Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities” and the acrylic paintings of Filipino artist Rodel Tapaya share something in common. Both contend that it’s the best of times and the worst of times.
Tapaya’s works’ formal qualities compress space and action. Pieces seem about to explode or else spin off the wall. There’s no clear narrative line, just a relentless series of actions and reactions. The works’ picture planes are flatter than flat. Their compositions are active and claustrophobic. Things appear in flux. The atmosphere emits a visual humidity. As in a myth, things good and things not-so-good vie for the viewer’s attention. There’s no resolution to these conflicts. They serve as cautionary tales.
Each piece presents an element of peril. Each piece also presents a corresponding element of hope. Hope and peril coexist as partners in some macabre tango. It’s hard to tell who leads whom. There’s a dragon with bared teeth. There’s some kind of warrior with a spear. There’s a priestess doing God-knows-what with those eyes. Human figures, totemic figures and animals with human faces grimace like something out of Hieronymus Bosch. And there are also trees, flowers and birds; vibrant greens, pinks and yellows. In one piece, a miracle occurs. It could be black magic. In any event it’s supernatural and dreamy, real and not.
Tapayo was born in Montalban, Philippines. He lives and works in Bulacan. His work plumbs Filipino Bontoc tribal myths. He filters images from his cultural heritage through surreal and expressionist vocabularies. These myths overlap each other, extending into contemporary society. The ambiguous figure/ground relationships show how much these myths inform the present. The work critiques the sort of progress that destroys nature to advance so-called progress. It also proposes a back-to-nature remedy. This remedy respects creation myths still present from the pre-industrial era. Formally and iconographically, each piece offers a powerful indictment of the society in which the artist lives.