The duwende whisperer of the Negros art scene 2
The artist with his creations. "Sculptor talaga ako, hindi pottery artist." Photograph by Charley Sta. Maria

The duwende whisperer of the Negros art scene

One of the country’s hidden gems, Roedil Geraldo, is coming to Art Fair Philippines this month to be introduced to Manila’s art crowd. But will audiences take to his sculptures made of termite droppings? 
Devi de Veyra | Feb 02 2020

Art Fair Philippines’ 2020 edition signals a significant turn: 10 influential galleries have left its fold and are putting up an art fair of their own (they’re calling it Alt Fair. Jk. It’s called Alt, if you don’t know yet) — but are the ladies of Art in the Parking Lot shaking in the knees? Hard to tell. What’s clear is Trickie Lopa et al have taken a different direction. Visitors to the Art Fair’s Projects exhibition will get to see curated works from gallery regulars as well as the token superstars, but there’s a more expansive cast of lesser-known names. Gems long hidden from a very Manila-centric art scene. One of these is Negrense Roedil Geraldo. 

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Duwende killer

Born and raised in Negros Occidental, Geraldo goes by Joe to friends and family, and Papa Joe to adoring art students who’ve attended his talks or workshops. Pottery artist Carlo Capati, however, calls him by an intriguing portmanteau, HudJoe. “When you look at him, he looks scary as the devil,” Carlo explains, “but he is really the sweetest person. One of my closest friends.”

A more sinister moniker was coined by the farm hands of Bacolod’s haciendas. “Pag-pumupunta ako sa haciendadyan sa mga farms,” Roedil says, gesturing to the surrounding areas around his studio in Bacolod, “sasabihin nila, ‘eto na ang killer ng mga duwende.’”

The duwende whisperer of the Negros art scene 3
A detail of Kuro Kuro which is set to be unveiled at this February's Art Fair Philippines.

The guy scours the farms for termite hills which are called nuno sa punso, believed to be the abode of duwendes or dwarfs. The hard mounds are made from the termites’ droppings which the artist uses for his terracotta sculptures. Prior to digging up the termite hills, Roedil performs the traditional rituals, which includes praying to the dwarfs for permission. The artist then plants a bamboo stick atop the mound, which would signal approval or denial. 

Nung una, pag-natumba yung kawayan, ibig sabihin hindi ko pwede kunin,” he says, “pero ngayon, maski natumba, kukunin ko pa din,” Roedil continues, breaking into his signature childish giggles.

He does apologize for the deed — “Pasensya na kayo, kasi kailangan ko ito eh,” — before promising a better life for the dwarfs. ”Mapupunta ka naman sa mabuti eh,” Roedil would tell them, “kasi pag-napunta sila sa bahay ng collector naka-aircon pa sila!” 


Kung mahal mo art mo, siya magpapakain sa ‘yo.

Roedil started drawing as a child, his talent not lost to his teachers in La Consolacion Bacolod who would send the young Roedil to art competitions. “Pero hindi ako nananalo dyan, kasi wala naman yung concentration ko sa art. Nung college na ako, lagi na akong nanalo.”

He was in his fourth year of architecture in La Consolaction when he decided to shift to Fine Arts, prodded by a professor who noticed Roedil’s extraordinary figurative renderings. By that time, the future artist was already moonlighting as a helper in construction sites so he could have an allowance. 

Life wasn’t easy, especially when he got married and started a family. Roedil found encouragement in the advice of Charlie Co, a fellow Negrense artist who once told him “Kung mahal mo art mo, siya magpapakain sa yo.” 

Apart from creating designs for a t-shirt factory, Roedil, who didn’t finish his Fine Arts course, painted decorative stones in Dumaguete. He would also barter his works for things that he needed. “Dinadala ko yung painting ko sa kaibigan ko na may bigasan, kapalit bigas,” Roedil recalls, chuckling at the thought. “Ganyan naman talaga ang struggle ng artist, habang hinahanap mo pa yung takbo mo sa art.”

The duwende whisperer of the Negros art scene 4
Roedil scours the farms for termite hills. But he asks for permission from the nunos before destroying their mounds. “Pasensya na kayo, kasi kailangan ko ito eh,” he tells the dwendes.

He forged a special kinship with another artist, Bogie Tence Ruiz, who helped shaped his philosophical outlook, both in life and art. The two would rarely get to talk, but when they do, Roedil clung to the older artist’s musings. “Madami ako’ng nakuha sa kanya, idol ko si Bogie. Masipag yan, malalim magsalita, at may katotohanan siya. Ang ganda ng paninindigan niya sa art, pananaw sa buhay at yung purpose sa kanyang gawa.” 

