A furniture designer and manufacturer by profession, RV Basco leaves his comfort zone to fully pursue his passion for art.
By Gwen Bautista
When he was a teenager, RV Basco learned watercolor painting through a self-guide book owned by his father. From then on, he began working with the medium, but always found himself wanting to do more.
Basco remembers, “I’ve always wanted to learn how to paint with oil. Eventually, I tried the medium, and I was really, really struggling. It took me one year to finish my first oil painting!” After years of wondering if he will ever have the opportunity to live his lifelong dream of becoming an artist, Basco’s patience and perseverance has paid off as he recently had a series of successful one-man and group exhibitions.
His upcoming show will take place at Vongarde Art Gallery on 29 February 2020—a leap day. Vongarde will also bring his works to Tokyo since he is their featured artist for the Tokyo International Art Fair on June 5-6.
Timing is Everything
In the 90s, Basco went on a different path when he decided to study Industrial Design at the University of Santo Tomas. The times were different then and the lack of opportunity for artists became one of the hurdles as Basco made his way to adulthood. After college, he managed his own company, designing and manufacturing furniture. Then from 1997 to 2004, he worked in the shipping industry and had less time to pursue art. He felt that many of the works exhibited in galleries at that time had the same subjects and styles: sunsets, a mother and a child, or market scenes. His ardor for art had partially waned.
Basco was looking for something that would, at least, make him fervent about art once again. Then, in one of the few occasions when he had time to visit an art gallery, he found himself staring at a small colorful painting. It was the work of artist Manny Garibay, whom Basco has admired ever since. “Everything changed from there. I said, if this is what’s happening now, I want to try [painting] again,” he muses. But things didn’t pan out as he had excitedly planned—at least not yet.
Another decade passed, and suddenly, artist groups in social media became a thing. Basco was encouraged by the community of artists sharing their works online. He was inspired and took another chance at painting; this time, he was twice as passionate. He worked and completed one painting every week.
He thought to himself that by the end of the year, he’d be forty-eight times better than his first canvas. Later, he found out that while this quantitative measurement of practicing art can help strengthen one’s skill, it will never define an artist’s work. Instead, he contemplated on what his paintings would be about and determined that he’d paint works that could move the heart and mind of strangers and passersby, just as Garibay’s piece had inspired him years ago.
As he spent more time working on his art, Basco realized that navigating the art scene could be tricky. His wife Tina sent out his portfolio and proposals to different galleries until they found a space willing to take a risk in exhibiting a newcomer’s works. After months of searching, art dealer Dan Villacruel of Vongarde Art Gallery responded and expressed interest. Basco had his second solo show at Vongarde Art Gallery in December 2016 (his first was at Art Elements). This was the start of his partnership with Vongarde—one of the few galleries that believed in his work.
Soon the artist realized that he needed to plan things carefully, as he considered transitioning his career from business to becoming a full-time artist. He quips, “In art, you have full accountability. You are the only one to blame.” With this in mind, Basco discussed with his wife and only son how things might turn out.
He told them to think positively, but to be ready for the worst. The opportunity to build an art career coincided with running his furniture business—it no longer seemed sustainable due to scarcity of able craftsmen. He followed a five-year plan to see if he could pursue art while taking into account his family’s financial needs. The experience turned out to be both challenging and rewarding. In retrospect, he feels lucky to be starting his career late since he is better able to balance idealism with the practical side of art.
Many of Basco’s early works reflected figuration and social realism. He wanted to portray the normal lives of people dealing with their own struggles. His subjects never flashed a smile but instead appeared to be in a contemplative state—perhaps thinking about day-to-day problems they face. Basco’s interest in portraying the common man started decades ago when he lived in the chaotic neighborhood of the Malate district. He was amused by the fact that a certain place can be a site of contradictions: old Art Deco buildings that used to house Manila’s elite families are on the same street as the red-light district.
Protest rallies and marches were held in the area due to its proximity to Rizal Park and the US Embassy. Basco would take his camera and shoot these scenes. He was taken aback by how simple and yet complex reality is.
He decided to paint these narratives in a form and style that was different from the art of illustration he admired. Along with his love of fine art, Basco has long followed the works of artists featured in Heavy Metal (a science fiction and fantasy magazine) and British illustrator Ian Miller (who created book covers for H.P. Lovecraft).
On the other hand, he also feels connected to children’s book illustrations and cites Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree as a major influence in his work. While the idea of merging painting and illustration, social realism and fantasy may seem unusual to artists who are keen on keeping traditions, Basco has made it work by staying true to his instincts.
Two years ago, he was asked to create a visual interpretation of the folk song “Pakitong-Kitong,” sung by the legendary Lea Salonga for Awit at Laro—an initiative to re-introduce Filipino children’s songs and to raise funds for UNICEF. Even though he felt pressure with the time constraints and immensity of the task, Basco managed to produce a work that whimsically reflected the lyrics of the song.
Captain of His Ship
Throughout his life, Basco has taken calculated risks. He cautiously acted on his desire to make art and did everything in excruciating detail: building concepts and illustrating studies and sketches before painting. Whenever he accepts commissioned work, he takes the time to research about the collector and even assigns himself readings to prepare for how he would elucidate things on canvas. He knew every step he would take and believed every stroke of the brush would move him closer to sustaining his dream. And then in 2019, two of his siblings passed away within seven months of each other. These traumatic events pushed him to express himself more in his painting and to let his creativity and emotions flow.
It used to be that he was preoccupied with portraying the stories of other people. More recently, Basco has been thinking about the brevity of life and the importance of setting oneself free.
In his new series, a dominating subject appears in the image of a boy whose face and body can only be described as melancholic and perturbed. Nonetheless, the settings remain what seem like “magic realism,” as Basco integrates myth, allegory, and fable as a means of comprehending the intricacies of life. In his new set of works, the figure of a boy usually holds a miniature house. He clutches and clings to it as if the world depended on it. When asked if he thinks the boy is a representation of himself, Basco responds with “maybe” and admits that his works camouflage the seriousness of heavy sentiments through playful colors.
In a world where we are pitted against time, mortality, and unending fear, Basco brings us back to a state of sanity and hope. He says, “When you take a leap of faith and things don’t go your way, the only thing you can hold on to is belief.”
He concludes, “I think the ability to believe during free fall is strong enough to get you where you want to go.” For Basco, everything happens in due course, all in good time.