Throw all mundane, tangible possessions into an abyss without thought or sentiment. Embrace the unpredictability of the moment. Combine the forcefulness of these acts and put them into a collection of dark, painful, yet oddly welcoming works of art. In a gist, this is Wail at the Backdoor, the latest show from Lynyrd Paras ongoing until the 8th of March at the Finale Art File in La Fuerza Compound in Makati.
Upon entering the small room in the gallery’s second floor—which coincidentally connects to a backdoor—the observer is immediately transfixed by the sight of a coffin-shaped wooden box, covered in canvas and cement-like white material, lying on a bed of acrylic glass. Affixed on top of the coffin are seemingly everyday objects—Lynyrd’s. The piece is called “Walang Saysay ang Lahat sa Kasaysayang Wakas.”
On the topic of possessions, it’s easy to imagine anyone giving up everyday things, especially those already useless or impaired—a broken glass, overused painting tools, a broken mug, an empty blister pack of anti-depressants, part of a turntable. But it’s the objects a typical person would find valuable that unsettle, and maybe fascinate, the observer: a gun, a previously functional iPhone 6s Plus (it was the artist’s business phone, before he threw it to a wall several times for this art). But the most puzzling of all is Lynyrd’s awards. They all hold meaning to the artist who created this assemblage. For one, the mug is a Sex Pistols mug, and Sex Pistols is one of his favorite bands. The gun is there “para hindi ko maisip gamitin sa sarili ko.” The empty blister pack is an ode to a past struggle with mental health. The part from a turntable is a representation of a current hobby: spinning vinyls as a DJ in small events.
“Mas may value nga sila ngayon kasi nasa art ko na sila,” he tells ANCX when asked for a reason behind this sort of self-portrait in broken objects. Lynyrd started creating his works for this show in October 2018, and he only finished the work the night before we interviewed him at the gallery—two days before the show opening.
We talked about one of his awards now glued by Epoxy on the artwork: the Thirteen Artists Awards 2018 plaque. The 13 Artists Awards is held every three years by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and to be chosen of the 13 is one of the most prestigious recognitions given to an artist in the country. Why would anyone cut it apart?
“Hindi ko sinira ang award dahil galit ako o ano,” he explains. “Sinira ko siya para malagay siya diyan. Para masama siya sa art ko. ’Yong award, sa artist, isa lang siyang event ng buhay mo. Huwag kang magba-base doon. Kasi puwede siyang maka-apekto sa ’yo, e. Siyempre may particular painting ka na doon ka nanalo. Baka ’yon at ’yon na rin ang gagawin mo, e.”
Paintings of people—real people he has known and met—find their space on one of the walls, each portrait enclosed in random frames, some of them substantiated with words spray-painted in neon pink, or white, or black. The subjects, at least some of them, share his dark musings. For instance, he says the black-eyed man with a blank stare is a tattoo artist who played Russian roulette with himself twice, “di lang pumutok ’yong baril.” Another subject in the collection is a girl, an insomniac, just like Lynyrd. The erratic feel of this collection was intentional. “Alam mo ’yong di ka nag-iingat? Pati pagkakasabi ng mga nakasulat, gano’n. Para ma-feel mo na hindi kailangan mag-ingat sa buhay masyado para mabuhay.”
In another corner of the room, a television playing a series of videos—mostly arbitrary footage taken by Lynyrd—faces mirrors plastered on a wall, reflecting the images on the screen across. It’s an invitation of some sort: the watcher becomes part of the randomness of existence.
Then, there is his main piece on another side, “LAVP,” the initials of his full name, Lynyrd Arwyn Villanueva Paras. It’s a self-portrait, which he affixed on a piece of wood, enclosed in a frame, then sliced into several parts without any sense of calculation. The whole thing is made of 13 dissimilar pieces. It’s his meditation on death. “Netong January, ang daming namatay,” he says, mouthing one of his seemingly unfiltered thoughts. “Pinuntahan ko ’yong iba sa lamay. Meron akong friend, nagbigti, artist din. Habang ginagawa ko ’tong show, na-prove ko, gano’n pala talaga no? Lahat talaga walang value ’pag namatay ka. Hindi mo talaga madadala, literal. Walang saysay ang lahat sa kasaysayang wakas.”
“Sirain mo sarili mo”
One of the works placed inside one of the random frames was a painting of a person looking at a canvas, digging a hole through it. The words written across the person’s face read, “Influence Fucker.” When asked what it was about, he brought us back to an interview we did with him late last year, which we have not written about until now. He wants us to write about it still, for his peace of mind. “Parang gagawin mo lahat para makuha mo impluwensiya,” he says about the painting. “Para sumikat ka, kahit magsinungaling ka. Sirain mo sarili mo”.
It gets clearer.
The painting is about his ex-girlfriend, a fellow artist whose name he would rather not mention—although people in the art circle would, of course, know who she is. They were together for six years, and broke up in 2017. Last year, during the 6th edition of Art Fair Philippines, the girl had a much talked about show that, through both images and words, depicted a traumatic and toxic relationship with an ex-lover.
In our previous interview, Lynyrd told us he was the ex-lover in the works. Everyone in the art circle knew, their friends knew. He was the butt of everyone’s anger. “Nando’n ako lagi,” he told us—meaning he was there throughout the run of the fair. “Para ipakita ko na hindi totoo. ‘Nandito ako, haharap ako sa inyo.’ Pag may nagtanong sa akin, sasagutin ko. Hindi ako nagtago.”
After, the Art Fair, he let go and moved on.
