Billy Bagtas paints the monsters under your bed

ARTIST AT WORK: Billy and his first solo exhibition

Billy Bagtas’ first solo exhibition is, for him, close to home. Its concept is literally about his home and family. Not really that literal, though. In “God Bless Our Home,” the young, emerging artist welcomes us to his household using artworks that depict horrific and unsettling figures.

Billy Bagtas

These cryptid-like imageries, which are present in almost all of Bagtas’ works even before the debut solo exhibition, seem like a recurring signature. According to him, this gravitation toward that dark and eerie style started when he had an unusual sickness in college. “Maraming beses sinugod ako sa ospital (I was rushed to the hospital many times), but they couldn’t accurately identify what it was. No findings at all,” he said. 

Because of this, Bagtas’ parents, who were born and raised in the countryside, resorted to faith healers. “‘Yung una sabi lamanlupa, ‘yung pangalawa sabi nakulam, atyung huli sabi demonic attack (The first one claimed it was a gnome, the second one said it was a curse, and the third one said it was a demonic attack),” he said. Whatever it was, the weird illness represented a dark chapter in Bagtas’ life, resulting to a failed romantic relationship and even leading to him attempting to take his own life. 

The exhibition does not just successfully draw you into the artist’s life. It also invites you to confront your personal demons: the ghosts of your past, the apparitions of your traumas, and the monsters under your bed.

But eventually, he found his way back through religious faith and, of course, art. In 2015, when he was just beginning to take art more seriously as a career. He specifically recalled seeing Jaime de Guzman’s work Gomburza Martyrs during the Pasinaya event at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. “Kinain ng work ni sir Jaime ‘yung kaluluwa ko (Sir Jaime’s work devoured my soul),” he said. “Simula noon mas naging matapang pa ako sa mga piyesa at mas naging honest (After that encounter, I became braver and more honest in my works).”

Since then, bravery and honesty became the driving force of Bagtas’ artistic pursuits. These two elements are evident in “God Bless Our Home” as he courageously tells brutally honest stories about his life and family, including personal narratives about a surprise pregnancy, infidelity, a complicated relationship with his father, and other sensitive issues. In Sa Pag-iyak at Pagtanggap, Bagtas conjures various cryptid-like creatures, positioned as if they are posing for a family photo. 

“‘Yung pinapakita ko sa art ko ay laging balanse (In my art, I always show balance),” he said. “Kahit hindi kanais-nais sa mata, gusto ko pa rin malaman nila ‘yung loob ng piyesa (Even if it’s not pleasing to the eyes, I still want the viewer to explore the work).” Bagtas believes that all art has in them some sort of depth that needs to be shown and explored. Moreover, for him, the artist, in creating art, carves himself open and lets the viewer decide whether they want to go deeper or not. 

In many ways, “God Bless Our Home,” is Bagtas splitting himself wide, wide open, in visceral detail. The exhibition, however, does not just successfully draw you into the artist’s life through haunting images. It also invites you to confront your personal horrors: the ghosts of your past, the apparitions of your traumas, and the monsters under your bed.

“God Bless Our Home” is on display at the Eskinita Art Farm Gallery in Tanauan, Batangas until Dec. 20.