Pongbayog’s father, who was a farmer, had dreams of being an artist, and these dreams would reach his son through stories. He carried these dreams with him as a young boy. In elementary school he sold water door-to-door and saved up enough money to buy watercolor paints and cartolina. In college, he borrowed books about the art of the old masters, where his fascination on human anatomy, like God moulding man from clay, took shape. “Yung mga books na nakikita ko doon sa library namin, about po doon sa Renaissance masters. Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, ganun po,” he says.
Marrie Saplad’s artistic wheelhouse is the world of objects. As Pongbayog’s mentee and wife, she watched her husband paint glass one day, and found something sublime in the object, transparent and clear. “Gusto ko talaga i-pinta yung bote, kasi parang nakaka-inspire yung mga reflection sa bote na iba-iba ang nakikita mo. Sa isang bote, bote mo lang siya titignan. Pero pag iba-iba ang reflection na nagpapaligod sa kanya, iba-iba din yung magiging porma sa isang bote.” Transparency becomes a canvas, and clarity provides an opportunity for illusion.
Pongbayog and Saplad’s last joint show was called “VESSELS,” a play on how the role of objects for the physical can be assumed by people for the spiritual. Their thematic focuses and powers take full effect in the new virtual gallery by ANCX, with DF Art Agency and Art Moments Jakarta.
Marrie Saplad’s piece “Round Vessel” is a simple, still life ode to the grace of one round, perfectly crafted glass. It’s monochrome but arresting—Saplad’s touch possesses a command of shadow that makes the object look eerie, almost untouchable.
Pongbayog’s piece “Purity” on the other hand takes inspiration from Saplad’s still life work. It is a portrait of Saplad with her back turned, and it aims to capture the purity, the sacredness, of his wife’s soul. There is a ghostly quality to “Purity,” the way Pongbayog portrays a figure that, had he not painted it, would disappear just as soon as it registered in your line of sight.
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It seems that for both figure painting and still life, there is more than meets the eye, more to it than just the literal. With just black and white and grey, Pongbayog and Saplad conjure the spiritual.
It seems that talk of the spirit is in such short supply these days—a pandemic-focused news cycle reminds us all the time about the fragility of our bodies. Pongbayog and Saplad care for an immunodeficient daughter, which means the anxieties of going out into the world to run errands and practicing their art pile extra high for them. I ask if art provides some source of solace. “Nakakabigay po [ang pandemic] ng idea, pero sa ngayon, di ko pa po siya magawa,” Pongbayog says. “Medyo mahirap.” Well. God, like art, can test the heart in surprising ways.
Actual Virtual Gallery: publish.exhibbit.com
DF Art Agency: issuu.co
Photographs courtesy of DF Arts Agency