Homecoming: Works From Dumangas
Of home and where the heart is
The exhibit Homecoming: Works from Dumangas is a welcome reunion and reacquaintance to the work of visual artist Rock Drilon. One of the country’s consistent practitioners of abstract painting since the early 1990s, Drilon is known for his expressionistic compositions resulting from largely personal and introspective ruminations.
This exhibit gathers 14 new acrylic on canvas paintings, all produced in the artist’s hometown and studio in the rural seaside municipality of Dumangas, Panay. It is also one of Drilon’s few exhibits in Manila in the past five years. After studying and settling down in Manila in the late 1970s, the artist spent nearly four decades in the capital dedicated to his practice in painting and performance art. From 2002 to 2012, he also managed Mag:net Gallery and its satellite spaces to support the work of contemporary and young artists.
In late 2012, Drilon found himself moving back to his home province of Iloilo, eventually constructing a studio in Dumangas. These past years were productive ones which reflected how he continued to be active in spearheading art initiatives and related endeavors while pursuing his practice in painting: heading the new Iloilo Cinematheque and organizing the 14th Visayas Island Visual Artists Exhibition and Conference (VIVA ExCon) Iloilo in 2016. Alongside these, Drilon managed to stage four solo shows—two in Iloilo and two in Manila.
Blue Loop 2 / 2017 / Acrylic on canvas / 121.83 × 121.83 cm / 48 × 48 in
Space for breathing anew
The first impression that may strike the visitor seeing Drilon’s works for the first time is their sense of flowing, organic forms and the almost luminous wielding of colors. The works are generally filled with formal elements typical of the artist’s past works and now iconic vocabularies of form. His ubiquitous and undulating loops and outlines trace their way within canvases are suffused with clouds and planes. These irregular and inchoate forms are in turn built up by careful and harmonius brushstrokes and textures, like coalescent clouds or swarms.
Those acquainted with Drilon’s body of paintings will most likely find this exhibition a steady progression of practice, where familiar visual motifs and modes of representation resurface and sustain the sense of emotional surprise and wandering conveyed by his previous body of works.
To take in the entire view of the exhibition is to see all these varied compositions suffused with a sense of quiet harmony: bright and almost joyous, exhibiting a litheness of spirit. After the past weeks filled with stormy weather and beset by even more ominous political tempests, this visual encounter with such paintings proves to be an unnerving, if not pleasant, surprise.
Black Loops / 2017 / Acrylic on canvas / 91.38 × 73.60 cm / 36 × 29 in
Red Line / 2017 / Acrylic on canvas / 199.24 × 143.40 cm / 78 1/4 × 56 1/2 in
From darkness to light
The reference to darkness, is not entirely lost, though. The odd one out in the entire collection, for instance, is a work titled “Black Loops”, a composition built up by repeatedly painting tightly-coiled lines as a continuum until it obscures the entire surface of the canvas altogether, covering it entirely in different degrees and configurations of black pigment. These visually resemble an earlier series of dark loop drawings in charcoal which Drilon started working on nearly a decade ago: textured and bleak coils filling the space, tight with the energy of turmoil.
Perhaps, it this capacity to breathe anew that distance and time finally makes possible. This singular work stands in stark contrast to the rest of the works in the exhibit space, which all commonly exhibit a sense of light, luminosity and space.
While the dark loops never entirely disappear, they cease to be a dominant element and now recede into the backgrounds of his works, often appearing as complementary shapes dissolving or diffusing with other formal elements in the painting. The closed form in “Black Loop”, for instance, now shares space with more brightly-colored planes, lines and textures—serving as a complementary form to the bursts of texture and color that it finds itself submerged in.
These works can be compared to Drilon’s other painting titled “Silver Loop”, which is comprised of multi-colored undulating lines all wound up within each other, filling the entirety of the space like a profusion of compressed confetti, in the midst of a celebration. This frenzy of color and energy represents the chromatic opposite of Drilon’s dark lines: the polar or flip side to darker meanderings.
