FOR his most recent solo show, visionary Ilonggo artist Rock Drilon has found a kindred spirit in 13th-century Persian poet and scholar Rumi.
The celebrated Drilon officially unveiled “As You Start To Paint, The Painting Paints Itself” to much fanfare on Jan. 8 at the Mamusa Art Gallery, Festive Walk Parade, Iloilo Business Park. Featuring ten visceral canvases, the exhibit puts the intuitive brushstrokes of the expressionist painter front and center – Drilon being a consummate disciple and believer of the spontaneity and impulse of the art process.
The title of the exhibit itself clues you into the modus vivendi of the veteran Drilon, “As You Start To Paint, The Painting Paints Itself,” his works seemingly painstakingly deliberate and yet also independently compelled by an innate energy, immediately apparent in his endless coils of free-flowing form and overlapping figures.
Instrumental in the resurgence and growth of this city’s burgeoning art community and a unofficial godfather to plenty of young Ilonggo artists, Drilon offhandedly mentioned to this author that he had recently come across a quote attributed to Rumi which he found to resonate with his own ideals: “As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears,” remarking how despite the centuries separating their lifetimes, the words of this enlightened figure still holds true.
The bulk of the exhibit is from Drilon’s work these past three years, comprising six frames from his “Visayan Rhapsody” series, and three larger masterworks – the oldest in the slate being a paperwork from 2010 entitled “Untitled (Subic) 5.”
Since relocating back to his hometown of coastal Dumangas in 2012, Drilon has become the foremost champion and catalyst in carving out a space for Iloilo’s artists in the city – as well being a biking advocate and a generous mentor to fledgling Ilonggo painters.
Despite painting professionally for more than 40 years now, the 63-year-old artist reveals that the process of creating hasn’t really become easier over the decades.
“Sometimes, mahirap to go there [beginning painting],” recalls Drilon. “But once you’ve started there’s a sense of ease. Sometimes matagal [ang process of painting], sometimes madali, but the more I get to painting, the more I feel sure of what I’m doing.”
“It never really gets easier,” he adds. “And actually, when you feel it’s getting easier, that’s probably your cue that it’s about time to try something new. That’s where the true challenge is, that’s where the energy is, it shows in the painting.”
Drilon admits interspersing his studio-work with the handful of worthwhile hobbies he’s taken up, including gardening, cycling, raising his pets Simeon (a dog) and Baba (a baboy talunon), as well as of course empowering Iloilo’s circle of artists.
Rock is currently collaborating with Iloilo City mayor Jerry Treñas to curate a masterplan for public art in the city, enlisting Ilonggo artists to paint murals and other expressions in scenic spots around this vibrant locale. This endeavor is seen to eventually pave the way for this “City of Love” to be officially named one of UNESCO’s premier “Creative Cities,” joining the likes of Baguio and Cebu in the Philippines.
Drilon could easily rest on his laurels, given his illustrious career as a decorated artist, but Rock doesn’t see himself stopping his painting and community work anytime soon.
“Truthfully, the further I am from the studio work the less happy I feel,” he told Panay News. “As artists, I feel we never really retire. My mentors and most the older artists I know lived as passionate artists until their final years.”
For one, National Artist and Filipino abstract pioneer José T. Joya, one of Drilon’s mentors, never stopped painting, even serving as chairperson of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts until his death in 1987.
Translated from the original Persian text, a poem by Rumi entitled “Keep Walking” goes: “Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to. / Don’t try to see through the distances. / That’s not for human beings… Let the beauty we love be what we do. / There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
Born in 1956 to Ricardo Drilon Sr. and Teresita Drilon, Rock’s given name has proven prophetic, as he’s become the rock solid foundation on which Iloilo’s now thriving art community is built on, without his efforts the city’s creative circles would not be anywhere near where it is today – as humble as he is, he’ll probably dismiss this as an over-exaggeration on my part, but it’s undoubtedly true.
“As You Start To Paint, The Painting Paints Itself” is on exhibit at the Mamusa Art Gallery until February 10, 2020./PN