Saturday, July 21, 2007
Taking a Free Fall
36" x 48"
acrylic on canvas
When one enters the loft of Palma Tayona, one is immediately struck by the spartan arrangements. A couple of tables, a sofa, piles of books and a wall covered by drawings, paintings and unfinished canvasses. At the end of a long spacious studio is a big window that floods the entire space with light. "This is where I look at how life passes along Libertad below. Do you know that Libertad means freedom? That's how I feel everyday. That's what I live for everyday." He quips.
Born in Manila, Palma Tayona took up his Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts majoring in Industrial Design from the University of the Philippines. After college, he worked for almost a decade as a freelance artist and graphic designer until he finally decided to work full time as a painter.
His works convey the humor that he derives from his penchance for bulbous, even obese figures that conjure shades of Botero. However, it is only in the manner he shows girth that Palma Tayona's works resemble that of the latter. They do not take after that quality of parodying canonical works of art or caricature figures of authority. Since Palma Tayona has also done children's illustrations, his sensibility veers on the innocent. His art is along a naive sentiment, his colors and lines assuming a distinct dreamlike quality, of nostalgia, of filial bonding, of love and longing. Images and emotions derived from a life of living full.
At the heart of each of his painting is a celebration of emotions, of a place or person both from some distant past or a poignant event in his life. Like any artist by heart, Palma Tayona distinct style and colors merits notice.
What made you decide to pursue painting as a profession?
The freedom it affords me to express myself, what I see, what I feel. I remember telling a friend of mine that it feels like a freefall. You know, the kind of experience you get if you jump from a cliff. You don't exactly know where the winds will take you but you're bound to land somewhere. It is the exhilaration one gets if he lets himself be taken by an adventure - of just letting go. This is what I feel everyday when I am faced with an empty canvas. It's an adventure where I don't exactly know where it will lead me, but I do know that the end-product of it will be a drawing or a painting that tells something, and hoping that it's valid enough for others to see. And when it's done, I look at it and say, "Wow, it felt good. It was just right."
Where has this "adventure" taken you so far?
I have met a lot of very interesting individuals along the way. My admiration goes to some who've inspired me as I would start each piece I do. For instance, "It takes a Village". It's about a story of friendship between two men who have differing beliefs, but despite of it they share a friendship that allows them to build on something concrete.
But the most interesting part of my adventures is when it allows me to see things I thought I have sublimated for so long deep in my memories. One-by-one, I have to exhume these memories, these thoughts and "tell them" visually. It will take a lifetime of work to do that and I'm not really in so much of a hurry. Though I have to admit, some of these memories can be quite scary, the same way as some of them can be quite exhilarating.
Why fat figures? Your works have been compared to Botero but I think yours are bigger and look much bulkier.
First off, my very first experience in creative visual expression was in puppetry. I also give credit to my love of Maurice Sendak's illustrations in "Where The Wild Things Are". You know, those fat big cuddly imaginary monsters of his. I used to design puppets for a theater troupe and I would draw the designs with heftier limbs. Back then, when making drawings and puppets for children, I stuck to an idea that they can't look emaciated or malnourished. The eyes... the eyes, I apparently got stuck with puppets' eyes.
The colors came after, just a few years back because of my "Latino" connection. I had some Latino friends and I got inspired by their culture. We share so much in common with them, being once colonies of the Iberian culture. I guess it was natural for me to get interested in it. I once had a Venezuelan friend who introduced me to Frida Kahlo - her life, her colors, her pains - and I just simply took it from there. I fell in love with the woman. I fell in love with her life. With Botero... he wasn't even an afterthought. I was quite surprised my works bore semblance to his. Being Asian, I have always seen being plump and "healthy" as a sign of good life. Being hefty and making no excuse for it, to me it's living life fully.
Oh, and I have been doing squaredance for the past five years. I give credit to that for the way I use folds in clothes I draw.
What inspires you?
My own life. The people around me. The feelings I feel and the thoughts that come about from these.
Any specific thought?
Yeah. As matter-of-fact, there are lots. It can drive one crazy you know.
