Sunday, June 14, 2009


"You two guys should meet," Chamie chirped enthusiastically about this artist she kept on talking to me about more than a year ago, "I felt a sudden liking for Dan the same way when you and I first met. And I do think he's the brother of that college friend of yours who died of rabies."

... and today, Sunday, I did get to meet Danilo Arriola - brother of Maya whose life, struggle and story left me with a sense of awe.


"Are you Daniel?" asked a woman in yellow with white hair and glasses, while Marga and I were peeking at a black gate we thought was the one that led to Dan's house.

"Yes, Ma'm," I replied.

"I remember you. You were here when Maya was buried. You were as big when you last came here 12 years ago," she said as we followed her to another black gate beyond the one we were about to knock at. “I am Dan’s mother,” she said as she saw the blank stare I had on my face.

“Oh! A thousand apologies Ma’m. It took me some time to recognize you,” I said flushed with embarrassment. She smiled back at me as she led us into her house.

She ushered us into a small bedroom with grayish blue colored walls with blotches of white, perhaps to cover some ancient graffiti or to hide cracks in the paint. On the ceiling was a curtain track that circled the grey steel bed. “I was intending to hang a curtain around my bed like those in the hospitals. You know, to easily capture the cold air from the a.c. and make my space cool faster. But somehow I haven’t gotten around to doing it,” Dan later on told us while Marga and I stared at the ceiling.

He was lying on his back on the bed at the farthest end of his room as we came in bearing a box of chocolate cake. I spotted a wheelchair in another corner and a white Philippe Starck “Lord Yo” chair beside it. He would later admit that the Starck chair and an assortment of other toys hidden in a box were remnants of his “retail therapy” in a past life as architect.

“Hi there Dan. We finally meet,” Dan said in a weak and shy boy-like voice as he slowly raised his hand to wave at us. I approached him, stood by his bed and fought the urge to shake it vigorously like I always do when acknowledging a handshake. Instead I gently brushed his palm with mine and gave him a wide silly smile.

“Yeah, finally,” I said.


“If you’re going to list all the food a person can have, you might as well cross out 98 percent of it. It’s the 2% that I am able to eat,” he told us as he spied the cake box I had in my hands. Immediately a wave of guilt flowed through my mind. (I was unsure if Marga thought so too.) Perhaps we should have brought fruits or flowers or something organic as a token of our first meeting. But bringing those felt too much like it’s either we’re visiting an old nun in the hospital on Christmas or we’re going to a funeral.

“Well, we can eat the cake for you,” Marga giggled good-naturedly as I handed the box to his mother and chirped, “It’s for your family then.”

“The nice thing about being a person with heft is if ever there’s going to be some kind of mass starvation here in Manila, people like Marga and I will be able to survive it. We have more to burn in our bodies. We’d be calling it forced dieting instead,” I dryly told Dan. He tightly cupped his hand on his mouth with a small face towel and grimaced.

After a few seconds he lifted his cupped hands and admitted, “It is difficult for me to do simple things like to laugh or cough. I feel a very sharp and shooting pain
from my hip area each time I do so. A few days ago, I had to concentrate so hard to hold a sneeze. The pain’s so deep.” Hearing those words, I felt doubly guilty for the comment I made about my heft.

“It’s a genetic disease that somehow is passed on to the male child of the mother that bore that gene. The bones in my spine grow abnormally fast that they tend to fuse together. It is so rare that only four has been recorded in our country,” he then added.

“Is it life threatening?” I asked.

“To a degree… yes. It is the complications that it brings along which is the difficult part. Right now, a portion of my pelvic bone is growing and pressing on my sciatic nerve that gives me that shooting pain,” he added.

I knotted my forehead, puckered my lips and my nostrils flared at the thought of the pain and could only remark, “Oh.”

And he cupped his hand with the towel on his face and grimaced.


“But you worked in Singapore as an architect, right? How come you gave it all up and studied drawing in Italy? It seems that you are already doing well when you were designing,” Marga finally asked the question that has been burning in our minds for the past couple of hours we’ve been talking with him.

