Three artists find in­spi­ra­tion in the dark

Ex­plor­ing the worlds of three artists in the hours af­ter dark

Northern Living - - CONTENTS - TEXT PRIS­TINE L. DE LEON PHO­TOG­RA­PHY GELOY CON­CEP­CION

There are cer­tain spa­ces emerg­ing only at night, where a free-spir­ited mood hov­ers over the white noise of a room or the clinks of beer bot­tles, and rit­u­als are en­acted in a world gov­erned by a tyranny of rou­tines. Ex­is­ten­tial­ists had Café de Flore. Toulouse-Lautrec planted his easel at cabarets, sketching ob­ses­sively ev­ery evening over sev­eral bot­tles of wine. Kafka wrote when ev­ery­one was dead asleep. Past the throw­back, we visit the artists who take in­spi­ra­tion from the hours out­side nineto-five: re­count­ing ine­bri­ated nights at Cubao’s for­got­ten bars or in a quiet room watch­ing sce­nar­ios from the world of com­puter screens. There are cer­tain spa­ces emerg­ing only at night, herald­ing law­less hours, cre­ative spirit, and a bit of fun.

Dis­ap­pear­ing Act

Any out­sider may eas­ily as­cribe to Al­lan Bal­isi the com­mon moniker of a her­mit. At home in a sleepy street in Que­zon City, he rarely leaves the room at night ex­cept for when he goes to friends’ ex­hibits or to one of Lena Cobang­bang’s file-shar­ing HOHOL ses­sions. On quiet evenings, he’s likely in­side the room tak­ing screen­caps of one film scene af­ter another—im­ages that may make their ap­pear­ance in one of Bal­isi’s next ex­hibits.

“Mga painter, madalas lumal­abas sila para mag­paint ng scenery, ng tao,” he says. “Pero dig­i­tal age na rin na­man, ito na ’yong win­dow ko para makakuha ng scenery.”

The Is­abela-born visual artist, who first knew art by way of comics and car­toons, watches films, wakes up at 10 a.m., paints, and works on a piece for two weeks or so. With 10 years in the art world, Bal­isi has made a name for him­self through one-man shows at Sil­ver­lens, Richard Koh Fine Art in Sin­ga­pore, and, this month, at Blanc Gallery with a show called “Peo­ple I Do Not Know and Places I’ve Never Been.”

Bal­isi’s paint­ings are de­rived from ei­ther screen­caps or old film pho­to­graphs from the ’60s or the ’70s. In the hum­ble thrift shops in Ka­muning and Cubao, Bal­isi digs through the scrap pile of yel­low­ing 10peso pho­to­graphs—like pools of name­less ghosts or dis­carded mem­o­ries, as how he sees them.

“Hindi natin alam kung sino sila, o kung ano’ng nang­yari. Lagi akong nag­babawas. Sa orig­i­nal photo, may mga im­age pa doon, pero lagi na silang bawas.”

Paint­ing the pho­tos on the can­vas, Bal­isi de­lib­er­ately omits a few de­tails: a few build­ings, some podi­ums, or even faces, leav­ing us with face­less strangers eerily star­ing at some­thing that isn’t there. In washed out hues rem­i­nis­cent of an aged pho­to­graph, fig­ures stand in the limbo be­tween fad­ing mem­ory and pho­to­me­di­ated re­al­ity.

He shows us one of his ref­er­ences from a show done years ago: one of the few old fam­ily pho­to­graphs saved in his com­puter. There, women in long skirts walk across a field to­wards dis­tant build­ings. “Sina mama, gal­ing silang of­fice. In the near fu­ture, may itatay­ong os­pi­tal dito,” he points to where the build­ings are. “Doon din na­matay ’yong papa ko. Gus­tong gusto ko lang ’yong shot. Ang ganda lang na naglalakad sila palayo.”

Al­lan Bal­isi may be stay­ing in for the night, but as he watches the im­ages mov­ing or frozen in the dig­i­tal frame, the artist in­trudes and recre­ates the many lost and imag­ined worlds where he’s never been.

“Hindi natin alam kung sino sila, o kung ano’ng nang­yari. Lagi akong nag­babawas. Sa orig­i­nal photo, may mga im­age pa doon, pero lagi na silang bawas.”

Shift­ing Cities

Even af­ter its hey­day when the rents were cheaper and Cubao X car­ried the al­lure of a bo­hemian district, the Cubao X we now know still holds some of its kitsch from the pre­vi­ous decade: vin­tage wares from UVLA store open­ing at night, art shows last­ing well into the evening, and drink­ing rev­el­ers en­joy­ing the mish­mash of art and mu­sic.

Visual artist Lena Cobang­bang has been wit­ness to the district’s count­less sub­cul­ture move­ments. Along with founders Louie Cordero, Co­coy Lum­bao, and Gary-Ross Pas­trana, she was part of the now-de­funct in­de­pen­dent gallery Fu­ture Prospect. “We’d sell beers be­cause that’s what would make peo­ple come and hang out,” she re­calls. “Min­san naglu­luto kami nina Buboy [Cañafranca]. Ev­ery Fri­day, [there’d be] a lis­ten­ing party.”

Hav­ing lived on 18th Av­enue for art res­i­dency pro­grams in the early 2000s, and hav­ing re­cently served as the ex­hi­bi­tion co­or­di­na­tor of Post Gallery, she says, “ev­ery time I go to Cubao, there’s a mix of dis­gust and fas­ci­na­tion for the place. There are [de­vel­op­ments] that hap­pen in­stantly and con­stantly. Pero may mga seg­ments ding nakakalimu­tan; makikita mo na lang siya hang­gang mab­u­lok nang mab­u­lok.”

