One of local art world’s most enduring bromances started over three decades ago at the old Port Area. It is where many print publications held office, and where Jose Tence “Bogie” Ruiz and Prudencio “DengCoy” Miel worked as cartoonists.
They both have come a long way since. The curly-haired Miel is a two-time Reuben Awardee for Cartooning and has done editorial illustrations and design for the Singapore Straits Times, The New York Times and The Philippine Star. The 6-foot tall Ruiz is a well-known exhibiting multimedia artist, writer and curator, and was the Philippine rep to the Venice Biennale in 2015.
Last December, they opened a two-man show called Toggle: Engage-Disengage at the Artinformal gallery in San Juan. Curated by Ruiz, it presented new mixed media works “of a vascillating discourse between two different locations,” as per the gallery notes, “scrutinizing the specifics of the past and the future of our agonized present.” In the garden of ArtInformal, just hours before show opening, Bogie and DengCoy, together with gallery owner, Tina Fernandez, echoed the gallery notes and engaged us in a discourse about the past and the future or our agonized present— over chilled champagne.
“TELL THE CARTOONIST NOT TO DO THIS ANYMORE.”
Bogie (looking at DengCoy): We have been friends since about '87…’86 even.
DV: Talaga? Pa’no nangyari?
Bogie: Sa dyaryo… ako Philippine Star, siya sa Manila Chronicle.
DV: Pareho kayong naging cartoonists, and you became friends because of your common interest?
Bogie: Well, because his mentor ay boss naman namin. So Dengcoy was always in our office.
DengCoy: Si Nonoy Marcelo. I was cartoonist's assistant.
Bogie: Tatay-tatayan niya si Nonoy. Because DengCoy comes nga from Catbalogan, tatang niya sa Manila si Nonoy. So by the time we were all in the Port Area, we were always with each other in the afternoon.
DengCoy: In constant communion (chuckling softly).
DV: Before '86, may takot kayo as cartoonists? The Marcoses were still very much around.
Bogie: Syempre. You have to overcome that pero nakaka-takot talaga. Like kami sa Who Magazine we print only 5,000 copies so we're considered a token opposition. But even then, you were still nervous about what you did.
DengCoy: On a daily basis.
DV: Ikaw rin?
DengCoy: No. I was not with him. We are eight years apart so I would always buy Who Magazine just to have a look at what Bogie was doing.
DV: Explicitly, sinasabihan kayo ng editors about what you can and cannot do?
Bogie: Ironically nga sa ‘kin, [it happened] kahit noong '86 na [after EDSA I]. after tinira ko ang US Embassy, ang bases, sumulat ang ambassador kay Doronila, pinatatanggal ako.
DV: The editor Amando Doronila?
Bogie: Oo. Pinapatanggal ako. Si ‘Mando naman sabi niya, “Halika sa opisina ko. Sarado mo yung pinto. Pasensya ka na, ito ang gusto nilang mangyari. Pero, kunware nag-aaway tayo. Mamaya lumabas ka na.”
DV: Who was the US ambassador that time?
Bogie: The father of Oliver. Ano na bang first name ni Platt? Nicholas!
DV: Oliver Platt the actor?
Bogie: Yeah. Tatay ni Oliver Platt si Nicholas Platt. Si Oliver doesn't look like his dad because he looks more like his mom. Si Oliver may pagka-Ichabod Crane eh … malaking leeg eh, na maliit ang baba.
DV: Dengcoy, may incident ka ba na tinawag ka sa “principal's office”?
DengCoy: I would always get letters from, yung mga ano, “keepers of the faith.” Kasi parang may ginawa ako na cartoon na nativity scene, but yung Christ child nasa test tube. So sumulat yung mga madre, nag-complain sa editor. Yung letter finorward sa’kin, tapos may note: “Tell the cartoonist not to do this anymore.”
DV: Nung sinabi sayo na ‘wag ka na gumawa ng ganun, tuloy pa rin?
DengCoy: Tuloy pa rin. (Breaks into soft laughter) Because I have nothing to lose… Ah, in the end sinabi nila, “We don't want you.”
DV: This was Manila Bulletin?
DengCoy: Bulletin. Contributor lang naman ako. So, sabi ko, “Sure. At least, I made my point."
DV: Magkano ba bayad sa contributor noon?