“Yes I was doing well there but there comes a point in one’s life that he has to answer a growing need inside him that if he doesn’t, it will just eat him up,” he confessed. “Everything you see here in my bedroom - the designer chairs, the toys, all these material stuff from my “retail therapy” that I gathered when I had a good paying job in Singapore… none of them can even compare to what I have in my studio in the other room. The paintings and the drawings I did, I can never exchange those for the past I once had. It gives me pleasure to paint or draw more than anything else.”

His words echoed through my head as I stared at one of his finished works - a small oil painting of a pineapple I pulled out from its wrapping and mounted on an easel. Done in the manner of the old Renaissance masters, I couldn’t help but admire the intricacy and subtleties of his strokes. The way he used the oranges and the yellows on the pineapple’s skin made it seem as if it was “ablaze” and gleamed from the dark background. Now that I am here talking to him and learning of the extreme difficulties he had to surmount from having a weak body, I was able to see what I was trying to define while I was staring at this particular piece. Then it dawned on me what it was.

It is his strong, unwavering desire and strength that he has in him as he painted this singular fruit. The rough skin, he defined meticulously with each stroke of color, not forcing it but slowly and painfully, deliberately building up each color. Each “eye” of the pineapple was not the same as the other, not just because of the difference in strokes but of the way he manipulated his color to add depth, heat or cold and character. It’s like staring at a crowd with high powered lens – you zoom in and you see each person is different from the other and bearing his or her own story on his face, clothes and body language; and when you zoom out to view the crowd as a whole (in this case like this fruit) it has a strange and strong unison making it as one whole being. It is that wholeness that “sang” of the song of someone who fights a good fight.

At that moment, while Dan was sharing with Marga his story, his struggles in Italy as a student having to depend on a meager allowance, braving the cold of a sharp winter and the biting pain of his illness… I was listening to the echoes of the bravery of his work.

At that moment, I felt awed with the singular courage of his struggle to paint and that deep hunger showed through in that magnificent piece – that pineapple.

At that moment, I was silenced.


Danilo Arriola is a young realist painter who did an intensive study in drawing and painting in the classical style in Italy. I only came to know of him again through another friend – Chamie. It is sometimes interesting how the world comes to a full circle. Little did I know that I would meet through another person the brother of a good friend who died years ago.

He lives in Pasig City with his parents and family.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


It has been quite sometime since I posted anything online since the day I left for Palawan. Well, in the next few days, I'll try catching up on some of the news. :-)

Here's an article written about LOOKING FOR JUAN last month. (Teeehihihi... my work got mentioned. It tickled me pink.)

Looking for the Filipino, not just Pacquiao
By Katrina Stuart Santiago
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:45:00 05/24/2009
Filed Under: Arts and Culture and Entertainment, Painting

MANILA, Philippines – Projects that deal with the creation of a Filipino identity are always bound to be met by debate and objections, violent reactions and a lot of hair-pulling. And rightfully so.

At a time when we are being told that Manny Pacquiao is our sense of identity, we must be able to kick and scream our way toward a better sense of who we are.

“Looking for Juan Outdoor Banner Project,” an art exhibit organized by the Center for Art, New Ventures and Sustainable Development (Canvas), seems to be a step in the right direction. With artists asked to create works that respond to the question of Filipino identity, the first batch of paintings on exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is telling of the individual minds of our young contemporary artists. It is indicative of where we are as a nation.

On that hot evening of the exhibit’s opening night, the slew of paintings hanging on the walls of the second- and third-floor hallways and the Little Theater lobby wall of the CCP was surprisingly refreshing.

The youthfulness was hard to ignore, owing to the bright optimistic colors on the canvases. Even when a given canvas dealt with dark hues, there seemed to be something light and pleasant about the general look of the paintings.


