26 Oct Moonlight Shines Over Paris as Pinoy Artist Completes His Sojourn in Paris

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JUAN SAYS: If you are wondering why we have been sharing about Don Papa Rum, it’s canisters-for-works-of-art, and the ongoing Don Papa Rum Art Competition, it is for the simple reason that we believe in Don Papa Rum and their efforts to promote Filipino artists. We, like Don Papa Rum, believe that art is not exclusive to museums. It is in fact everywhere. What better way to show the world that Filipinos CAN, than to showcase the best of the best works of art in limited edition canisters that has traveled the world all over. 

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The grand prize winner of the first Don Papa Rum Art Competition held in 2015, Riel Hilario was recently in town from his artistic sojourn to Paris, and we took the opportunity to sit down with him to talk about his passion for art. 

JUAN: If you were to put yourself in your painting  The Spiritual Landscape of Papa Isio” which of the characters you painted would you be and why?

RIEL: The image isn’t very apparent, but the “body” and “arms” superimposed on the central figure (Papa Isio) is meant to represent a primal deity made with bunches of sugar cane stalks. If I were be placed in the work, I would identify myself with this image. I want to align myself with something nebulous, or animistic, and naturally potent. I always held the awe and reverence of nature to be important, and the mythic imagination that it inspires. 

JUAN: Do you have a painting ritual? How do you start painting?

RIEL: I draw, a lot, before painting or sculpting. Drawing helps me prepare mentally for the creative task ahead and puts me in the “zone”. Once this begins, its often difficult to stop.

JUAN: Please tell us your experience in painting the The Spiritual Landscape of Papa Isio,” How did you come up with the concept? 

RIEL: The idea and the imagery all came from a dream. After almost abandoning the canvas, citing that I am really a sculptor and I do not know much about painting (not recently though), I incubated a dream where Papa Isio, the eponymous character of Don Papa Rum, appeared to me and requested me to “paint his portrait” as the face on the label isnt his. Then I saw the image of his hero, Jose Rizal, his mutya or muse and the image of General Lacson, the hero of Negros. I painted all of these and added some details that are symbolic of his ideals, his spirituality as well as collaged images of his only existing photograph. The overall composition is that of a church niche and Papa Isio emerges as a sugarcane deity, which curiously he is still to this day. 

JUAN: What was your first purchased painting? How much was it for? Did you expect it to be that much?

RIEL: It was a self-portrait in 1997, by Dr Joven Cuanang. It was sold for Php17,000 then, which was a big deal because I was reluctant to sell that work. But I had to sell it because I needed the funds after losing my life savings to a family emergency. 

JUAN: Was there ever a day that you just couldn’t paint? Why did this happen? What did you do while on that “blank slate?”

RIEL: Creative blocks happen, all the time. Sometimes out of lack of stimuli or the overabundance of it. I just allow the blankness to pass. 

JUAN: If your son/daughter would tell you one day that they would like to be an artist, what would your response be?

RIEL: “Go ahead. Show people what you see.” Every artist has a vision of reality that is relevant to everyone. 

JUAN: What were your first words when you landed in Paris?

RIEL: “I’m back!”

JUAN: What is one memorable moment in Paris that made an impact on you as a person/as an artist?

RIEL: The first time I crossed the bridge over the Seine from Hotel de Ville to Ile dela Cite, towards Notre Dame.  In 2012, when I first visited Paris, I never thought I’d be back and even quipped “You cannot cross the Seine River twice”. Crossing it again made me contradict my earlier statement, and thus opening my mind to more possibilities of return, and therefore more possibilities of life. 

JUAN: If you were an artwork (something that you’ve seen in Paris), which one would you be? Why do you say so?

RIEL: It would be Rodin’s St John. at the Rodin Museum and Musee d Orsay. I love the tension in the sculpture, and its almost mineral presence, like it emerged from the earth with its bronze skin, in one piece, manifesting energy and purpose. I like the sense of purposefulness in the sculpture: it gave me a sense of resolve that I always feel everyday.

JUAN: What is your take on the Louvre Museum? Purists say that the architectural structure is an “eyesore” since it doesn’t go with the whole “old Paris” feel of its location. But the more progressive ones think it is beautiful to have such a structure?

RIEL: This statement, of course refers to IM Pei’s glass-and-steel Pyramid -which serves as its modern entrance -not Louvre as a museum. And it is a quaint and outdated sentiment: no one thinks of that anymore, except that is, if you lived during the presidency of Mitterand. As far as I know, everyone likes it now. 

The argument for “old Paris” is also flawed and many visitors indeed hope to see this vision – a Disneyland effect if you will – and get disappointed. And there are many versions of “old” Paris. Some argue that Paris was as its best during the reign of Louis XIV, others it was during the imperial era of Napoleon, some think of the La Belle Epoque or the fin de siecle of the 19th century when modernity rose from technology; still many regard the 1920’s as the pinnacle of Paris. You get what you take with you, I guess. 

The Louvre (and the rest of Paris) has been the fantasy of many, especially artists who really want to see its treasures. But while the huge palatial halls hold 35,000 artworks, it is idiotic to even try to see a quarter of that. Louvre is tiring to visit: this is the truth. But what makes it worthwhile is the experience of being there, being present before an artwork in its original state, not a copy but its true presence. 

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