Painting with fire and smoke: Marvin Dalisay’s art

Published January 17, 2021, 7:51 PM

by Tara Yap

Fire and smoke are synonymous with damage and destruction. But for Ilonggo artist Marvin Dalisay, fire and smoke are natural elements for art creation.

Marvin Dalisay

The 31-year-old artist from the quaint coastal town of Banate in Iloilo province has been using kíngke (kerosene lamp) to paintings.  Once Marvin lights the kíngke, the asó (smoke) from the flames touching the white canvass marvelously transforms a rather dark and dull natural element into recognizable images.

Marvin’s ingenuity is not as an attempt to impress.  Venturing into painting with fire and smoke is finding an alternative paint source without having to shell out money on oil or acrylic. 

Kón pigádo ka, mangítà ka guid iban nga pama-ági. Ka mahál sang oil. Indì ko masarangan (If you’re poor, you will find a way. Oil paint is expensive. I cannot afford it),” Marvin explains.

To say the least, the self-taught artist’s audacity to try new a medium is born out of necessity.

Kón wala ka kwárta, mangítà ka guid sa palíbut mo. Kon may ara ka ideya, kondi testingan mo. (If you don’t have the money, then find the materials around you. If you have an idea, then test it),” Marvin tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.

Artist at work: Marvin capturing beauty through fire and smoke

Using fire and smoke as alternative paint source is nothing new for Marvin. He has also used átà (squid ink) and ití (bird poop). 

Humble background

Marvin is not ashamed to admit where he came from, as well as his family’s background. He is the 11th among 13 siblings.

Marvin’s 69-year-old mother Remy describes him as someone who knew at an early age how to strive and use his artistic skills to finance some of his own needs and help the family that had a hand-to-mouth daily life. She and her late husband Buen had odd jobs—he was hired to do paint jobs for houses or even caskets at a local funeral parlor while she used to cook and sell food—to be able to feed their more than a dozen children. 

Marvin recalls he started earning money from drawing when he was eight-years-old and a grade school student. Classmates and schoolmates would be his usual customers, especially when they needed illustrations as part of class projects. Sometimes, he would even draw in exchange for free food.

Marvin would continue making art even when he transferred to La Castellana town in Negros Occidental province to finish high school before going back to Iloilo. 

Exploring the art world

Marvin’s gateway to serious art came in 2014 when high school friend Joebert Gayoma reconnected with him and mentioned the Philippine Art Awards.

“I haven’t seen Joebert in years, but he started chatting with me on Facebook. He told me he would join the Philippine Art Awards if I also joined. We both joined that year,” Marvin recalls. 

Marvin also credits Joebert for introducing him to Iloilo’s art community including Arel Zambarrano, an architect and artist who also happens to be from Banate.

“Arel is the one who encouraged me and told me to think outside the box,” Marvin recalls.

Marvin was initially adamant to get out of his comfort zone of pen and ink, but eventually realized that he needs to set himself apart from others.  

It was around 2017 when Marvin started using átà (squid ink) and then ití (bird poop). With the limitation of these natural supplies, he realized he needed to shift mediums again and that’s when he decided to work with asó (smoke).

Marvin did not only work with a medium that was not ubiquitous, but also had to venture into what would be his own scientific experiments.  He has to make sure every new material he uses will last and not fade over time.

In Marvin’s fire and smoke medium, he does not only use kíngke (kerosene lamp). He also uses candle, water, liquid detergent, or masking tape to get the desired tonal value of his paintings.

Marvin’s works doesn’t necessarily have thematic concepts. But he has lately been keen creating portraits of children in his neighborhood, a laidback community adjacent to a river and a nearby fishpond.

If not portraits, some of Marvin’s also works evoke biblical passages although he may not be a religious man. He just may be a man of faith. 

Marvin also created a portrait of Whang-Od Oggay as homage to one of the country’s remaining traditional tattoo artists. He himself has been dabbling in tattoo art by using his own customized and makeshift gears.

Where there is smoke, there is art

Over a short period of time, Marvin’s was able to test his capability by earning distinctions in national art contests. He was one of the semi-finalists in the Metrobank Art and Design Excellence (MADE) 2018 of the Metrobank Foundation. He also placed third place in the Titus Pens iDoodle On-the-Spot Ballpen Art Contest 2014.

Marvin has joined group exhibitions in Iloilo including at Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art (ILOMOCA), Museo Iloilo, Omriel Gallery, Cinematheque Centre Iloilo, and the defunct art galleries at Casa Real de Iloilo and Gallery I.  

Last year, Marvin’s work was also included in the ManilArt2020 art fair.

Marvin has no illusions that he will be doing art for the rest of life, but he assures that he will continue to explore other art mediums despite his limited resources.  

“Don’t be afraid to try and work hard,” Marvin emphasizes.

Art and family

Marvin’s unique art has not only brought pride to his family, but also blessings. 

His mother Remy is grateful how Marvin has been able to share his earnings from his art sales to their day-to-day living—that they no longer have to worry about putting food on the table.  More than that, Marvin was able to improve the extension of their house, which was initially financed by an overseas Filipino sibling. 

While Remy could not ask for more, she hopes Marvin can still improve his craft and start his own family.