Jose Tence RuizMULTIMEDIA artist and writer Jose Tence Ruiz challenged the traditional notion of beauty as symmetry and balance by fusing iconic images by the late National Artist Fernando Amorsolo and pop culture figures in his solo show, Bukod Tanging Pag-ibig, which runs until March 21 at the Silverlens Lab on Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati.

The Tagalog title of the exhibit is a transliteration of “amor” and “solo,” meaning “one love.” Ruiz explained that Amorsolo and he share a love of art that becomes their common ground. He said that his “bukod tanging pag-ibig,” his “amor solo,” is art and painting.

As a student at UST, however, Ruiz wasn’t keen on Amorsolo. At the College of Architecture and Fine Arts in 1975, he shifted from Advertising Arts to Painting. He came under professors who were students of Amorsolo so that he experienced a change of style.

“We were resisting being influenced by Amorsolo because [the visual arts were experiencing a turning point at that time],” Ruiz said, referring to the Modernist movement that was espoused by UST-bred young painters in the ‘70’s.

Be he could not totally shun Amorsolo’s influence.

“He’s like the dad you cannot turn your back on,” Ruiz told the Varsitarian.

Amorsolo’s works also share something in common with popular culture figures, Ruiz noted.

“Amorsolo is as ubiquitous as Walt Disney,” the Thomasian artist said, “for me, Amorsolo inhabits the same pop plane.”

He elaborated that foreign animation has permeated the pop culture of the Filipinos so much that its images have become commonplace. Similarly, Amorsolo’s images have also become ubiquitous and popular.

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“If you ask many ordinary Filipinos who are not interested in art (about) the artist they know, it’s Amorsolo,” Ruiz said.

The common denominator made Ruiz play around with Amorsolo’s art in a childlike fashion, using the most pervasive of Amorsolo’s themes, the dalagang bukid (farm lass) and farm folk, endowing them with a pop twist.

In his “Prinsesang Bukid,” Ruiz painted the Mario Brothers’ constant love interest, Princess Peach, as the main subject. But she overlooks a pair of golfers, all of them are wearing Filipiniana. Her hand is also buried under dolls of Hello Kitty, Pikachu and Astroboy, Japanese pop culture characters familiar to younger generations.

Another portrayal of the common farm girl is “Dalagang Bukid I,” which shows a smiling farm girl walking together with another girl, a traditional image save for the fact the former has Mickey Mouse gloves while holding a sickle-shaped, red and green candy cane.

Such symbols evoke feelings of happiness and nostalgia, which Ruiz explained is part of the Amorsolo feeling that he wanted to impart in his paintings.

“He gave people something that is not uncomfortable; something that is pleasant and beautiful. He did not like to touch on the miserable parts of life,” Ruiz said.

The insertion of the various Japanese anime and American cartoon elements portrayed a happier side of life and showed a personal side of Ruiz, who claimed he also “suffers from youth envy.” He said that when he looks at younger people, he sees things that he wants to do. “Never in my mind did I say that I was retired,” said Ruiz.

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His childlike, playful approach to art is also shown in another painting, “Blu-Skreen Pila.” In it, he shows common folk standing in line. However, the peasants wearing camisa de chino and baro’t saya carry items that are out of place: an electric guitar, for instance, or a cellphone.

Right next to “Blu-Skreen Pila” is “Pila Baldessari,” which shows the same peasants in a red hue. The painting is different because they retain their same farmer appearances but blue shapes now censor their faces, possibly to evoke their innocent lives in contrast to the busy urban life that Ruiz offers in the former.

Ruiz said that Amorsolo often painted the farmers and simple folk, whose lives mostly revolved around the farm and their families. It is this element that made him want to play with Amorsolo’s theme and style.

“I tried to make them do something hard, say, queue up for something. In Amorsolo’s works, they never had to do anything like that,” Ruiz said.

Another theme that he played with is the common farm landscape. His landscapes show a harsher and more serious world, unlike Amorsolo’s paintings, which emphasize the bliss of a simple life.

In his ”Takip Silim: Dinadaga,” Ruiz presents a green landscape, but with a person holding a rifle in the lower left corner. “Takip Silim: Mutor,” on the other hand, emphasizes a motorcycle stuck in a mud puddle of a farm, laid out of a sunset background. These are the more serious pictures in the collection. Ruiz said his works are not only fun, but also ironic and thought-provoking.

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The inclusion of the irreverently titled “Oil Painting,” for example, offsets the other, more fanciful works by showing a more realistic and industrial picture composed of an oil rig jutting out of the water and into the blazing sunset.

The painting adheres to the formal rules of composition and shows Ruiz’ mastery of art’s classical elements, although its subject is hardly classical but rather contemporary and realistic.

The artist stressed that his aim is not to celebrate irony, but to show his personal response to Amorsolo.

“That’s what happens when you get old. Younger people love irony, but older people realize that they’re already living ironic lives,” he said.

Even after 35 years in the art scene, Ruiz’ inner child is still visualizing art, still putting unlikely things together, and reveling in these contrasts.

It is important for him to not think that he has done all that he is capable of but rather, to believe that he still has a lot to offer. This openness of self is the key to his longevity, and he asks others to be the same.

“I think that people should be aware that time is short, they should enjoy a lot of things,” Ruiz said. “Don’t throw such things away.”

Amorsolo with a contemporary twist. Iconic bucolic images of the Filipino Master are mixed with Pikachu, Hello Kitty, Princess Peach and Astroboy: “Mga Dalagang Bukid,” “Prinsesang Bukid,” ”Monumento sa Dalagang Bukid” and “Sunrise.” Photos by Alphonsus Luigi E. Alfonso

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