Reality check

Published March 19, 2018, 12:05 AM


By Hannah Jo Uy

Images by Pinggot Zulueta

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“Reality is unpredictable,” said Antipas ‘Biboy’ Delotavo. “As a realist, I try to see it objectively. But as an artist, I have total control of my craft.”

Delotavo thrives on adversity, a master at weaving visual components overlooked by everyday people. He draws poignant insights about society and the the human spirit. “I like picking up disjointed, fragmented bits and pieces of reality and making a coherent sense of them,” he said. “I don’t like to add to confusion in this world of false news. I’ll probably be a better artist by being ambiguous to the point of absurdity that some might even call ‘deep’ or ‘profound.’”

Delotavo’s art is based on his personal experiences or his perception of them. “I live in the center of Antipolo.” he explained, “which is congested, with lots of pilgrims where the goods they buy are an industry.” Billboards of ideal lifestyles and glamorous models visually bombard the motorists and commuters along the highway, and there is the prevalence of malls. The images on television and the newspaper reports that get a rise out of the artist laid the foundation for the iconography within his paintings.

“If I were living in an exclusive village,” Delotavo said, “with all its comforts and amenities, I’ll probably produce a different kind of art.” These circumstances provided the formula of an aesthetic that is strictly Delotavo. He described his work as “part medieval, part modern, which exemplifies the Filipino culture and society.”“I’m not in self-denial,” he said. “I cannot pretend to live in a highly progressive industrialized society. This country is a long way from there.” His illustrious artistic career spanning decades notwithstanding, Delotavo continues to evolve. “I’m a work in progress,” he said. “There are endless possibilities. I always compete against myself, still trying to outdo my previous work.”

Over the years, Delotavo accumulated a vast artistic vocabulary to realize his unique artistic vision. “There’s nothing original in art,” he said, “only the familiar and unfamiliar.” Although painting is a western art form, he is committed toward infusing, within his works, the Filipino soul, “if ever there is such a thing.” “Without looking abroad for artistic inspiration,” he said, “with the attitude of relying on our own personal and cultural experience as a people, probably I will find the elusive question of national identity in my art.”

Delotavo is among the most accomplished portrait artists in the Philippines. The challenge has always driven him forward. “Portrait or realistic figurative painting,” he said, “is hard to master, even harder in watercolor. Early on you know whether you have a talent for it or not. It’s like singing or music. You can’t discover that you have it later in life. It is the most technically complicated form in painting.”

While it is not a prerequisite for good art, portraiture was a basis in the old days to be accepted as a student in the academy of art in Europe. “The entrance exam was to draw a life-size ancient Greek sculpture and copy it faithfully,” he said. “That’s how Adolf Hitler was rejected at the Vienna Academy, as he said so himself in Mein Kampf. It was a pivotal point in his life that he decided to become a politician. Life drawing was so rigid that artists rebelled against it and that was how modern art came about. Other artists would disregard the importance of portraits exactly for this reason.”

Delotavo believes that portraits will always be relevant as long as humans have faces. In view of his realistic works, his portraits have always drawn different levels of emotional reaction, even if the faces in the painting emerge as expressionless. “Perhaps it is how humans interact and connect, looking at each other’s faces. It is beyond the level of physical, I was tempted to say that I see God in the faces of humanity.”

Delotavo was among the featured artists in the Art Fair Philippines. As always, he was provoked to make art on issues that “make his hair stand on end,” “It is something you cannot ignore,” he said. “I cannot elaborate. I have already made my point in my works. I am not in a habit of explaining them. It’s open to different interpretation. Your guess is as good as mine.” All one needs to have, Delotavo stresses, is a good sense of discernment. “After all,” he added, “the bottom line is art. In this unreal world of art, I am just doing a reality check.”