Dominic Rubio depicts all classes in his tableaus.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
ARTIANA, the click and mortar hybrid auction house, is hosting the works of Philippine artist Dominic Rubio (March 17 – April 13). Rubio is a contemporary painter, whose oeuvre depicts Filipino characters with colossal heads and elongated necks in traditional Filipiniana, set in Old Manila or Intramuros, the historic walled area within the city of Manila. “Filipiniana” references material that carry content on the Philippines.
A founding member of the Guevarra and Blumentritt Group of artists, Rubio was born in 1970 in Paete, Laguna, a Lakeshore town famous for its woodcarving traditions. His life here perhaps gave him a sense of form. Incidentally, Rubio is also a member of the Paete Artists Group, named after his hometown.
Living and working in Pearl Farm, an upscale resort in Davao del Sur and doing duty as a part-time in-house artist, he was able to travel around the Caraga Region in Northern Mindanao, studying the Mandaya and Tiboli tribes. He also lived with the Bilaans and the Badjaos, farther south of Mindanao. The first display of his works at Ad Infinitum depicted an ethnic Filipina and her day-to-day chores surrounded by a landscape, a mother, and a child.
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A notable show in 2003 at Galerie Joaquin explored his favourite subject of Filipino women. In recent years, his signature figures in turn-of-the-millennium garb with stretched necks suggestive of Funko Pop characters and round, lollipop visages in quaint attire and costume, have become a favourite among collectors in Asia, the U.S., and Canada.
Dubbed “people types,” art critics have said that with these figures, Rubio has depicted a race that can proudly hold its own in the community of nations. He points out that “holding one’s head high” is an important human trait – all his characters indeed do just that, whether they are romantic elites or labouring hoi polloi.
A media outlet has commented that Rubio “depicts all social classes in all tableaus in his remarkable background-foreground play, where attention to detail is not compromised in either. He puts as much focus on the layered barong design and the individual bayong weaves worn by his characters, as he does in the bricks of the structure and the texture of its wooden window panels.”
This remark is as true as they come: in one of the latest compositions, for example, Rubio uses a panoramic background, which includes a typical Philippine environment and cultures from other Asian countries. As someone who has travelled widely, Rubio visualises and internalises the richness and diversity of Asian cultures, which he then translates into his paintings.
Joaquin “Jack” Teotico, Managing Director of Galerie Joaquin, perhaps hit the nail on the head – or set up the easel, so to say. “Rubio,” he said “is one of the foremost artists of today because his works capture the sensibilities, aspirations, dreams, customs and traditions of our people. His meticulous and methodical research on our way of life, costumes and architecture make his artworks important statements in defining the Filipino identity.”
The paintings evoke a traditional style of watercolour pictures known as tipos del pais - a secular style popularised during the Spanish colonial period that depicted different members of Philippine society, highlighting finely detailed renderings of their indigenous outfits.
Rubio’s works were sold out at the Galerie Joaquin in Singapore, both in 2006 and 2016. His mural at the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. has been unveiled; it fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams of having one somewhere culturally and politically very significant. The 8×27 work, again depicting his long-necked characters, highlights events in Philippines-US relations.
Rubio’s cast is always serene. Don’t look for turmoil here! The characters are eternally offered in bright yellows, warm, creamy earth tones, vivid reds and lily whites. He mostly works from photographs. He has hidden them on his phone and looks at them in books – after which his Muse takes over and the paintings are created. He loves the stories in the photographs. FYI, he once called himself “alipin ako ng picture,” or a “slave of photographs,” before his launched his own style.
Historical references are aplenty in his compositions: Intramuros, Old Manila, Escolta and photos from 50s fashion designer Pitoy Moreno, are among them. His dramatis personae are “ilustrados, ginoos and ginangs, families from all walks of life, and diligent merchants going about their quotidian activities.”
Rubio’s picturisations remind one of Giacometti’s matchstick-sized, skeletal sculptures, with figures thin as beanstalks. Rubio, however, “Giacomettisises” mainly only one body part – the neck area. He arrived at his conclusions only after a series of experimentation. Thus the characters – in the trademark style of Pinoy optimism - became what they are today. And the rest, as they say, is no mystery but history.
Art critic Reuben Canete perhaps has the last word on Rubio’s tremendous popularity. In his article “Dominic Rubio: Valuing Heritage, Mirroring the Self,” Canete says that the major reason for Rubio’s success lies in his capability of making his collectors and the public “see themselves” through his works.
“Although he paints nostalgic scenes depicting our colonial past,” Canete says, “Rubio is actually painting the Filipino today. They have struck a deep chord of nostalgia among his publics, who recollect from these paintings memories of their own recent ancestry, as well as the nascent space of national becoming.” In short, by presenting the past, Rubio is reminding people of the present.
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