Text by Mara Fabella; Photos courtesy of Galerie Roberto
Despite becoming one of the peak metropolitan centers of the Philippines, Cebu has still managed to preserve its natural environments. In Southern Isle, ten artists from the Aroma Art Atelier, led by Orley Ypon, indulge viewers with a picturesque glimpse of these idyllic landscapes from their homeland.
After gaining considerable recognition for his art, including the NCCA Dangal ng Ani award in 2011, Ypon founded the Aroma Art Atelier in 2015 in Toledo, Cebu. Ypon mentored artists from diverse backgrounds in the tradition of artistic Realism that has come to define his craft. Through their own varied techniques, these artists depict Cebu’s countryside in a manner that not only attests to their technical skills but expresses the emotion they feel for it.
Darby Alcoseba and Ricky Eslao share their iterations of the Cebuano sunset by the sea, with their works both titled Golden Hour. Alcoseba renders a subdued and relaxing sunset by the harbor, while Eslao uses darker tones to depict a more dynamic sunset far out at sea.
Many of the works manage to feel both panoramic, yet down-to-earth. In Eslao’s Seashore Dwelling, he depicts a shoreline that draws the eye far into the distance while a humble beach-side abode reels viewers’ attention back in. Tranquilino Ypon’s Sudlon uses aerial perspective to convey a vast landscape, while the figures in the foreground make this seem like a mundane view.
Landscape painting was popularized by the Impressionists, and it is because of this that the genre seems to evoke a chiefly Western ideal. Viewing the works of this exhibit, one could easily mistake them as depicting European vistas far off from the Atelier artists’ home turf. It is the distinctly more earth-toned color palette that helps remind viewers that they do not need to travel too far from home to see these bucolic landscapes themselves
In Orley Ypon’s Backyard, a woman sweeps refuse toward a burning pile in what is likely her backyard while dogs casually lounge around. Ypon’s mastery of realism is on full display here, as the work is awash in meticulous detail – from the fine strokes that make up the burning barks, to the sunlit canopy of light green leaves that hangs over the scene. But perhaps the most striking display of Ypon’s skill is the painstakingly realized mesh fence that borders the background, with each individual line of each diamond consistently rendered and accordingly illuminated against the light.
“Despite its urban modernity propelled by commerce, industry, and technology, Cebu remains an Edenic isle, with its still enchanting Arcadian countryside,” Cid Reyes writes in the exhibition notes. The artists of the Aroma Art Atelier pay tribute to this in their own individual ways, whether through Maria Francisca Juarez’s impasto foliage or Crispin Bobier’s depiction of agrarian labor.
At the same time, the exhibit pays tribute to the practice of traditional landscape painting itself. This genre is almost isolated from the rest of the local art scene that seems, for the most part, focused on more contemporary art forms. Southern Isle is a homage to the beauty of Cebu and the beauty of landscape painting in its power to evoke both realism and the nostalgia of home.
Southern Isle was on view at Galerie Roberto from July 26 to August 14, 2019.
This article is part of a series of submissions from the “Art Writing for Media” workshop hosted by Art+ Magazine and Kwago