There was this instance I was having a conversation with my ten-year old nephew, Wiggy. He was telling me this fantastic story of how a classmate of his did this thing in class. I don't exactly remember the details but it involved his young friend doing something crazy - like levitating or something, and I was stupefied into believing the young boy's story. I mean, how can a ten-year old kid lie about it? When my nephew saw how I believed his story, he just kept on laughing and laughing and told me, "Tito Dan, I was just kidding you and you believed my story? You're so gullible."
And it struck me how stories, many of them untrue or products of fiction, can become so real for many of us. They become history - myths - that one person will eventually pass on to another until these are woven into a community's collective memory. How we stir each other's minds into believing this and that. Hence, that was the thought behind "penzar no es malo..." Thinking isn't really bad it's just like mixing a bowl of cereals.
Do you think you are a storyteller, a mythmaker with your paintings?
(Laughs) A mythmaker? I won't go that far. I do not work for a p.r. company. But a storyteller, yes I am. I tell my own stories and somehow of others as well.
My works, and so are most artists', are images plucked from my own life. You'd have to look at it like an oversized diary. If I were to clip my drawings and paintings into one notebook, I'll end up with a huge unwieldy journal. But unlike a journal, a visual artists' works cannot be solely kept by him for his own consumption. He can keep some, but I think it's crazy to keep everything. These works have to be "released", to have a life of their own outside of the studio for the stories they bear to be told. Sometimes people who get to see these works create their own stories for it. That's the time when the painting becomes alive. The story it bears becomes full and living.
How does it feel to see your own story on canvas?
It's scarier than hell. But you know what eases it? Is that it's told. That when you say it and show it as it is... it becomes a relief.
Do you have a favorite piece among your current works?
Yes, I do. It's one of my first works I've done several years ago. It's about my parents. I call it "The Couple". My father's an old man with Alzheimer. I took him once to have a haircut. It was their anniversary. Along the way, I bought flowers for my mother. He saw me and asked that I give him money. I thought he was going to buy a bouquet but proceeded to buy at a stall selling plastic flowers.
Upon getting back home, I gave the cut flowers to my mother. When my father appeared at the doorway, he gave the plastic flowers to her. "Your son gave me flowers and you gave me... plastic??", then she gave him a sharp look. "Those flowers your son gave will die in a week. With my plastic flowers, I'd be long gone but they'd still be there." My mother turned away and I saw her flashing a smile on her face. I know the story's corny, but capturing that image in a painting, it always brings a smile to my face.
Is there any particular idea you have you'd someday would like to paint?
A lot! So many I keep a notebook that I'd write these down or sketch them, lest I forget all about them.
Currently, there are two. I would like to paint my father. He's old and he's in the twilight of his years. He's already at the twilight of his memories even, which are slowly slipping away. I would like to paint how it is to lose your memory and how it is to be like... to be remembered. The second one is about the street I live in - Libertad. The city has changed its name but in the jeeps and in the people's collective memory they still call it by it's older name. Literally, it means freedom. I envision it as a big canvas about life along Libertad and how life is with it.
Where are you headed right now... as an artist?
Frankly... I don't know. I go back to the metaphor of me doing a free fall. I know I took the plunge and jumped from the cliff. That's what's important right now. I feel the wind blowing on my face. There's sometimes an updraft that would push me up heavenwards instead of falling straight. Sometimes gravity just simply does its work and I could feel being pulled down faster than I should. But always, it's a feeling of having nothing to hold on to except my own thoughts and my own desires. That's what keeps me just reaching out and touching my thoughts and telling it.
I have so much to hear, see, listen and feel in order for me to become a really effective artist and a storyteller. I think I still am living a short life as one. There's so much yet to do - so much yet to see and tell.
How do you want to be remembered in your works?
That I told these thoughts, these stories true. That someday, when all is done and painted... that these works will have a life of their own years and years from their inception. That somehow, at least even one of these works, rang true in the life of someone else.
The above words were a transcript of an interview for a magazine written and published last year.