DengCoy: 50 pesos yata eh.
Bogie: During the '80s, that's not so bad. Yung favorite joke ko has to do with [photojournalist] Melvin Calderon. When we were in Who Magazine, pagka-tapos ng isang araw ng kaka-iwas ng bala, tear gas, bato, nagco-cover sa Mendiola, Melvin and company would bring all their prints to Who Magazine. And Who Magazine would choose maybe one, or two … kasi maliit lang naman ang size ng Who Magazine, maliit lang ang space eh. [Holding a photograph of 80s photojournalists]. So, this is Bullit Marquez. This is Romy Gacad, who almost won a Pullitzer Prize. This is Andy Hernandez who did covers for NewsWeek. Melvin Calderon, of course.
DV: Mga photographers 'yan lahat?
Bogie: Oo. Come payday, lalapit na si Chito Gonzales. ‘Calderon!’ sabi niya. ‘One, two. P25, P50. Next!’ Twenty-five bucks for all their pain! Ay, talaga nung mga panahong yon. But sinabi ni Melvin: “Sure. We will still do it. We will still risk our selves taking pictures in difficult situations.” Eventually, it all became better. Because of them pursuing that, Bulitt became an AP (Associated Press) head. Romy Gacad became the AFP (Agence France Press) head--up to now. Okay naman sila. Si Melvin umabot pa ata sa Magnum.
“TWENTY-SEVEN BIG WORKS, WITH ITLOG SALES.”
DV: During that time, through your practice, you were already politicized?
DengCoy: Yeah. I would like to think so.
DV: Do you think it's really patriotism? Or because of your being an artist?
DengCoy: Stimulus response eh. It's the most automatic…almost instinctive na eh.
Bogie: Mine was a specific anxiety, but also because I'm a member of Kaisahan. Kaisahan was really a political group. And ironically nga, the idea was the medium was galleries. But since we could not sell, we had to work.
DV: But why could you not sell?
Bogie: Nobody was buying.
Tina: Ngayon lang naman naging ganito eh.
DengCoy: That's why we became newspapermen.
Bogie: Yeah, talaga naman nung panahon ni Imelda hindi makapasok ang SR [social realism) sa CCP. Syempre ang efficient gatekeeper niya, who knew how to do it without being abrasive, si Rey Albano. Magaling si Rey, he kept it that way. Basa niya lang kung anong gusto without having to push people abrasively away. He would never be like a pawn in that sense. Pero hindi sya mang-aaway. Hindi lang kayo kasama muna.
DV: So during that time, you were not really showing your works?
DengCoy: We were. Pero walang bumibili.
Bogie: I showed sa Pinaglabanan [Gallery]. Twenty-seven big works, with itlog sales. So my wife naman tells me, the day after the show is over—after one month ha, sa Pinaglabanan—“Hanap ka na ng trabaho, hon.” Kaya kami nagkakasama-sama eh. Balik ako sa dyaryo.
Tina: Naalala ko lang, back to itlog sales: noong when I was very new, Artinformal was just a house. Nag-show si Bogie dito, first time, sold out show. 2008.
Bogie: July 29, 2008.
Tina: But the funny part of the story is this – pag-pasok ni Rochit, his wife, sa pintuan— I don't know if it was Bogie or me that said, “Sold out.”
Bogie: No, it was you.
Tina: Muntik ng mahimatay si Rochit. I thought she wasn't feeling well. I didn't realize it was a result of what I said.
Bogie: Nanlambot pala.
DV: That was your first sold out show?
Bogie: Yeah. And my last. (To everyone’s laughter)
DengCoy: For now
“IRONICALLY, ANG MEMORY KO AT 4 YEARS OLD, FEAR AND EROS. PARANG TINITIGASAN AKO NA HINDI KO PA NAIINTINDIHAN YUNG IBIG SABIHIN.”
DV: Ano ang first memories mo about art?
DengCoy: I was mesmerized by Albrecht Dürer.
DV: Saan mo naman napulot yun?
DengCoy: Hindi, maliit pa ako my father would bring me books from the library. Eh, writer ang erpats ko eh. He contributed to Free Press.
DV: So he would bring you books?
DengCoy: Yeah, because I would ask for that. Sasabihin ko I need art books. And coupon bond. Because after I read those books, then I would process it. I would process and I would just try to do my own version of what I have seen.
