Young Bicolano visual artist-writer Panch Alvarez received the good news, of all dates, on All Souls’ Day, that his first book of illustrations about ghost sightings titled “An Apartment In Naga” (published by Savage Mind bookshop), will have a Czech edition in 2023. Savage Mind founder Kristian Sendon Cordero, who is also Ateneo de Naga University Press deputy director, broke the good news from Czechia.
The book will be published by Martin Štefko of Nakladatelství Golden Dog, an independent publishing house in Czechia that specializes in the horror genre, and will be translated into Czech by Lucie Sombra Lukačovičová.
On Nov. 17, Alvarez received more good news. His and poet Joel Toledo’s project titled “Seasonal Adversities: An Ekphrastic Graphic Poetry Collaboration” has been accepted for a residency program from May to June 2023 at The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy.
Toledo explained to Inquirer Lifestyle: “It’s a collaborative project of poems with corresponding illustrations. The product should be a book of poems with artwork, exploring climate justice as an existential crisis most-apparent in places like the Philippines which are at the forefront of the climate emergency. That said, the work will focus on climate change as the umbrella theme.”
Born and raised in Naga City, Alvarez, 34, used to be based in Metro Manila while taking up political science at the Ateneo de Manila University. It was supposed to be a prelaw course, a degree he described “closely related to the arts.”
But he proved early on what he really wanted to do in life. He graduated with a degree in political science and took home the Loyola Schools Award for the Arts in the Visual Arts Category in 2009.
He worked for a few years in government and never stopped painting, doing book designs and illustrations.
He did the cover art for “The Fog and Other Stories,” fiction by Luis Cabalquinto, published by Ateneo de Naga University Press in 2014, and “The Second World,” poems by Rafael Antonio C. San Diego, published by University of the Philippines Press in 2013.
It was in 2018 when he decided to become a full-time visual artist based in his home city of Naga in Camarines Sur. His most recent cover art design was for “Beyond DSM: Casebook in Abnormal Psychology and Mental Health” edited by Maria Isabel Melgar, Marika Melgar, Cherie Ann Lo and Anne Marie Topacio, published by Ateneo de Manila University Press in 2022.
He did pen-and-ink illustrations for poetry books. Among the recent collaborations are with Khavn de la Cruz’s book of poems, “Makbetamaximus,” published by Kamias Overground in 2021 and En Villasis’ “Agua” published by Lira in 2022. One of his masterpieces, an illustration titled “The Wolf Is Coming,” was used as main image for an art event at the 2021 Art Basel in Miami, USA. He was part of a group exhibit titled “Winter Show” from October 2021 to January 2022 at Adam’s Gallery in Reigate, Surrey, United Kingdom.
His story might be late for Halloween but for someone who has been seeing ghosts since he was a kid, every day could be All Souls’ Day. He’s seeing spirits even during Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
“Many but I don’t mind them,” Alvarez told Lifestyle. “You don’t mess with things you can’t understand. Too risky. And most of the experience isn’t like the movies at all. It’s way boring compared to how shows portray them,” he added.
‘An Apartment in Naga’
In his book, Alvarez writes: “There is an apartment in my village that is always vibrant. Every time I pass by at night, its lights are on. I see the silhouette of a family doing usual things: eating dinner, arranging the house, etc. It was only recently I was told nobody ever lived there.”
He decided to make these sightings as subjects in his drawings during the pandemic.
During those intermittent lockdowns, Alvarez did lots of illustrations. He posted his works on his Facebook and Instagram accounts and captioned each piece with a background story. He got positive feedback and was encouraged to do more. Some suggested those images were worthy to be framed and exhibited. Galleries were closed and so the exhibit was done online, via curateartspace.com.
The encouragement was overwhelming so Alvarez did more drawings and compiled them in book form. Thus born “An Apartment In Naga.”
When restrictions were lifted, the framed images were exhibited on-site the same time the book was launched on May 3, 2022, at Kamarin Art Gallery in Naga City. For his Manila-based friends, it had a second launch at Conspiracy Garden Café in Quezon City a few weeks before the legendary bar closed for good.
We asked him if at some point, he stopped finishing an artwork because like reliving the experience, he felt some presence.
“Nope. I enjoy the process of drawing and making things so the whole thing has always been very cathartic,” he said. To earn a living, Alvarez conducts one-on-one art classes for kids and young adults. Lessons are taught online or through home visits.
In the acknowledgments section of “An Apartment In Naga,” he gave his deepest gratitude “to the entities who revealed themselves making this book possible.”
Now with the upcoming Czech edition, Alvarez is hoping these entities, like those in the neighborhood apartment, won’t ask him for royalties.
The joke his friends tell him now is that if his subjects in “Apartment In Naga” were Filipinos, with the Bellagio fellowship, next year could be Italians. —CONTRIBUTED