Photo by Pinggot Zuluetta

From the Depths of their Soul:

Max Balatbat and Mark Andy Garcia

Text by Hanna Jo Uy

Published: April 8, 2013

Max Balatbat and Mark Andy Garcia are unashamed. Unashamed of the lives they have lived, the people they have met and the stories they have to tell. It is this virtue of courage that binds the two artists together, despite their aesthetic sensibilities being distinct from one another.

The work of an artist is a unique result of an individual temperament, but the work of an artist is also a unique result of their individual lives. Each work is a product of significant moments all stitched together to create a beautiful tapestry of memories that has been imbibed with the artist’s soul. A piece of painting from these two brilliant artists is not simply a tangible object with specific dimensions and measurements. Each work is an opportunity to encounter the very depths of their being.

Mark Andy Garcia seems to have exploded into the art scene several years ago. Entering the industry as a sheer force of will and talent, his path to becoming an artist started simply with a decision that he can no longer ignore his destiny. A graduate of the Technological University of the Philippines, he went to work as a graphic designer upon earning his degree in Advertising in 2005. However finding it unsatisfactory, and driven by his desire to provide for his family, he decided to try his luck in Saudi Arabia. His time abroad became an important part of his artistic journey because of the different characters he had met, as well as his own reflection that had brought him to deeper spiritual understanding and ultimately the decision to become what he had always known he was meant to be. “Kung talagang pintor ka, hindi mo matatakasan ang sarili mo,” he recalls.

Even as a college student Garcia was already honing his craft. He was partial to oil, which remains to be his preferred medium, favoring it for the painterly quality and spontaneity that it gives his work. The result of his style are paintings that not only depict meaningful autobiographical scenes, friends, family and images of nature, but also emotion frozen in time through his expressive strokes dripping with raw feeling.

When he returned to the Philippines in 2007, he threw himself into his work wholeheartedly; while garnering many awards and accolades, he went to work preparing for his debut into the art scene. Entitled “So Near Yet So Far,” his first solo exhibition was unveiled at the West Gallery in 2008. There, he chronicled his journey in Saudi Arabia, leaving no stone unturned in his reflective creative process. Garcia gave audiences a visual recollection of the people who had touched his heart, as well as the spiritual awakening and conversion that he had experienced. From then on, art admirers had fallen in love with Garcia’s works. Authenticity and sincerity can never be challenged in the emotional paintings of Garcia. “Diary ang paintings ko,” says the artist. “Hindi ako nagpipinta ng labas sa akin eh, kaya hindi ako nauubusan ng ipipinta.”

It is this bravery in allowing himself to be vulnerable to the world, in putting to the canvas his deepest hopes and darkest dreams and disappointments, that makes his work all the more beautiful because of his ability to be uninhibited and honest, not only to the world, but most importantly to himself.

His most recent exhibit, “Things Are Different Now” at the Art Cube, chronicles his evolution and growth, and it continues to be a testament to his honesty that is admirable and which imbibes his work with an enigmatic quality that continues to draw people.

While Garcia documents his own personal journey and evolution, the accomplished and multi-awarded Max Balatbat has taken it upon himself to document the human condition. He has become an advocate, giving a voice to the voiceless, challenging others to pay attention to the people who have been shunned and misunderstood by society, giving beauty to what others have misjudged as repellent.

Studying Architecture in Far Eastern University before moving on to University of the East to pursue a course in Fine Arts, Maxbal, as he signs his paintings, is an abstractionist with a social realist twist. His work is captivating and stunning for its aesthetic quality; however, lurking underneath the layers of color and textures is a fascinating narrative. With each work, Maxbal proves that you can have beauty without sacrificing substance, and more importantly that beauty itself resides in the unlikeliest places.

Calling his particular style, “Architectural Abstraction,” Maxbal did not have to look far to find inspiration, developing his ideas from the infinite well of stories residing in the busy bustling streets of his home in Caloocan. A Caloocan native since birth, Maxbal had witnessed the activities of the brothels in his area, and in his eyes the working girls were more than their job, more than whatever circumstance in their life led them to be. They were people, a human heart and soul residing within flesh and bone, suffocating under the vastness of the urban landscape.

These working girls, and the setting of their activities, has been a constant source of inspiration for Maxbal. However, he does not only use them for his own benefit; Maxbal takes his inspiration and uses his art to give these women a certain dignity. “Yung pinaka inspirasyon ko galing sa kanila,” he says. “Kailangan ko gawin ‘to, kailangan ko ipakita sa tao, para makwento ko yung isang side naman. Ang ibang side ng lugar na ito, para hindi puro negatibo.”

His most recent exhibit, entitled “Bahay Aliwan,” exhibited at Art Verite, is the latest and fifth installment in his series of works. “Nakapila talaga sila,” says Maxbal of his saga. “Dahan-dahan kong linalabas, para pagdating ng araw isang buong kwento lang ito na mahaba.” In his latest offerings, Maxbal unabashedly explores this forbidden house of pleasures, the setting for so many secret encounters.

His future works will give more dimensions to this fascinating and taboo subject, from the perspective of a sensitive disposition that has enough strength to humanize what others have demonized.

Maxbal has fought tooth and nail not only for his art, but also to be an artist, gambling everything and giving all that he had for the sake of his all-consuming passion for the arts; and the world is made better for it.

It takes audacity to stand up for what others have put down, and it takes daring as well to stand up for who you are. It is for their courage to use their experiences and their commitment to the arts that Max Balatbat and Mark Andy Garcia lead a life that gives beauty and strength to others.