Ram Mallari’s works represent an evolution of the found object.
What is the difference between Modern and Contemporary visual art? This is a question that often drives the art discourse. It’s clear that a new kind of visual art emerged towards the end of the Salon period in the 19th century—when the rigidity of the academe gave way to Impressionism’s experiments in subject and mood. A true line was crossed, however, when the very notion of media was brought forth as worthy of investigation: Should art be confined to the categories of painting and sculpture?
On one hand, both artists are thoroughly referred to as Modernists. On the other hand, their insistence on debasing the orthodoxy of medium left a lasting impression on their heirs: the Surrealists, the Abstract Expressionists, and ultimately, the Conceptualists. Artist Ram Mallari can be considered the climax of this historical trajectory.
Throughout Mallari’s oeuvre are pop culture imagery re-imagined as proto-Victorian industrial objects. The artist, a one time draftsman, relates how he took a piece of scrap metal and turned it into a beautiful piece of art—and he hasn’t looked back. “It just happened one day,” says the artist. “I saw abandoned and rusted metals. I felt them beckoning to me…wanting me to transform them. I find hidden in each of them images so compelling, so grand, so inspiring, so magical.”
Indeed, Mallari represents an evolution of the found object, turning them into completely unexpected works that inspire wonder. There is also a larger explanation to Mallari’s affinity with these objects: he studied architecture at the Technological Institute of the Philippines, giving him a good sense of space, volume, and familiarity with construction techniques.
The artist’s big break came from his participation in 2013’s Greenstallation, a project by Ayala Museum and Nuvali in Sta. Rosa. Celebrated during Earth Day, Mallari joined art heavyweights Eduardo Castrillo, Michael Cacnio, and architect Juan Carlo Calma in creating public art pieces that were showcased in the Nuvali complex. Mallari’s contribution, called “The Last Tree,” is a wonderful example of his industrial aesthetic. Depicting a man crouching with a tree sapling in his hands, in the act of planting what is to become a forest, this large sculpture demonstrates Mallari’s ability to utilize a thoroughly inorganic medium to represent what is inherently organic. While the gears and cogs are visible, the entire figure exudes a flexibility and softness that is brilliantly human. “I am a person before I am anything else,” he declares. “I never say I am a welder, I never say I am an artist. I am a person who does all these things.”
Ultimately, this is what Ram Mallari brings to the art world—a new way to look at and utilize found objects. It’s a redefinition of objects as high-quality sculptures that reflect his own broad range of interests. As a window into his worldview, it is imaginative, visionary, and deeply personal.
Take, for instance, his recent sculpture “Steamtrooper X”—a bust of what is ostensibly a Stormtrooper from George Lucas’ Star Wars series assembled using found gear. Mallari takes what is a recognizable pop culture trope and repurposes the subject as he repurposes the material.
In a way, it is a nested approach: like a matryoshka doll, material is considered first, and within are layers of concept. Similarly, Mallari’s “Super Cell,” a part of his Mecha Beast series, examines the same kind of nested aesthetic approach. On the outside, a mythical winged bull charges at an invisible foe. But within the body are layers of cogs and gears that belie underlying commentary on industrialism, mechanization, and renewal.
Mallari’s approach reveals an artist engrossed in the nuances of aesthetics as he is with the philosophical underpinnings of his choice of subject. His practice stands as one of the most provocative of his generation.