Uploaded December 21, 2017
Were Knighthood Painting and Vice Versa
On Ferdinand Doctolero's 2017 retrospective at Kulay-Diwa
This review is as much a result of diskurso.com’s own take on the retrospective exhibition as of our interview with the artist conducted by painter Marcel Antonio and diskurso's Jojo Soria de Veyra
THERE were 100-plus pieces gallery owner Bobbit Nolasco had for painter Ferdinand Doctolero and his chosen curator to choose from for the artist’s December 7, 2017 – January 7, 2018 retrospective at Kulay-Diwa Gallery of Contemporary Art in Parañaque, including three new works. That’s because the retrospective stretches back to Doctolero’s 1986 thesis works; the show is, in fact, titled Delan, which in the artist’s native Ilocano language implies a road journey.
painting-drawings from the artist's 1986 thesis
What’s most interesting to us in diskurso about Doctolero’s works as a whole, manifest in this exhibition, are not so much the images that he has painted on his many individual canvases as the process by which he approached, has been approaching, them. Yep, his process.
But, by process, we’re not talking about the fact that it takes a while for Doc (as his friends call him) to start painting, nor that once he starts on an approach or theme he would then negotiate several pieces all at the same time. Nor are we talking about the fact that he paints fast after a mental start, which makes it possible for Doc to finish a 4x4 ft. piece in a day. We’ll just leave those facts to Sunday magazines to cry “awesome!” over.
We’re more interested with the main reason why—the reason behind all those facts.
For one, Doc is able to work fast—after coming up with an idea—because, so he told us in our chat with him, he has already mastered the implementation of his long-standing desire for colors and lines. Meaning he already knows how to go about things, from the first layer to the last and as he moves from form to form. And now you probably want to ask about those, his desires for color, thanks to our instigation, so . . . well, it might interest you to first know that Doctolero paints not simply with his hands and vision and dexterity but significantly also through his soul. (Uh-oh. Soul?!—you scoff and then laugh loud. You’re probably thinking diskurso has gone mad and has gotten to this point of critical corniness!)
Let us elucidate. First, Doctolero underpaints with the Philippine flag colors (pigments, if you prefer) yellow, blue, and red, using either brush or palette knife. The usual forms he starts with resemble maps of islands. This personal tradition harks back to the works Doc did for his first exhibition; the tradition has remained with him in the present. And the reason for this sustained custom is simple: the ceremony is Doc’s samurai-like bow to the historical and supposedly patriotic concept of the maharlika—that is to say, to the idea that the Filipino once was (and perhaps continues to be or otherwise shall hopefully rise again as) of a noble race. And while Doctolero appropriates in this ceremony Marcela Agoncillo’s penchant for the French Revolution’s colors, after which he would garnish it with yellow objects from the skies (you’d say finally coloring the earlier Katipunan flags’ white Sun), it soon merges this colorful Agoncilloan or later-Katipunan blue-red-white-yellow scheme with basic tribal browns and blacks as he paints on new layers for his portrayals of daily experience. It is as if Doc is highlighting the fact that his neo-primitivist painting of present motifs does not necessarily have that tribal primitivist purism recurrent among some pretenders to indigeneity; Doc’s ceremony is, in short, more inclusive, syncretic, pluralist, and contemporary in its inter-generational ideation of “nation” and “future nation”.
Ferdinand Doctolero, Attack at Dawn, 1987, acrylic on wood
Now, Doc’s maharlikan faith is not a unique psyche among painters, even among intellectuals. The various history-deriving patriotism of this sort, though, differ in their ideological foundations, or in their geographical inspiration. Some would go by the term “bagani”, as with the Timawas, to refer to a samurai-like unit or otherwise a deep attitude that boasts of, or purports to produce, pride in one’s “nation” and “nationality” or “community”. Sure, some of this patriotism, in art as elsewhere, may be coming from people with neo-fascist beliefs (with or without their knowledge of their direction’s being neo-fascist), or from neo-monarchist ones (datuist, you might say, if maharlika is equal to Western knighthood), or is coming from a leftist Khmer-ish position or otherwise an apolitical but nostalgic culture. Regardless of the origin, we salute Doc’s ceremony not because we adhere to its patriotic raison d’être, the source of which we don’t fully know, but because he has a raison d’être at all. Compare this ceremony or process with a lot of painting out there that betrays no idea of what they represent other than the religion of skill.
Ferdinand Doctolero, Tanim series in progress, 2017
Though the “styles” that Doctolero traversed through his journey through the years and decades may project waves of evolution, within these changes Doc has maintained a loyal position as an image-maker for the neo-primitivist bent, as we already hinted above. That doesn’t seem like an accident, and has a lot in common with his faith in our nation’s tribal nobility and sleeping pride, in his titles that depict communal existence (either insinuating a warrior’s bravery or portraying community in all its moods), in his early choice to paint on wood, in his intermittent portrayals of nature, and finally in both his implementation of hard-bordered figures on canvas from a sketch pad study and his alternative shamanic surrealist-automatist process of coming up with a referencing (abstract) image. Remember, neo-primitivism is not primitivism. It is an embrace of the primitive for a merger with the present, a sort of historical and inter-generational inclusiveness. Indeed, note that Doc’s sort of neo-primitivism would here and there incorporate Western traditions of realist drawing.
a 1995 Doctolero acrylic painting on wood
Doctolero sketch pad studies ready for implementation on canvas
Doctolero’s imagery is his own kind of realism. It doesn’t celebrate a class; it celebrates . . . a “soul”, as it were. A faith, really. Titles like Pasyal or Kaarawan belong more to happy genre painting than to the sublime artivism of a Courbet.
a Philippine Daily Inquirer page with a review by Johnathan Rondina
In other words, Doc’s art is seldom a portrayal of a growing dystopia (subtly) seen outside. It is, at its root, a parade of expressions of a social or national utopia coming from inside.
Whether you can agree with the source inspiration for his nationalism or not, whatever that is, you can at least acknowledge here that such an approach to artmaking as his (which reaches beyond artmaking) has become a rarity in our time, a time where much social realism as well as abstraction seems to have lost their spirit, coming on commodified display as corny kopyas merely of a now-satiated but still repeated modernism. [d]
Text (c) 2017 diskurso art magazine. All rights reserved. Photos from Ferdinand R. Doctolero and Kulay-Diwa Gallery of Contemporary Art.
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