Enter the Multiverse of Jason Montinola | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

jason montinola
Artist Jason Montinola. Photo: RG Gabunada.

Through age-old mediums and techniques, the artist creates new worlds that deeply fascinate



When you walk into Jason Montinola’s studio, the sculptures and paintings lining the walls seem to awaken. In a corner, easels carry works-in-progress of a masked man carrying a crucifix, and an older portrait of a harlequin. 

Resting on the shelves, skulls wearing Venetian masks ooze out tentacles. The artist tells us the sculpture’s background: The mask was thrown into the ocean in the 1800s. Under the sea, the octopus found the human face covering. Then, it assimilated its gelatinous body. 

Through the art he creates and the figures he freezes in time, this is what Jason Montinola seems to do: He tells stories. 


A Practice Crossing over Fiction and Art History

Over nearly two decades, Jason Montinola has been creating an imagined universe. Using centuries-old oil painting techniques, the portraits reference the Middle Ages, the Renaissance periods, and even before the 5th century. 

jason montinola paintings
Jason Montinola, Armaturam Dei, 2023, oil on canvas, 84 x 60 in. Photo: RG Gabunada.

While many of his portraits mirror his fascination with the arcane, Montinola also takes from more contemporary times. He works from his obsessive interest in the documentation of world encyclopedias. Much of his inspiration comes from the lexicons of “Lord of the Rings” writer J.R.R. Tolkien, where every tree and rock has a name. Give “The Silmarillion” a try and you’ll know what I mean. Many works also hold symbolic religious meaning.

Like with every world, it is not perfect. The artist says, ““May divisions kasi yung mundo. Ginawa ko yung heroes, villians sa kabila. May grey area.” (“There are divisions in the world. I made heroes, villains on the other side. There is a grey area.”)

jason montinola paintings
Jason Montinola stands in his latest exhibition at Finale Art File, “Love, Sin, Salvation and Death.” Photo: RG Gabunada.

In Montinola’s recent show at Finale Art File, Love, Sin, Salvation and Death, fellow artist and catalog writer Lec Cruz writes how the exhibit, “bridges the gap between myths and our realities; between intangible concepts and the power of art to represent them; between the familiar stories we have told and the narratives we can tell ourselves.”

After finding creative sparks from both solid reality and imagination, Montinola creates his own beings, each with their own fabled stories. 


A Vortex of Created Characters

Hang around in the artistic vortex of Jason Montinola, and after a while, you’ll begin to know the quirks, qualities, and histories behind each character he creates. 

In recent years, Montinola has been creating renditions of “Here Lies the Painter.” Going by an epitaph instead of a name, the character takes on the form of a nun, often faceless. While seemingly human, the character is actually a genderless creature. It is eternal, living throughout the centuries. Its role is as a muse to artists throughout history. Montinola tells us that the creature brings out inspiration from under its cloak. The artist imagines it started working with the first cave painters. Later, it presented the monsters in the gardens of Hieronymous Bosch. He says it is the original source for the inventions and sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci—working all the way to the ground-breaking Dadaist work of Marcel Duchamp. 

Another recurring character, especially in his earlier work, is the “The Sensational Painter.” The character has a distinct hooked nose and a handlebar mustache. He stands regally and sports a broken mask from a theatrical production, with a living third eye at the center. This one figure is not eternal but lived during a certain point in the past as a champion for artists. The patron never claims credit—a humility the artist himself seems to emulate.

These characters take on their own life, with “Here Lies the Painter” and “The Sensational Painter” even having their own Instagram pages.

jason montinola paintings
If a painting were a TV show, this would be a crossover episode. Montinola paints a portrait of his well-known characters “Here Lies the Painter” and “Sensational Painter” in one canvas. Photo: RG Gabunada.

Other characters include “F-Holes” “Beast Buster” “Rx” “Prophet” and many more. 

While Montinola’s characters may seem frightening to some, he sees with the objective perspective of the artist who wields the paintbrush, 


“Tingin ko dark lang siya kasi kulong yung tao sa concept ng stereotyping…. Isipin mo, ‘line lang yun.’ Natakot ng tao sa line? Wala namang tao takot sa line. Pero pag naging image yun, yung naging powerful.”


(“I think it’s only dark because it’s trapped in the stereotyping concept of people…. Just think, ‘it’s a line.” Do people get scared of lines? People don’t fear lines. But when it becomes an image, that’s when it becomes powerful.”)

jason montinola paintings
In his studio, the character “RX” references the mysterious story of a medical professional. Behind it is the finished product of “Arcanghel” featured in his 2023 show at Finale Art File. Photo: JT Fernandez.

Interestingly, many of Montinola’s characters are collected by doctors and enthusiasts of history and comic books. The artist reveals the behind-the-scenes worlds of collecting. He asserts the importance of understanding the artwork—especially in knowing the lore behind each piece:

“Nagmimili talaga yung viewer ko. Atsaka nagmimili din ang binibili. Dapat talaga mainitindihin niya. Kailangan alam mo yung kwento.” (“My viewers are very discerning. The discerning ones are the ones that buy. That’s how it should be. They should understand the story.”)


Jason Montinola at Present

Within the art world, Montinola is known for mentoring fellow contemporary artists. Now he is paying it forward even further.

Since graduating with a degree in Art Education from the Technological University of the Philippines in 2003, he has exhibited across Southeast Asia. In his time in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, he has worked closely and developed close relationships with local artists, many of whom he has brought to the Philippines to collaborate. 

In the Philippines, earlier this year, he held a powerful solo exhibition Exit Light at Artinformal Gallery. After the recent success of his grand show at Finale Art File, the artist and his wife Victoria flew with their months-old baby Miguel straight to Japan for a group exhibition at Yod Gallery in Osaka. Montinola curated the show, Terrestrial Paradise, which is now ongoing. The artist brought together a range of work by artists from the Philippines and Indonesia all the way to Japan. 


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jason and victoria montinola
Jason Montinola and his then-expecting wife Victoria in their studio space. Photo: JT Fernandez.

Perhaps Montinola’s most generous community work is Faculty Projects, which he runs alongside artist Valeria Chua, and their partner RG Gabunada. The artist-run collective is based on the artists’ background as former educators. They aim to emulate an academic environment in the art world. It gives that sense of halcyon school days, where artists are given the freedom of students to explore, create, and play, all in a supportive space. 

jason montinola
Artist Jason Montinola. Photo: JT Fernandez.

Through his work, Jason Montinola creates from the strangeness of his subconscious, building paintings and portraits of figures with an element of secrecy, mystery, and the otherworldly. 

There is something so appealing about imagined worlds. For centuries, readers and viewers have been fascinated by the available range of storytelling and world-building. 

If there is something that can explain the appeal of these worlds, it might just be the presence of familiar and fundamental truths. 

As Jason Montinola continues to create characters through sculptures and oil paintings, we are drawn even deeper into the endless possibilities he creates, which transcend far above the everyday. 


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