Monday, July 04, 2011

text by; Pam Brooke Casin

MANILA, Philippines -- For some odd reason, I thought painter Mark Andy Garcia would be quite difficult to talk to. His very raw, dark, and expressionistic paintings are the culprit—a sinis-ter appropriation of Vincent van Gogh’s sunflowers, a macabre image of a skeletal figure, a barren and austere landscape, a man walking with a knife, a seemingly decaying body, to name a few. I was expecting to meet a brooding man with a hopelessly romantic and tortured soul like that of van Gogh’s, ready to harp about melancholia, anxiety, and death. But I was wrong. There were definitely moments of blithe laughter and wisecracks here and there throughout our conversation —proof, perhaps, that Andy is in a much better place now or, at the very least, getting there.

Photo by Pinggot Zuluetta

A product of the Technological University of the Philippines, the 26-year-old painter has had his share of ups and downs before he decided to bravely enter the art scene. Being the breadwinner of the family, he had to set aside his brushes and paints right after graduation to keep a nine-to-five job as a graphic designer. Eventually, he had to fly to Saudi Arabia to work as a mural painter in order to make ends meet.

“Advertising talaga ang course ko. Nagtrabaho ako ng seven months as graphic designer dito sa Pilipinas. Gusto ko nang magpinta noon pero ‘di ko nagawa. Kailangan kong mag-Saudi kasi may mga pinapaaral ako, at tatlo sila. Noong nasa Saudi na ako, sabi ko sa sarili ko na hindi ko na kaya…kailangan ko nang magpinta. Pag-uwi ko, nagkaroon na ako ng one-man show sa West Gallery,” Andy shares.

Andy held his first solo show in 2008. Titled ‘So Near, Yet So Far’, the exhibit is a collection of seven works on canvas and 12 works on paper tackling the experiences and epiphanies he had gained in Saudi Arabia, as a Christian trying to survive in a foreign land. Andy says the exhibit is a testimony of his atmosphere. Mostly, they were portraits of the people he met in the country, particularly those he got acquainted with in Metropolitan Bible Baptist Church in Al-Khobar.

Andy says, “Na-convert kasi ako sa Christian church doon tapos ipininta ko ‘yung mga taong nakasama ko. Very spiritual ang mga gawa ko doon.” So far, Andy has mounted four solo exhibitions. All of them are visual journals, chronicling the painter’s life and reminiscences—the past three exhibits being a diary of his personal tragedies. They were complex translations and unadulterated utterances of the grief Andy has suffered. Unlike Andy’s first show, which he considers very “enlightening and happy” subject- and color-wise and an articulation of his self, the painter’s subsequent exhibits zoomed in more on his extended self—his family. Rendered in grave hues and carefree brushstrokes, the pieces were Andy’s response to the tumultuous events that had hounded his family—his father’s death, his mother’s palpable and heart-wrenching bereavement, and his then 17-year-old sister’s elopement and pregnancy.

His fourth exhibit of 50 paperworks, billed ‘For Dear Life’, meanwhile focused on the painter’s last vestiges of sorrow. They quietly revisited Andy’s “depression and a confusion of other feelings.” This time, however, the show was created from a much more detached perspective, noting how tedious it had been for him to paint something very emotional without wallowing in misery all over again. Andy says he no longer felt the excruciating ache of fashioning something out of his misfortunes in his recent show, only a dull, sort of isolated tenderness that the artist can now manage.

“Sinusundan ko lang naman kung ano’ng nangyayari sa buhay ko. Kusang umaandar ang piyesa. Habang nagma-mature ang tao, kasabay noon ‘yung pag-mature ng trabaho niya. Kasi sa totoo lang, hindi naman ako nag-iisip kapag magpipinta. Nag-aabang lang ako ng event sa buhay ko at ‘yun ang ipipinta ko. Ngayon, habang lumilipas ang panahon, mas lalo ko namang naiintindihan ‘yung buhay,” Andy confesses.

Yes, Andy’s art is a visual diary. And just like any other “journal,” it is unique and characterized by the author’s own handwriting and vocabulary. His brushwork mimics his rapid and animated speech; his painterly style, his personal aesthetic sensibilities; his composition, his instincts. Truth be told, it takes a certain eye and an awfully discerning palate to appreciate the beauty of Andy’s chaotic, childlike, and almost nihilistic repertoire and somber palette. One glance isn’t enough to fully take in the visceral quality of his pieces.

Scribbles, blotches and layers upon layers of paint, and free-wheeling forms and figures typify Andy’s oeuvre. The charm of his pieces is their breaking away from realistic conventions of classical art. The legitimacy and realness of sentiments are ever present in Andy’s works, but he achieves and evokes this authenticity by allowing infinite play, exploration, and spontaneity in them. Andy doesn’t control what he paints in his canvases, as he paints as the images come to him. There is really no rule in his art except to be simply truthful—which is a very laborious thing to do, mind you.

“May show ako sa West Gallery this September, pero hindi ko pa alam kung tungkol saan. ‘Di ako nagpaplano. Darating din ‘yan. Sa totoo lang, mabilis ako gumawa, tapon-tapon lang ng pintura eh. Pero matagal akong mag-isip. Matagal akong tumunganga. Sa tingin ko kasama rin ‘yun sa proseso ko. Kapag tinatanong sa akin kung ilang araw ko ginawa ang isang trabaho. Sinasabi kong isang buwan…dahil isang buwan akong nakatunganga,” Andy candidly reveals.

Asked why his works are autobiographical in nature, Andy quickly replies, “Hindi ko alam eh. Basta naisipan ko lang. Siguro ito ‘yung natural sa akin. Dito ako pinakakomportable. Nasubukan ko rin naman ‘yung ibang istilo kaso iniiwan ko rin at babalik ako sa ganito. Hindi ko nga maintindihan.”

As we were nearing the end of our conversation, I realize that people may see Andy as someone who doesn’t really care whether his paintings and drawings are appreciated by your typical onlooker. But that’s just fine; for Andy would much rather create pieces that are true to his humanity. People may deem his suite of works as something that is denigrating, if you will, your typical artistic conventions, but the exquisiteness and brilliance of a Mark Andy Garcia is specifically that—in his attempt to reach catharsis and redemption, he has remained unequivocally true to himself.