JOSE Tence Ruiz may have become the toast of the art world since his sculptural installation “Shoal” became the first official Philippine work to be exhibited at the 2015 Venice Biennale after half a century, but not too many people know that he is one of the pioneers of digital art in Southeast Asia.

The knowledge gap about his prolific oeuvre is now somehow filled through Takwil: Pixelated Anxiety, a 20-year inventory exhibit of his digitally printed art at the Main Gallery of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts last August.

Dating from 1996 to present, Ruiz’s works are along his social-realist aesthetics and depicted social concerns such as terrorism, gun trafficking, abductions of overseas Filipino workers, Manila’s traffic jams, and corruption.

Perhaps because he was a newspaper illustrator and political cartoonist in Manila and Singapore before turning to art full time, the UST Fine Arts alumnus and former faculty member has always tackled socio-economic and global concerns in his works.

But Ruiz said he had also experimented with mediums, mixing media for instance as when he put digital images on canvas, paper and vinyl to emphasize the digital print’s underrated permanence.

“We live in the digital age, yet people are still not convinced that digital art has the viability of permanence,” he said in an interview with the Varsitarian.

Ruiz depicted terrorist violence in “Statik,” which showed a stack of bent firearms that somehow formed into something similar to the “Winged Victory of Samothrace,” the famous classic marble sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike. The medium was electrostatic print on paper—the image formed on the paper was processed by electrostatic forces.

Ruiz used pixelation (the process of blurring parts of a digital image to break up into visible pixels) in “Revolution, Evolution, Pixelation”. It was a set of vinyl-printed pixelated photographs of President Ferdinand Marcos while declaring martial law in 1972 and of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile during the impeachment in 2011 of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

In “Bisperas,” a 1997 print-on-Mylar laminate work appropriating “The Last Supper” by Italian Renaissance artist Jacobo Tintoretto, Christ and his apostles were covered in an all-white banding with black shades covering their eyes, while five silhouettes of men holding a cross surrounded the four corners. The print was inspired by the prayers priests proclaim on the morning of Easter Sunday before the unveiling of the holy images in the church, thus the bandings of the apostles on the print.

For Ruiz, the exhibit was not primarily about digital art’s permanence as a medium but his “state of mind” which was able to connect reality and modern mediums.

Known for his murals portraying mammoth biomorphic images along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, Ruiz achieved international renown in 2015 when his art installation titled “Shoal,” paying homage to the decrepit Sierra Madre ship parked at the West Philippine Sea, was shown in the Philippine pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2015.

It was the first time in 50 years for the Philippines to be officially invited back to the famous Italian art festival. In the 1964 Biennale, exhibited were the sculptures of Napoleon V. Abueva and the abstract paintings of Jose T. Joya, who had since become national artists. A. J. D. Bernas


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