Black Loop / 2017 / Acrylic on canvas / 121.83 × 121.83 cm / 48 × 48 in
Yellow Line 2 / 2017 / Acrylic on canvas / 121.83 × 121.83 cm / 48 × 48 in
Loops as representation and symbol
The loop and line are among the two strongest forms within Drilon’s abstract works, asserting their presences in many of his canvases. The cobalt blue loop—a strikingly familiar element and marker of identity across Drilon’s body of work through time—for instance makes repeated reappearances in this series across several paintings.
Drilon’s personal mode of abstraction can be appreciated on formal, emotional, biographical and symbolic levels. The form of the loop has long remained both a visual and biographical marker for the artist: not merely a decorative element or a stylistic quirk but also a sign and trace of continuity. Beyond being an exercise in playful and flowing form, producing the curve that bends and wounds up around itself can symbolize both beginning and end, and their intense connection to each other.
This connection of form and personal philosophy is underscored by how Drilon often employs the loop as a form of automatic painting, where he allows the line to carve its own outline and path on paper or canvas like an undeciphered entry or form of free writing in one’s own visual diary. As an extension of the psyche and the lines that it traces, the loop is also the act of moving on and beyond, yet always within, the spatial and special circumstances of being. As such, it expresses impulses that are subliminal and primordial.
Like his dark outlines, this form never entirely disappears even when he turns to other forms in abstraction. The form in the work titled “Blue Loop” for instance, remains into the sidelines when Drilon explores the use of outlines that resemble figurative elements and the human form.
Yellow Line / 2017 / Acrylic on canvas / 150.14 × 211.92 cm / 59 3/16 × 83 1/2 in
Rogue elements and transitions
Homecoming also underscores continuities and new nuances within Drilon’s abstract works, pointing out nuanced departures from his previous explorations. His use of light metallic hues and textures connoting the fluidity and movement of water, for instance, are more pronounced in this series. One can sense that some planes and textures are not simply applied on as a single layer but are built through the process of paint and water resisting each other. Perhaps it is his own response or extraction of this physical closeness to the shore and its sense of flux?
Window, on the other hand, almost completely obscures all references to both dark and colorful forms—so prominent in the other works—in its layering of planes, obscuring all in a tranquil wash and almost atmospheric haze.
Another aspect to Drilon’s abstract paintings is his tendency to title his works not after their most visually prominent forms but also after smaller visual quirks or surprises within the paintings. Some examples of these are White Line and Yellow Line, titled after their thinnest slivers of pigment which occur like accidental streaks or rogue elements that can remain unnoticed except by the keen eye. The work Red Line on the other hand, is devoid of any actual red lines and instead draws attention to vibrant streaks of red, like blood bursting free in the periphery.
Another series of works within the show is titled not after formal elements such as lines or loops, but after actual things and objects. Golden Cross, for instance, incorporates and plays with this figurative symbol as an extension of abstract painting.
In the end, Drilon’s formal abstraction continues to awe in its wielding of color, light and gesture to create intensely emotional encounters. The smaller canvases in Homecoming all seem to be a prelude to the largest painting in the exhibit: a colossal canvas titled Blue Arrow, which incorporates and distills many of these disparate tendencies into a singular composition. One wonders at the strength of body and spirit needed to envision and bring this work to completion. This powerful work reminds one of the often forgotten potential and power of gestural abstraction: when the act of painting is writ large as performance and raw action.
Altogether, the works are a fitting homecoming gesture for the artist: showcasing enough of his visual vocabulary to situate one on familiar ground and also offering a glimpse at the new ground to cover. •
Abstractionist Rock Drilon presents his new set of works this 2017 in an exhibit entitled, Homecoming: Works from Dumangas in Galleria Duemila on September 9 – 30 2017 in Pasay City.
Hailing from Dumangas, Iloilo, artist Rock Drilon is known for his entanglements and his seamless sense of color drawn in large canvases. His current set of works is both a return and an arrival in his current state of career as an artist. He believes in the magic of process and introspection maneuvered into perhaps maybe one or two iconic subjects and then creating a myriad of compositions.
Having been trained under the later modernist, Jose Joya while at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts and his experience in the Arts for over four decades, he has gained a lot of following in Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States.