A distinct earthiness has claimed the lobby of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), mainly because of the exhibit featuring the works of pioneering ecological art of the late Angono-grown painter and sculptor Perdigon Vocalan.
“Perdigon Vocalan in Retrospect” explores the life and career of Vocalan, whose name still rings clear in both the culinary and visual arts scenes of Angono in Rizal, even after his passing in 2001.
“Vocalan, who was mentored by National Artist for Visual Arts Carlos ‘Botong’ Francsico, was known for impressionistic works that were at times costumbrista and at times mystical in nature. In 1983, he put up Balaw Balaw Restaurant and Art Gallery (now one of Angono’s main tourist attractions), where guests get to catch a glimpse of the things that kept Vocalan occupied during his time.
“Clearly, Vocalan was an early advocate of ecological wisdom. His personification of natural forces and phenomena enables us to identify with and treat them with friendly warmth or fearful distance, and not just leave them at the mercy of commercial greed and wasteful exploitation,” said NCCA Chair Felipe de Leon Jr.
The show features paintings that highlight the artist and his environs—Vocalan’s beloved Angono and the country’s mythological landscape, with which he has become synonymous.
“Aswang Hunter,” an oil-on-canvas, portrays a robust young man seemingly hunting for otherworldly creatures. Armed with a bamboo pole sharpened to a point and a bolo neatly tucked in its native casing, the “Aswang Hunter” or monster hunter brings about the demise of entities that harm townsfolk.
Although the scene might seem standard for a Vocalan piece, what makes it stand out are the colors used. It was typical for Vocalan to paint in dark colors, but the figures in this 1986 illustration are set against a light, somewhat pastel blue, uncommon for the artist who very much enjoyed portraying sea and sky in the shades of dusk and deep water. The hunter himself was painted in a lighter palette, his camisa de chino paired with supposed red pants that appear almost baby pink.
In “Panigang,” for example, two fishermen prepare their catch for what looks like dinner, the mood implying twilight, and that it would soon be time for supper and finally, rest.
Darker, earthier hues could also be observed in the comic-like “Kapre” (Mythical Giant). In Philippine folklore, a kapre is an earthbound entity or spirit that protects forests and lush vegetation. The kapre is also known to pass time by watching people while smoking tobacco. Vocalan portrays the kapre as a muscled giant that towers over a woman who is taking a dip in the stream. In the kapre’s mouth is a lit cigar.
“We live in a magical universe where everything evolves toward greater and greater manifestations of creative life energy,” De Leon said. “Vocalan’s portrayal of plants and trees seems to characterize them as being moved by primeval, irresistible forces toward growth and vitality, enabling them to flourish in hostile environments with their roots clinging, pushing and penetrating rocks to firmly anchor themselves to the ground.”
With works that either bring to life characters in Philippine mythology, or depict local customs and daily life in Angono, Vocalan has certainly carved for himself a space in the history of Philippine art, and this is what the NCCA would like viewers to see—that Perdigon is, according to De Leon, “a quintessential Filipino contemporary artist.” —CONTRIBUTED