02 July 2008

Felipinas The Chan Rooster's Threshold

Chán, in the Chinese language, takes its roots from Buddhism and is more popularly known as Zen to the Japanese. Felipinas is a 16th century Spanish word adopted by the artist Roberto Robles to describe the landscape surrounding his studio and its ancient heritage. And rooster? …well we all know the rooster is a fixture of Filipino life and a character in Chinese astrology, but what do these three mean when pulled together, as in the title of Robles’ new exhibition, “Felipinas: The Chan Rooster’s Threshold” at Galleria Duemila from July 5 to 30, 2008.

Roberto M.A. Robles has been working in a self-styled Oriental tradition of ‘Chán’ for more than a decade, inspired by his travels to Japan and Korea. His meditations in paint and stone are the most sincere expressions of Haiku – a form of poetry that places its inspiration within nature. However greater than this Zen sentiment, Robles’ minimal paintings are a personal expression inspired by his ancestral land of Batangas – the place where he decided to become a painter. As he says, “...[within nature] you don’t find yourself as a stranger.”

After painting for nearly two decades, Robles feels this exhibition has reached a new resolve. He says, “…there is a feeling of conclusion in this work.” What sets these new canvases apart is their golden, green hue - the illuminance of the morning light. They offer a sanctuary from Manila’s cacophony of noise and heat; their thin washes of paint strangely calming.

If one looks closely a banana plant can be imagined, bamboo and a ginger flower. Robles admits he has never studied calligraphy. His lines are more spontaneous, less academic than such painting techniques. He says, “…I’m not interested in formalities”.

The rooster Robles refers to in the exhibition title is a simple animal that toils the land. He connects its scratching in the soil with the unearthing of history. Batangas is a place where artefacts and pot fragments have been retrieved. Robles refers to this past through a small sculpture that holds aloft a mass-produced Chinese bowl painted with a rooster within a bamboo structure. It captures in its simplicity the fragile connection of land and histories.

This abstract idea is explored further in a small photograph titled “Felipinas”. It is a landscape blurred almost beyond recognition and thus describes a place of memories and sentimentality. Its lack of clarity works in the same way the thin washes of Robles’ paintings evoke the spirit of his provincial garden. The paintings and these objects sit in harmony.

Roberto M.A. Robles is an intelligent artist and while his work can be quickly passed over as too quiet amidst the babble off today’s painting, it offers viewers a sanctuary and a re-connection with the spirit of the Filipino landscape. “Felipinas: The Chan Rooster’s Threshold” is the work of a coherent and mature artist.

Roberto M.A. Robles graduated from the University of the East, School of Music and Fine Arts, Manila in 1980. In 1990 he travelled to Japan where he stayed for five years gaining his Masters of Fine Arts majoring in Sculpture from the University of Tsukuba, Japan in 1995. He has been exhibiting with Galleria Duemila since returning in 1995 and this is his tenth solo exhibition with the gallery. From 1998 to 2001 he was a member of the faculty in the Department of Studio Arts (Sculpture) in the University of the Philippines, from 1995-97 was Dean of the College of Fine Arts, University of the East where he had taught during the 1980s. In 2000 he was selected as country representative to the Symposium on International Sculpture held in Busan, South Korea and in 2002 participated in the esteemed residency program in Vermont USA. Robles has exhibited extensively over his 30-year career, internationally his work has been shown in Australia, Singapore, Paris, South Korea, Chile and Japan. His work is held in major national collections including the Ayala Museum, Metropolitan Museum and Lopez Memorial Museum. He lives and works in Batangas.

Text credited to Gina Fairley.