Andres Barrioquinto prefers to talk about the music he likes more than his art. He can tell you about the unwavering ingenuity of Morrissey, the melancholia of Mazzy Star, and the angst in the Soundgarden discography. When it comes to his work, the words arrive rather slowly. “Hindi ako magaling sa words,” Barrioquinto, the son of a newspaper editor, admits. And when he finds them, the words just go back to the music.
“Parang song ni Morrissey, galit siya pero ‘yung tunog melancholic.” This is how Barrioquinto describes the macabre works that have earned him numerous awards, including the prestigious 13 Artists Award from the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2003 (a stellar year that included Kiko Escora, Nona Garcia, Geraldine Javier, Ronald Ventura and Ringo Bonoan in the list), as well as countless auction sales. His music preferences are also what fuel his art.
At his wall-to-wall white studio deep in the northern suburbs of Metro Manila, Barrioquinto likes to play music by The Doors, Joy Division, Morrissey, Soundgarden, etc. in full blast when he paints. “Kapag nag-pe-paint ako, nag-iisip ako [kaya kailangan may music],” he says. But during our visit, his studio is quiet as he shows us the few finished pieces from his upcoming show.
Portraits by the artist
Barrioquinto painstakingly applies tiny strokes on Ben Chan’s Cupid bow. His eyes fixed on the painting, his brows meeting in what is almost—but not quite—a frown. He lets the brush rest in between his lips, grabs another fine-tipped brush with his right hand, and continues to work on the minuscule details right above his elaborate rendition of the retail magnate’s mouth.
In this painting, Chan gazes down with slightly curled lips, as if humbly accepting praise. Or could it perhaps also be a more sinister expression? Here, Barrioquinto renders his skin in monochrome. The only source of color is a layer of Japanese patterns over his face.
At the other end of the room, a portrait of Bea Zobel Jr. rests against the wall. Situated against natural scenery, Barrioquinto profiles her in subdued hues. In contrast, he also places dainty blooms in vibrant tones over her hair.
Chan and Zobel are just two of the 18 individuals Barrioquinto has agreed to paint for his forthcoming portrait exhibit at the National Museum in November. Titled “Portraits by Andres Barrioquinto,” the show presents portraits of various known Filipino personalities including Josie Natori, Grace Baja, Cecile Ang, Sheila Romero, Jessica Kienle-Maxwell, Audrey Tan-Zubiri, Grace Ang, Abby Binay, Small Laude, Lita Cruz, Robbie Santos, Juliana Gomez and Kevin Zonnenberg. For some of these names, their portraits will be their first Barrioquinto. The idea for this exhibit occurred to the artist about two years ago—at that time actor Richard Gomez commissioned the artist to do a portrait of his wife Lucy Torres.
Earlier, the title of the show was, in fact, a reference to a 1979 Pink Floyd song, "The Happiest Days of Our Lives." When the show was still untitled, Barrioquinto stumbled upon the track after a random diner requested it at Mozek—the artist’s bar in Mindanao Avenue. It had been a while since he last listened to it, but at that moment, the song resonated with the project he had in mind.
Done in his signature style
The paintings Barrioquinto will present in November are done in his familiar surreal imprint. Here, he revisits—or even continues—the narrative style of his select worksfrom his 2015 portfolio. In those pieces, the subjects are also done in an almost lifeless monochrome with their faces hidden behind an assortment of elements in arresting colors. This time, the signature Barrioquinto elements return only to adorn the canvas and simply accompany the rather familiar faces. Despite his familiarity with the style, Barrioquinto finds this exhibit to be a little challenging.
More than his scrupulous creative process, the artist approaches this new work with an elaborate and whimsical aesthetic. Although these portraits are grim, they are more dreamy than scary. As Barrioquinto puts it, these are what he considers his “beautiful” work. “Mas mahirap gumawa ng beautiful kaysa dark,” he says. “Kaya sa Beatles mas gusto ko si Paul McCartney kasi nagagawa niya ‘yung masasayang songs.” Despite the vibrant play of colors in each piece, a silent bleakness can’t help but insinuate itself.
Barrioquinto has always been inclined to painting odd figures, even early in his career. He subscribes to the idea that art is not always meant to be beautiful—it should try to make sense of the strange and imperfect. His tendency to favor grim subject matters—from a depiction of him being swallowed by a strange figure in A Madman in My Head to a painting of a woman against a background of fire in Black Hole Sun—has earned him the moniker “The Dark Man of Philippine Art.”
His dark materials
When Barrioquinto was still an angry young man, he spent a part of his years in Hong Kong. There, he often got into brawls with other teens—even gangsters. Growing up in this environment is one of the few elements that informs the nature of his early works. Since then, he has always been able to let the viewer take a peek at the winding labyrinth of the mind.
There is a stern quality to Barrioquinto, but there is also a resolute calm in his countenance. These days, the artist is in a much lighter state of mind. He has perhaps reached the euphoria the title of his new show suggests, and he is at peace. “Ngayon hindi naman ako galit na pero ‘yung mundo galit pa rin,” he quips and lets out a laugh.
Finding the light
Barrioquinto’s maturity can only be the result of unwavering discipline in his practice. But beyond the canvas, he has developed a rhythm around his young family. He has also become more mindful of his welfare: going to the gym and getting eight hours of sleep a night are a must.
Since he started his career in the 1990s, Barrioquinto has been a prolific painter. Does he ever grow tired? He does, which is why he shifts styles from time to time.
And when he can’t face the canvas, he steps away from art. He would try to learn how to operate the mixer he received from the collector Bigboy Cheng. Or maybe he visits Mozek, plays a record from his growing collection, grabs a drink, and listens to music until he gets back into the rhythm of work.
Right now, Barrioquinto seems unstoppable. He just beat his own record at the Sotheby’s Auction in Hong Kong early this month, with his piece “Arms Around Your Love” selling for 2,000,000 HKD from a starting price of 300,000 HKD. After the show in November, the artist is slated to prepare for several exhibitions until 2021. He’s still in the early stages of preparations for these undertakings, but he suddenly comes up with an idea for a future show offhand. He imagines a landscape in desolation, as though paradise were in trouble. His aura and the atmosphere around us maybe of lightness, but a quiet shadow can’t help but pop up from time to time.
Portraits by Andres Barrioquinto opens November 8 at the Osmeña Hall, National Museum of Fine Arts, Padre Burgos Drive, Ermita, Manila. It is presented in celebration of the Asian Cultura Council's 55th anniversary.
Photographs by Jinggo Montenejo