he showed a deep longing for his native Binangonan. The homesickness was the subject of the exhibit.

A few kilometers from Antipolo, Binangonan lies in the Rizal region, and is suggested to be the “Cradle of Philippine Art.” No wonder Lakan Ilaw’s hometown and its neighbors have very colorful fiestas, with lots of flowers, banners, and street dancers.

In honor of Saint Ursula, the patroness of Catholic education of young women, Binangonan becomes a merry hodgepodge of pious festivities, which the artist portrays brilliantly in his canvases.

Lakan Ilaw exhibits a gift for capturing how people look in candid moments, and this is apparent in most of his works, which are close-ups of faces. These vivid pictures are of contrasting elements, the festive mood toned down by the artist’s use of earthy colors. Black, brown, white, green, and violet dominate the canvases.

The works may also call to mind those of Vincent Van Gogh, with wild brushstrokes overlaid to give the illusion of blended colors. But that is where the comparison ends, for Lakan Ilaw is a master of realistic proportions and does not use distorted forms or perspective. He uses black outlines for his figures, perhaps to call attention to the subject. The emphasis on the subject is supported by plain backgrounds, which despite the artist’s obvious mastery of colors, are simple in comparison.

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Lugging a statue of a female saint on their backs, the men in the image “Mamaya si San Miguel Naman” do not look very happy with their burden. Perhaps it was the long route of the procession, or the fierce afternoon sun that mercilessly beat upon them. Despite gay yellow flags above their heads and a clear blue background, the figures appear dimly lit and grim.

Three giggling street dancers dominate “Feast for Senses.” With the intricate patterns of gold, white, and green on their ruddy faces, their gazes are held by something they must have found amusing. “Two Cups of Decaf,” however, is a distinct piece. It is in gray monochrome, with only the straw hats of the two female dancers in bright red.

Debosyon is truly a dazzling sight of celebration, Binangonan style. The rich, sensous colors seduce the viewers into a feast of gaiety, its forms vivid and realistic. Lakan Ilaw’s paintings are a stimulating mix of earthy piety and divine sensuality. Even if fiesta season is already over, Debosyon is still a wonder to behold. Florian C. Garcia

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