Sometime in November 2018, the girl granted ANCX.ph an interview. In it, she talked about the emotional pain she went through while she was in a relationship with a guy she also would rather we do not name. Immediately after the interview was published, people began sending Lynyrd hateful messages—again—prompting him to ask us if he could give his side of the story.
He had talked about this at an interview before, for a different media outfit, but he decided to ask the publisher to cancel the story. “Peak niya [ex-girlfriend] ’yon, e. Panahon niya ’yon. Ayoko nang makasira,” he says.
But now he will speak, through words, and his art.
In our interview with the ex-girlfriend, she accused Lynyrd of many things, including verbal abuse, cheating, and of chiding her about her mental illness.
“Hindi ako gano’n kasamang tao”
Before they became a couple, Lynyrd had known of the girl’s mental illness, but admitted to being baffled by something he had not himself experienced—yet. Whenever she felt lonely, Lynyrd would go to her, even when her text messages would come in at three o’clock in the morning. He would accompany her to the doctor and drive her to the clinic for check ups, sometimes even if he had to drop work on his paintings. “Hindi ko mainitindihan ’yong sakit, e,” he says, meaning he didn’t fully understand the illness. “Siyempre nakapagsalita ako minsan ng, ‘Wala ’yan.’” But he says he never called her ‘Baliw.’ “Hindi ko sasabihin ’yon sa babae. Hindi ako gano’n kasamang tao.”
Art became her medicine, said Lynyrd. “Gumaling na siya. Pinagaling siya ng art kasi nagkaroon siya ng goal sa buhay.”
Lynyrd became a mentor to her and to her colleagues. He was still living in Pandacan, Manila at the time. When he decided to relocate to Laguna, a more peaceful environment where he thought he could focus more on his work, the girl followed. Soon, they were living together. “Akala ko hindi siya sasama sa akin kasi mayaman sila, e,” he recalled.
Around two years into the relationship, Lynyrd knew the relationship was doomed. “Naglabasan na ’yong mga ugali namin,” he said.
Sometimes, Lynyrd recalled, when it was time for him and his assistants to clean the Laguna studio, the girl would not even bother to help. Then, one time, when the amount of rice they had wasn’t enough for the people in the studio, the girl vented out on Lynyrd’s assistants, calling them, “patay gutom.” Lynyrd, as he told us, is a self-made man. The eldest of five children, he sent all of his siblings to school. The youngest sibling is the only one still studying. He grew up fending for himself and for his family.
“Mayaman, maganda, nandiyan na lahat. Kung mabuting tao ’yan, bakit ko iiwan?” Lynyrd asked. He admitted to initiating a break-up three times, but, “ayaw niyang pumayag.” On one occasion, he recalled, he thought it was finally over, but his heart somehow softened. She was looking for a place to paint in. “Wala siyang pagpe-paintingan, wala siyang lugar. Paano na siya? Paangat na siya, e. Siyempre mahal mo ’yong tao, six years.”
How the relationship lasted six years still puzzles him up to this day.
Lynyrd admitted to having slightly raised his voice toward her—once—and actually hurt her. It was a fight that sparked because of something she said, about Bob Dylan and the Korean pop group 2NE1 being on the same level of artistry. Even Joy Division, she was supposed to have said, is just like 2NE1. “Siyempre nag-init ulo ko, di ba? Siyempre ’yon ’yong mga hero ko,” Lynyrd recalled.
“Nasabihan ko siyang bobo,” he revealed. But that’s their language, he said, his and hers. They have always been blunt and unapologetic in their use of words, a trait sometimes evident in their works.
Were you loyal to her?
“Were you loyal to her?” we had to ask.
“Hindi,” he answered without second thought. “Kasi naghahanap talaga ako ng totoong love.” But he said the girl also cheated on him. He learned of her affair through his friends, and through strangers who sent him messages through his social media accounts. What hurt him the most was that the other guy was his friend, and one whom he also considered a “kuya.”
Years into their relationship, Lynyrd developed mental health issues. “Ako ’yong nagkasakit,” he revealed, clearly angry at the memory. “Hindi ako makapag-drive mag-isa; hindi ako makapasok ng mall.” He carried on like this for three years until he started seeing a psychologist. He said parting ways with his girlfriend did him good. “Gumaling ako no’ng naghiwalay kami.”
What confused Lynyrd was, when the Art Fair 2018 work came up, they had already been separated for a year. They were already in good terms. Or, in his words, “Okay kami.” During the fair, he talked to his ex-girlfriend and asked her about the cryptic messages and revealing photos of her being sent to him by strangers on social media. “’Tapos nakita ko umiyak na siya,” he said. Seeing her in tears scared him more than anything; he had, after all, been accused in public of dreadful behavior. “Isipin nila ina-ano ko na naman.”
To address their issues in a calmer setting, Lynyrd invited the girl to a restaurant where they could iron things out in private. “Sabi niya sa akin, ‘Inaantay ko mag-sorry ka, e.’” he said.
“Para matigil lang, nag-sorry ako. Ilang beses.”
She paid for his pasta. They parted ways as friends.
A year later, her interview with ANCX was published.
“Tingin ko nagagamit lang ako, e,” Lynyrd said of the article. “Para umingay na naman siya, or something. Sikat na siya. Hindi niya na kailangang gamitin ’yon. Kaya ko siya nasaktan kasi ako lang ’yong taong kayang mawala siya.”
At our Finale interview, Lynyrd discloses that the girl sent him a message a week before, asking him about a song. He replied to her. They’re fine now, he reiterates. Or maybe he’s just convincing himself they are. Then he looks at the “Influence Fucker” painting and asks us again to write his side of the story.
We look at the works one more time before leaving the room. The artist still wails from the backdoor, indeed, but now it’s loud enough for everyone to hear.
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