DV: Ilang taon ka no’n?
DengCoy: Siguro mga elementary, mga grades 5, 7 ganon. Then progressively, syempre nagbabago yun eh.
DengCoy: Si Dürer kasi nakita ko yung yung melancholia niya. That's the exposure eh.
DV: Ang bata-bata mo pa may angst ka na. Ayaw mo ng mga cartoons?
DengCoy: Cartoons? Gusto ko. Sila Nonoy Marcelo, Danny Dalena. Walt Disney, of course, [his] mga instruments of colonialism. (starts chuckling) It's easier to swallow colonialism pag medyo cute. Sari- sari [yung gusto ko] like yung mga Ab Ex like sila Arshile Gorki. And Gorki somehow led me to Miró. And then yung progression is you seek someone who came before what this guy did in terms of style. So you go back to its primary source.
DV: In-encourage ng parents mo?
DengCoy: Oo in-encourage, but not so much na papabayaan ko yung pag-aaral ko. So the rewards system is – do your studies, do good in school, and somehow we could give you your coupon bond.
DV: Tapos noong high school, nag-progress ka na?
DengCoy: Ganon na, art competitions na.
DV: Ano mga ginawa mo?
DengCoy: Kahit ano … mga sketches, drawing on blackboards.
Bogie: Yung lolo ko was a literary guy as well--so I think that's one thing that [DengCoy and I] share eh.
DengCoy: It’s the text before the image eh.
Bogie: [My grandfather] was a book dealer, so he had a lot of sample books. When I was 4 years old, my mother would leave me with him and he realized that if he gave the big Caravaggio I would keep quiet.
DengCoy: Ahhh, Caravaggio din pala ….
DV: Ang dark, hindi sila natakot?
Bogie: Ironically, ang memory ko at 4 years old, fear and eros. Parang tinitigasan ako na hindi ko pa naiintindihan yung ibig sabihin. Caravaggio eh, di ba? Titignan ka ni Bacchus na naka ganun o, it’s so sensuous. And he realized, ‘Ah yung batang mahilig maglaro ng apoy tumatahimik oh.’
DV: You were naughty?
Bogie: Ay, I was a hyperactive kid! My favorite trick was to put a butter knife into the electric outlet. Ano kaya ang mangyayari? ARAAAAY!!! … Sabi ko, "Lolo, ang sakit!" So he found out that that was one of the best ways [to keep me quiet].
“MOST OF THEM. OVER-RATED VIS-À-VIS THE PRICE THAT THEY COMMAND.”
DV: Who among the local artists do you respect?
Bogie: Madami. Botong …
DengCoy: Oo, si Botong.
Bogie: Mang Nanding. Hernando Ocampo, Jose Mendoza who did Pio del Pilar, Sultan Kudarat and Gabriela Silang in the Ayala Triangle. That's Mang Jo -- who also did the map of the Philippines in Luneta. Very quiet 'yan eh. He’s still very active up to now. Abueva,of course. Paborito ko talaga si Mang Nanding, actually. Lamberto Hechanova.
DengCoy: I like Austria… Antonio Austria.
Bogie: Si Antonio Austria ang ganda niyan kasi it’s what you see, pero parang naïve ang approach niya.. Pero it's everything you see in the streets and he will put it there. Ang ganda eh. He’s still very active, he's 82 years old. And he just came out with his book that's very beautiful.
DV: So a lot of artists are underappreciated or underrated?
Boogie: Ako one of my favorites yung tatay ni Marcel [Antonio], si Angelito.
DengCoy: Oh yeah…Angelito Antonio.
Bogie: And he was a very good teacher.
DengCoy: Tsaka si Belleza.
DV: You like Belleza?
DengCoy: Yes, because its close to Austria eh .. parang gusto ko yung ganung style.
Bogie: Me personally, syempre si Tiyo Pandy. My father is his cousin. So Pandy was my inspiration, also of course the early Mars Galang.
DV: Ok, so dito na tayo sa magandang usapan. Sino naman yung over-rated sa tingin niyo?
Dengcoy: No comment (to loud laughter)
Bogie: I will give you an answer, but that's only the answer I'll give you ha: Those under 35.
