A veteran of the Philippine art world, Rock Drilon returns to his roots in Iloilo to delve deeper into grassroots art, culture, and advocacy
Iloilo City is nestled in a province bursting with color. With the recent VIVA ExCon art fairs and an abundance of local initiatives, the city is thriving with a strong local art scene. The creativity is evident everywhere: from street art to murals, restored buildings, a variety of museums, and even eye-catching bridges painted by Ilonggo artists. Across restored churches, art deco buildings, and heritage homes are plazas adorned with piped-in music that make public spaces a pleasure for residents to convene. Several of these recent developments have been attributed to Mayor Jerry Treñas, as well as former Senator Frank Drilon.
About a half hour away from the bustling heart of Iloilo lives one artist contributing heavily to the local art scene: Rock Drilon, who originally hails from the province. We had the opportunity to take a look into his Dumangas studio, a hidden gem surrounded by lush greenery, with art overflowing inside.
A Glimpse Into Rock Drilon’s Studio Retreat
As we enter Drilon’s space, his friendly dog dashes by. On one side, a well-used bicycle is parked. The artist mentions how his studio was built in collaboration with an environmentally-conscious architect from the area. Despite the open windows, there are no pesky mosquitoes or bugs.
What is most notable in Drilon’s studio is that in every corner, there is an overwhelming amount of paintings in the style of “automatism”. This artistic technique hasn’t been embraced in the Philippines to the extent Drilon has done in his practice. Automatism is akin to psychoanalysis and psychiatric art. The approach aligns with the principles of Art Brut (a French term that translates to “raw art”) and has been a consistent thread in Drilon’s work since the 1990s. Awash with bright colors, Drilon’s strokes touch on the human psyche. We start talking about how sometimes people have the impression that all artists are eccentric or crazy, a state that is sometimes taboo. Drilon does not shy away from a spectrum of emotions when he paints and says,
“I want to be angry, I want to be happy, I want to be sad — I want to feel all this.”
Homecoming With A Wave of Creativity: From Solo Shows to Biking Tours
Born in 1956, Drilon has been a known name in the art world since the 1970s. Mentored under National Artist José Joya as a Fine Arts student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Drilon emerged alongside leading contemporaries such as Roy Veneracion, Gus Albor, Nestor Vinluan, and Lito Carating, to name a few. He was married to journalist Ces Oreña and the couple had four sons, Ory Victorio, Mikhail Pietro, Gian Thomas, and André Luis. Together, the couple founded Mag:net Gallery in Quezon City, which was known for its magazines as well as a hub for the Bohemian Q.C. community.
In 2012, already in his mid-50s, Drilon left Manila to return to his roots in Iloilo, where he established his Dumangas studio. Since then, he has helped resuscitate the Iloilo art scene. From leading the Iloilo Cinematheque to organizing the Visayas Island Visual Artists Exhibition and Conference (Viva ExCon) in 2016, Drilon’s influence has expanded across various avenues.
Beside the stunning colonial facade of the ILOMOCA (Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art) is the alternative art space, MAMUSA Art Bistro where Drilon held an exhibit of his automatism works in As You Start to Paint, The Painting Paints Itself in 2021 — then most recently a solo exhibit of his sketches Visual Notes in 2022.
With forays into managing art fairs, keeping the culture of film alive, and being actively involved in the visual art scene, Drilon extends his expertise even further into an unexpected advocacy for biking.
Recognizing the potential of biking as a means of transportation, recreation, and cultural exploration, Drilon has spearheaded initiatives that have transformed the biking culture in Iloilo with art tours. He explains:
“We started Bisikleta-Iglesia during Holy Week, so it’s religious and cultural at the same time. We choose the church, you go inside, and you pray. Tapos Art Bike, we bike from one gallery to another. Then we have Visit Tour — mga heritage plaza, Illongo food stop. Ang bike culture, we built it for years… for so many years.”
As we continue to explore his studio, Drilon clears away some San Miguel bottles of beer. He tells us just the night before he had a few artists from the Dumangas community come over to shop-talk art and plan further initiatives for the Iloilo cultural scene.
Moving through his studio abundant with large-scale layers of color, it’s clear that the artist is not stopping anytime soon. His hometown space surrounded by nature seems to have a rejuvenating effect on the artist. Here in Dumangas, Rock Drilon is channeling his life force into creative expressions that manage to be both dedicated to his craft, while contributing to the growth of art in his province.
All photos were taken in December 2022 and released with Rock Drilon’s solo exhibition Visayan Rhapsodies 2, which opens at the Tall Gallery of Finale Art File from September 5 to 23, 2023.