Roedil, just like his idol Bogie, explored other artistic mediums despite the adage that artists must develop a specialization. At one point, he was drawn to pottery, which turned out to be a fleeting interest. “Na-bore ako kasi paikot-ikot lang [yung clay], hahahaha. Sculptor talaga ako eh, hindi pottery artist.” 


Pag palagi kang nagtratrabaho, dahan-dahan makakalabas ka sa mga influences sa art mo.

In his studio, one can trace the arc of Roedil’s artistic journey. An exquisite wooden bust carved by the artist’s policeman father is a nod to the roots of Roedil’s gift, mounted high on a wall to convey its import. Some paintings bear the aggressive strokes and bold colorings the guy attributes to Negrense artists Co and Nunelucio Alvarado.  

“Natural naman yan pag bata ka may mga idol ka. Pero kung palagi kang nagtratrabaho, dahan-dahan lalabas ka sa mga influences sa art mo.” Roedil’s practice in terracotta, he is quick to admit, owes its early style to tribal craft. 

Hearing him talk, there seems to be no dirth of concepts, with the artist drawing from personal experiences both profound and mundane. His exhibition for Art Fair Philippines, titled Kuro Kuro, is inspired by neighbourhood gossips. Depicted in various terracotta forms — human, animal, mythical — Kuro Kuro’s characters invite an interrogation of a national pastime. “Araw-araw, nakikita ko tsismisan dyan sa labas,” he says. “Ayaw ko yung kuwentuhan na wala namang purpose. Dapat ang kwentuhan may purpose sa buhay. Kaya di ako lumalabas.”

Kuro Kuro displays Roedil’s vigor and skill as a sculptor. The power of his works, however, rests on his gift as a storyteller. Some figures are portrayed with mouths agape from where the day’s chismis pours forth, while other pieces assume the role of passive listeners. Roedil inserted his own desire for chismis with deeper meanings — in the form of mother earth, for example: its multiple breasts alluding to everything she fosters, including the motley group of rumormongers around her. 

The Kuro Kuro assemblage as a whole appears both savage and comical to echo Roedil’s personal manifesto. For the artist, joy and pain occupy the same space in his philosophical sphere. “Yung mga mukha ng mga gawa ko, kahit malungkot o masaya parang pareho lang. Yung negative at positive parehas lang na importante yan eh, may purpose sa buhay natin.”


Maraming collector, pero maraming peke na collector na gusto lang bumili ng uso.

The artist pays no mind to the observation that his surreal style and rustic material —made from termite dung at that — may not exactly be stuff Art Fair sales are made of. Though he is certainly grateful every time a piece is sold, staying true to his vision has always been top of his agenda.

Living in Bacolod, where the mood is more relaxed and the cost of living lower than in Manila, allowed Roedil to practice art on his own terms. The distance from Manila’s ecosystem made it easier for him and other Visayan artists to resist the trends, to result in the independent flowering of not just his own practice, but Visayan art by and large. 

Iba ang mga Visayan artists,” Roedil proudly exclaims. “May mga ibang artist na gusto lang nila bentahan. Makikita mo kung anong uso ngayon sa Maynila, pare-pareho na lang ang mga painting. Kung minsan, hinahabol lang nila kung san mabenta, yon ang style nila. Sa akin, parang hindi na yan art. Huwag ka magpakain sa collector kung ano ang gusto nila. Maraming collector, pero maraming peke na collector na gusto lang bumili ng uso. Yung sosyal.” 

For Roedil, the money his art brings to the table is a reward. The big trophy, though, comes from being able to share his works with a wider audience, and using art as a tool for education. “Ang dream ko lang, kung matanda na ako, gusto ko magpatayo ng school ng art na free para sa mga hindi nakapag-aral. Gusto ko ipamahagi sa kabataan ng Negros ang kaalaman koHindi ko dream na maging milyonaryo.” 

The duwende whisperer of the Negros art scene 5
Kuro Kuro displays Roedil’s vigor and skill as a sculptor. The power of his works, however, rests on his gift as a storyteller

Pagod pa din ang buhay ko. 

Roedil’s independence has given him agency, as well as financial vulnerability. To some extent, it also denied him acceptance. “For me, I know he is under-appreciated,” Carlo says, “kasi hindi talaga siya makiki-trend. He won’t be swayed by money. Siya talaga yung artist na kinukwento buhay at experience niya through his art. His art and himself are one, painting, sculpting and living his life the way he wants. He’s just real.”

Though Roedil’s life is by no means cushy — “pagod pa din ang buhay ko” — he says he is happy. At this point in his life where he has endured countless trials, including the death of his wife some two years back, Roedil is unfazed with the future’s uncertainties. There are no fears left to conquer, except for one. 

“Duwag siya on a plane,” Carlo says. “But his art is strong.”


Photographs by Charley Sta. Maria