Doc­u­ment­ing the city’s count­less strange and strik­ing in­car­na­tions, Cobang­bang will be re­leas­ing a zine called Cubao Bi­en­nale (a play on Cuba Bi­en­nale) which gath­ers sto­ries, il­lus­tra­tions, and im­ages from con­trib­u­tors Jake Ver­zosa, Czar Kristoff, Elec­troly­chee, and Ian Lomongo, among others. From the mod­est hey­day of COD De­part­ment Store (“We’d go there for the an­i­ma­tron­ics dis­play, the Philip­pine fi­esta scene, the roasted pigs,”) to gay beauty pageants in Brgy. Soc­coro and gir­lie bars, Cobang­bang’s Cubao Bi­en­nale cap­tures the spirit of a city ever in a state of tran­sit.

As Cobang­bang pre­pares for the zine’s launch late this year, she’s ei­ther or­ga­niz­ing the 2017 Manila Art Hop or non­cha­lantly car­ry­ing around and cre­at­ing her burda for this month’s Viva Ex­con in Iloilo. That, or drink­ing beer at Project 20. Af­ter go­ing to count­less open­ing par­ties held at night, she shares, “When [friends and I] see each other, we drink. That’s when we talk about many ideas, about fu­ture art projects, fu­ture life projects. Any­thing.”

In 2017, Cobang­bang is set to launch Marik­ina Con­tem­po­rary, a se­ries of res­i­dency pro­grams in the other part of town where she now stays. By the time it opens, Cubao Bi­en­nale will have al­ready made the rounds in Manila, and the age­less district will have again rein­vented it­self for the next gen­er­a­tion of dream­ers wor­thy of its wel­come.

“It doesn’t need to be about su­per­heroes or man­gas or Amer­i­can in­ter­ests when you have sto­ries told about peo­ple here.”

Mise-en-Scene

“Back in col­lege, I’d be do­ing school work in the day and then at night, that’s when I’d do my art. It kind of af­fected how my brain works. Dur­ing the day, I feel like I’m [in a] coma. It be­came a habit where I’d only ever work at night. It’s a lot less hec­tic or hot, and ev­ery­one would be ac­tive on­line and I could just feed off ev­ery­one be­ing in a frenzy.”

Smok­ing a cig­a­rette out­side Mow’s bar one night in Oc­to­ber, Rob Cham says that the mu­sic scene has largely in­flu­enced his tra­jec­tory as a comic book artist. Be­gin­ning from his col­lege days of post­ing draw­ings on Tum­blr to ped­dling his works at the slowly bour­geon­ing scene of Komikon, Cham ad­mits that pos­si­bly his strangest slice-of-life ideas were birthed in these spa­ces: in the mid­dle of board games, lo­cal bands, and bot­tles of beer.

Now a rec­og­nized comic book artist in his mid-20s, Cham’s book Light— con­ceived ini­tially as a video game and then a set for trad­ing cards—was nom­i­nated for the Na­tional Book Awards last Septem­ber. Al­ready fol­lowed by his sec­ond book Lost pub­lished ear­lier this year, the lo­cally pub­lished Light is now slated for its first in­ter­na­tional re­lease. These days, Cham—pos­si­bly at Mow’s, Route 196, or in his room lis­ten­ing to the Who or the Vel­vet Un­der­ground—is work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with a writer on his next book, set to be launched next year un­der the wing of a for­eign pub­lisher.

“I love the whole en­ergy of the scene,” he says. “[But] one pet peeve of mine is when peo­ple don’t re­ally see the lo­cal comic book scene as it is. There’s less de­mand for comics com­pared to lo­cal literature. We’re al­ready a niche within a niche. It doesn’t need to be about su­per­heroes or man­gas or Amer­i­can in­ter­ests when you have sto­ries told about peo­ple here.”

As part of a mot­ley crew of artists com­i­cally named Cham­ta­maria, Cham and fel­low artist Apol Sta. Maria hold events at Uno Mo­rato, do­ing live comic book read­ings and posters for one gig af­ter another. It’s within these scenes that Cham’s art is made. “It’s Wide Eyed Records’ fifth year an­niver­sary,” he says. “We’re cel­e­brat­ing the new EP by The Strangeness, another band’s dig­i­tal re­lease, and the in­ter­na­tional re­lease of Light.” It’s only apt that his most pop­u­lar cre­ation be cel­e­brated among the swelling crowd that gave it its spirit.

Bal­isi recre­ates scenes from films or old pho­to­graphs, like the above art­work from his ex­hibit “Beg­gars Fortress.”

Thirty-four-yearold Al­lan Bal­isi once re­lated the act of cre­at­ing to peo­ple de­scrib­ing “an ele­phant in the room.” To Bal­isi, whose in­flu­ences in­clude Wil­helm Sas­nal and Michaël Bor­re­mans, his view­ers’ per­cep­tions com­plete his works.

Cover photo by Geloy Con­cep­cion

Baguio-born comic artist Rob Cham, when not com­plet­ing his book projects, makes il­lus­tra­tions for dif­fer­ent mag­a­zines, gig posters, and zines in col­lab­o­ra­tion with other artists. He works at night with oldies mu­sic and Manille Liqueur.

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