It could have been the familiarity of it all as well. From afar, the amalgamation of images of being Pinoy [Filipino] (the jeepney, the Filipino child, a person sweeping, people smiling into camera phones) couldn’t help but be heartwarming. But it was almost a warning: The concern for identity, after all, is an overdone concern of the arts, and as such it does quite often become cliché.

As some of the works on exhibit are falling into the trap of using overdone stereotypes of the Filipino: the Pinoy as unique in the ability to smile in the midst of pain (“Galos Lang,” by Jeff Carnay) and oppression due to unjust laws (“Juan Line,” by Dansoy Coquilla); to walk to the beat of our own drum (“Hataw sa Traffic Light,” by Marcial Pontillas); and to rise above adversity, given our heroic history (“Like Our Heroes, We Will Rise,” by Anthony Palo).

The realism that the first three work with doesn’t leave much for interpretation—a function as well of its being cliché—while the latter is, strangely enough, a representation of people flying with and on a hot-air balloon, an image that connotes social class mobility. Is this to say who can become hero?

Many others, while dealing with realistic images of poverty, corruption and oppression, end up talking about universal notions of environmentalism (“Juanderful World?” by Anna de Leon); unity (“Maybe We Are the Pieces,” by Jay Pacena II); personal struggle (“Sari-sari Storm” by Maan de Loyola); determination (“The Rise of Juan Tamad,” by Lotsu Manes); and hope (“The Traveller,” by Palma Tayona). Understandably, it is these pieces as well that have more to say on the canvas.

Oppressive information

Pacena’s piece in particular screams against the oppression of information, with a blindfolded image up-close, mouth filled with three-dimensional puzzle pieces. With eyes unseen and face half-covered, this is a statement on every Juan and Juana: You are being defined by too much, even as you remain unknown.

The clichés notwithstanding, a lot of thinking obviously went into many of the artworks. This is particularly true for the more politically charged ones, those that speak of the true conditions of the nation, and deal with it head-on.

There is the truth of poverty and how it understandably sacrifices hope (“Juan Luma,” by Migs Villanueva); the contemporary Filipinization of what is foreign and how this hybrid identity is problematic in its abstraction (“Hybrid Nation,” by Jucar Raquepo); the static state of the nation as potential never fulfilled (“Penoy,” by Manny Garibay).

But it is the flair for the revolutionary that is striking about this exhibit. “Biyahe ni Juan,” by Omi Reyes, “Aklas… Baklas… Lakas… Bukas!” by Marika Constantino, “Panata,” by Salvador Ching and “Pinoy Big Brother,” by Buen Abrigo are priceless not just in their imageries but also in their call to action.

Reyes’ close-up image of a jeep seems cliché, but its movement challenges the audience to an engagement: Where are you going, and why? This is true as well for Ching’s use of a Filipino everyman doing the Catholic devotees’ sacrifice of self-flagellation. This man, though, is facing a bright red moon, his bare back bloodied—the Juan is himself the sacrifice, as he is the one facing the possibility of revolt with the red, red moon.

And while the image of two arms clasping each other in Constantino’s work could seem cliché as well, its flowing red background connotes the rage and revolt that seem all possible.

Need for change

But it may be Abrigo who creates the image of contemporary times as transnational neocolonial: An unstable building and tower is filled with everything commercial that permeates our everyday lives. Figures beneath these structures are of a masked GMA/Imelda, a two-faced man in shadows, and a zombie-like creature with laser eyes.
All of these are contextualized in the dark neglected buildings in the background—a telling sign of how the capitalist enterprise silences the nation. The eeriness reeks of injustice and murder, and this is precisely what works for “Pinoy Big Brother.” It highlights the need for change, the need to end the oppression that capital brings.

If only for Abrigo’s as well as Reyes’ and Ching’s works, and in the context of the highly debatable concepts of nation and identity, “Looking For Juan” is a must-see. It is on view at the CCP until June 7, after which it moves to Alab Art Space of the Intellectual Property Office, IPO Bldg., Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati City, on June 8. Visit