The Apocalypse (2020) is the artist's visual chronicle of the events of this unprecedented year in modern times. Depicting all that is unspeakable, he interprets the biblical Armageddon with the four horsemen harbinging natural catastrophe, human greed, destructive technology and death. A volcano erupts, forests burn, ash plumes obscure the sky, thunderous clouds blot out the sun and an ominous sphere is glimpsed at the end of a lightning bolt. On the ground, man and beast seem to pay no heed but take respite in their ambulant shelter, the scorched earth and the war waged in the skies already a mundane panorama. At the pinnacle of the trigonal composition is the figure of the Christ, a silhouette in serene pastel tones, his calm radiance faint in the skies. Everything that could happen has. Man holds his ground and shakes the weariness off his bones. The masked father plays with a small pup. All their worldly possessions fit on a cart but there is room for tenderness and caring even towards their four-legged companions. Even as the earth burns, plants thrive in unexpected places. There is hope. This is the year 2020 as memorialized by the greatest realist painter of our generation.
The work is part of a series chronicling contemporary events that the artist started as a legacy project in 2011. The first piece "Siete de Agosto: Allegory of a Farce," also known as "Death of the National Artist", was a critique of the attack art was suffering in the hands of politicking forces and the ensuing societal chaos. 2014's "Triumph of Life Over Death" was a tribute to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda and extolled the heroism of the Filipino in times of devastating tragedy. Meanwhile, 2017 saw "The Modern Holocaust", his rendition of the "Maguindanao Massacre" which was a politically-motivated slaughter of journalists which shocked the world and headlined the Philippines as one of the most dangerous countries in the world. In 2019, the artist presented Nostradamus Prophecies (Ominous), an eerily-prophetic depiction of a ravaged earth brought about by nature's destruction. These works seemingly culminate with the current "The Apocalypse 2020".
Renowned portrait artist Romulo Galicano, P. S. S. is the only Filipino conferred with Signature Status by the Portrait Society of America, offered only to portraitists of the highest caliber. He describes his style as technically academic and philosophically abstract; classical portraiture techniques are disrupted by lines across a landscape: “It is a reconciliation between two separate poles, the subjective and objective, to create another form of art,” as he puts it. “Do not look at a realistic painting in terms of just some of its elements. Look at it as a whole: look at the pattern, the movements, the oneness, its harmony in the lines and movement.”
Though most sought-after for his portraits, some of Galicano's most significant works have tackled social realist themes, from his previous works in ManilART that memorialized the Maguindanao Massacre and Typhoon Haiyan, as well as the looming realities of war and climate change. These are done in his unmistakable masterful realist execution, drawing from biblical and mythological allegory. In light of current events in the nation and the world at large, his works have been observed to have an almost-prophetic quality to them; his most recent work was already in its inception before the COVID-19 pandemic started. For the artist, this series forms part of his legacy in both documenting and commentating on history unfolding in his times.
In The Apocalypse (2020), we see the dynamic movements Galicano so aptly described; our eyes are drawn to the foreground–-a family and their companions trying to distract themselves from the grim reality surrounding them. We are also led to look above, to the skies, where four horsemen are at war. This is the artist's take on the perversion of science and progress by greed and self-gain, with heavy religious undertones. The dominant horseman with robotic features represents destructive science, surrounded by an alligator-like horse symbolizing corruption, a horse harbinging natural catastrophe, and a personification of death itself ready to strike lightning. "Kapag greed na ang umiiral, nag-iimbento na sila para sa destruction ng ibang tao, kagaya ng nuclear bombs at chemical warfare," explains Galicano. At the uppermost, we see a faint silhouette of Jesus watching over: “My inspiration was to place emphasis on a return to the Lord and our spiritual obligations, pagbalik sa kapaniwalaan at pananalig natin.”
In the foreground, the family scrambles in a pushcart with their meager possessions, seemingly in a period of respite playing with their four-legged companions. But the coast will never be clear–-directly above them, the heavens wage war, and if one looks closely, the silhouette of the COVID-19 virus can be seen in the skies.
Not immediately visible is Taal volcano at the right side; Galicano mentions that the “clouds” are in fact ash formations from its eruption early this year, January 12, 2020–-it claimed the lives of 39 people, displaced thousands in the area, and caused a halt in many sectors, including hundreds of millions of damage in agriculture.
Finally, there is a smattering of greenery just beyond the horizon. This was Galicano’s last addition in the painting process; it is a subtle yet poignant reminder of growth and hope. Galicano’s consistent social commentaries drive the point home that art’s place is in situating our real-world contexts, not just for academic study nor aesthetic value. We are at the cusp of widespread change affecting all sectors, but not all is lost. Brave citizen initiatives and acts of kindness bloom even in our most dreary days; is up to our actions today to move towards a livable future.
Ed Coronel is a self-taught visual artist since childhood, but he is equally inspired by science. He graduated as a physicist and taught at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. His professional career in the arts began in 2006, where he started his roots in abstractions and social realism. Upon his latest solo exhibition in 2019, he veered towards realism, with methods much more deliberate and calculated. His background in the sciences lent him the precision for a specialization in realism, and earned him last year’s 6th place in the American Art Awards 2019 Best Landscape with Life Category for his painting, “Fruit Vendor 2 (Still Life with 725 fruits)”.
Coronel’s DIVERSITY (36” x 48” oil painting on canvas) may seem to portray an innocuous subject matter: cute, sweet and fun gummy bear candies, but this was inspired by 2020's events. Police brutality in the United States and further international division from the COVID-19 pandemic- these were the headlines as Coronel worked on his painting. He further explains, "the [candies] are also representative of our familiar yet nonchalant attitude to consumption and mass production." Even as a still-life, DIVERSITY is the artist's message during such turbulent times. It is a call to inquire about our recognition and acceptance of diversity within our communities; it is a reminder of equality during times when animosity and enforced distances are the norm.
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