‘An Extraordinary Eye for the Ordinary’ retrospective exhibit runs until March 28
During Saturday’s basic drawing workshop at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila as one of the side events for Elmer Borlongan’s solo retrospective, one of the country’s most prominent contemporary artists recalled how he learned to draw at a similar class when he was 11 years old.
“Fernando Sena was my art teacher in that class and he has also become my mentor,” said Elmer, also known as Emong among his peers. The revered Mr Sena, a painter legendary for his generosity towards younger artists, happened to be seated beside his former student, of whom he must be incredibly proud.
Since that first workshop when he was 11, Emong has charted an impressive course in the Philippine art scene. He has produced a large body of critically applauded works, many of which are part of the landmark show called “An Extraordinary Eye for the Ordinary”, currently on display at the MET in Pasay City, Manila, until March 28.
Chronicler of everyday life
With over 150 paintings and 50 drawings, the solo exhibit is a retrospective of Emong’s works as a self-described local “chronicler of everyday life” for the past 25 years. Anyone who views Emong’s works will quickly get a sense of what makes Filipinos and living in the Philippines is like, and perhaps see a part of themselves in some of the scenarios.
His works are based on personal experiences and observations. “Wherever I am, whatever I experience, that’s what I want to reflect on,” Emong said.
Set against a minimalist background, most of his subjects — men with their uneven eyes who are mostly bald — are shown in a range of scenarios: in a barbershop, at a religious procession. For many of his works, it’s the small details that tell a bigger story: in “Order ni Misis” (What the wife ordered), a favorite of Emong’s, a shirtless man lifts weights using a DIY barbell made with two large cans of Baguio Oil. It’s both a cheeky reference to the cooking oil brand’s popular 1960s tagline, and a comment on popular culture and gender archetypes.
“Elmer Borlongan represents the Filipino going about life with color, form, and a trademark humor that elevates the familiar into art,” said curator and historian Ambeth Ocampo.
Large scale works
Emong grew up in Mandaluyong City in Manila, and finished a degree in fine arts at the University of the Philippines. In 2002, he moved to Zambales with wife and fellow artist Plet Bolipata. The move, Emong says, proved to be a good one — his works entered a new phase of human interest which began to include urban folk and life in the countryside. His paintings likewise began to expand both in subject and scale.
His largest work so far, “Amihan” (14ft x 18ft) — featuring two women on a typical afternoon in the countryside — took two months of daily work.
“I like painting large scale because it’s more challenging for me,” Emong said. “The experience is different and you feel like you’re a part of the painting itself. But I’m looking to concentrate on a few other projects in two years’ time.”
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Travel trivia with Elmer Borlongan
What are your favorite travel destinations?
Locally, Zambales for the rural scenery. Ilocos for Dr. Joven Cuanang’s Sitio Remedios. In Asia, it will have to be Japan because of the culture, the food and of course the vinyl!
We hear you collect vinyl records. Where are your usual haunts?
I’m a huge fan of vinyl records, especially on classic rock and jazz. I grew up with those, so it’s great to see them around again because brings up a kind of nostalgia. In Manila, go to Cubao X, as well as the Grey Market and Northeast Estate and Collectibles — both in Quezon City. Outside the Philippines, visit Disk Union and HMV record stores in Shibuya and Shinjuku, Tokyo, plus those in Notting Hill along Portobello Road in London.
“An Extraordinary Eye for the Ordinary” will run until March 28 at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.