Bogie: Many of them. Over-rated vis-a- vis the price that they command. I think the rest have been regulated by social interaction within the community.
DV: What do you think of the auctions?
Bogie: Scary. It will remove all critical thought. We had a forum in February, and it was about independent publishing. Sabi ko, why do I need independent publishing? All I’ll [need to] do is wait on Monday for the hammer price release of Leon. That's all [the] critical writing [you need]. Of course I was being sarcastic. [Because of the influence of auctions] People will not read anything anymore and they will just ask, ‘Ano ang hammer price niyan?’ That's the valid art. Scary.
DV: Don't you think that the auctions address a different audience? Kasi for me, a very good buyer wouldn't mind. I mean, he wouldn't be pressured by ano yung lumalabas sa auction results.
Bogie: Yeah. We know the ones who are clear-headed about buying naman.
DV: Okay, so give us a name.
Bogie: Louie Bate. But for me I would still like a group of buyers to talk about existentialism, the decline of the Left, and not hammer price. Because you would sit in the table, and you would hear 80 percent hammer price. Sabi ko, that's the end of the discussion. Somebody asked me recently, ‘So what do we do?’ Sabi ko, You just really got to hold your course, inspite of all the dishonest autocrats surrounding you, sabi ko we saw this, you have to hold your course. In spite of all these temptations to get pulled in by this quick cash idea, you have to hold your course. It will eventually correct itself, ang feeling ko. Will you be seen as a survivor of the correction or will you be seen as somebody who was easily swayed? Hold your course, obligasyon mo yan sa sarili mo.
“WHATEVER YOUR DIYOS LOOKS LIKE, IT MUST HAVE BEEN AN ARTIST THAT CONJURED THAT.”
DV: Do you think that -- because for me honestly this is what I think -- the art scene is in the cusp of a golden phase?
Bogie: For sure, oo.
DV: This is not yet it.
DV: Kulang din ng dialogues. And masyado tayong sensitive.
Bogie: I think ang ating lack of sensitivity is the inability to do discourse. Imbes na marunong kang sumagot sa puna—
DengCoy: …nagtatampo ka.
Bogie: Kung marunong kang sumagot actually mabibitiwan mo rin yung galit mo eh. Kasi kaya mo. Eventually masaya yun kasi palitan pala yan [ng pananaw] eh.
DengCoy: ‘Yan ang beauty nga eh. That's why Paris has their cafes eh. That's where the discourse happens.
DV: So I am assuming you both are not sensitive to criticism.
Bogie: No, we are but we know how to answer back.(To loud laughter) Sabi ko, Be very careful because I’ll throw it back to you and you better know how to play ping pong.
DengCoy: Yan ang beauty nun … bring it on.
DV: You’re very outspoken. Wala kang nakaka-away?
Bogie: Being 6 feet helps. Siguro may umaaway sa akin behind my back, but not so much. I actually like diplomatic language. I love the idea of talking to people without being rude. I really do. That's the best way to have conversations.
DV: Ano yung message niyo sa Pinoy art world? Kunwari you have something to say, ano iyon?
DengCoy: Gawa pa more. Your last show, you'll have to top what you have done with your last.
Bogie: I will end with a favorite little gambit of mine. I was once asked to talk in front of bankers. And sabi ko, ano kaya sasabihin ko sa mga moneymen? Artist lang ako syempre ano. So sabi ko sa kanila, “Ano itsura ng Diyos? You have a minute or so to think of my question and come up with an answer.” Nobody wanted to answer anything. E di na-perplex sila: Ano nga ba ang itsura ng Diyos? Para namang trick question yan, p—angina. And then I said, here's the answer: “Whatever the answer is, it must be an artist that put you up to it.” Sabi ko, that's what we are for. Does he look like Karl Marx with a white beard? Does he have a blue face like Krishna? Whatever your Diyos looks like, it must have been an artist that conjured that. So sabi ko, may silbi kami sa buhay niyo, remember that.
"Toggle: Engage-Disengage" by Jose Tence Ruiz and DengCoy Miel is on view until Jan 12, 2019 at Artinformal Greenhills, 277 Connecticut St, Greenhills East, Mandaluyong City. For further information, please contact the gallery at [email protected], or at 725-8518. You may also visit www.artinformal.com.
Portraits by Daniel Soriano
Artwork images courtesy of Artinformal