Mirroring, Multiplying: The Start and End Points of the Tuklas Program, Manila

The year-end exhibition of the Manila-based Eskinita Art Gallery is a culmination of its Tuklas Program, an annual mentorship project which aims to hone the talents of young artists.

Art Radar checks out this new mentorship programme whose creators are Filipino social realist painters, Alfredo Esquillo and Renato Habulan.

Isko Andrade, ‘Altered: A Few Inches Bigger, A Little Less to Lose’, 2017, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Isko Andrade, ‘Altered: A Few Inches Bigger, A Little Less to Lose’, 2017, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 in. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Why come with a year-long mentorship program when a gallery could just stick with visiting artist studios and selecting pieces to include in their shows? The answer has to do with wanting to pay things forward, which brings us to the remarkable inspirations behind the mentorship programme in focus: the Tuklas (Filipino term for “discovery”) Program of the recently established artist-run Eskinita Art Gallery.

Created by the gallery’s founder Alfredo Esquillo and its resident curator Renato Habulan, the Tuklas Program mirrors experiences and opportunities that the two social realist painters have gone through in their many years of art-making.

Most notable, is the lifelong mentee-mentor relationship that exists between the two, which Esquillo claims to have been very helpful in his career. “I entered college in 1989 and met Sir Ato (the nickname of Habulan) in 1991. Since 1991, he has been mentoring me,” says Esquillo as he smiles at the memory:

Hilig at natural sa kanya ang maging teacher (Teaching is his passion and something that’s natural for him). Everytime he asks me about my situation, he inserts some form of advice.  Yung pakunti-kunting sinasabi niya ay tumatanim. Feeling ko na tuwing kinakausap ko siya, solved na ang problema ko afterwards. (His advice, though given little-by-little, is engrained in you. I feel that everytime we would converse, all my problems are solved afterwards.)

Carlo de Laza, ‘The Cycle of Self-Doubt’, 2017, resin, 12 x 16 x 15.5 inches. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Carlo de Laza, ‘The Cycle of Self-Doubt’, 2017, resin, 12 x 16 x 15.5 in. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Being an artist who has experienced first hand Habulan’s effective mentoring, Esquillo immediately agreed to the idea, suggested by his mentor and fellow-artist, of including the Tuklas Program in his gallery’s list of activities. As it turns out, the Tuklas Program is actually something that Habulan himself went through. In a video interview conducted by the Eskinita Art Gallery, Habulan reveals that the project is a revival of an awards programme that the Center for Advancement of Young Artists (CAYA) used to have. According to him, CAYA’s Tuklas Awards, which happened in the 1970s, was essential in launching the careers of many social-realist artists of his generation.

Upon seeing that not many talented and deserving artists are being given “good breaks” nowadays, Habulan thought it is only timely that the Tuklas be rebooted. Like the original programme, Eskinita Art Gallery’s Tuklas Program seeks young and promising artists and lets these artists go through a period of guidance. In this case, the eight artists chosen to be part of the first batch went through Saturday sessions in the gallery, wherein works were discussed and critiqued, certain techniques were improved, and artistic visions were helped clarified.

Michelle Ballesteros, ‘Faith Killer’, 2017, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Michelle Ballesteros, ‘Faith Killer’, 2017, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 in. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Continuity of Work

In order to see the development of the participating artists, they were granted a year-end group exhibition. This culmination also determines which four out of the eight artists will be awarded with sponsored solo shows at the gallery in 2018.

Esquillo spells out the implications of granting them solo exhibitions:

Ang observation kasi namin sa mga bata na sumasali ng painting contests ay ang daming nananalo. Ang gagaling! Pero ang mga contests kasi, paisa-isang pyesa lang iyan. So after sila manalo, marami ang nawawala rin. Kasi nga pagkatapos manalo at pagkatapos bigyan ng recognition, isang painting lang ang pinag-uusapan. (We have observed that when children join painting contests, many of them win. They are very talented, afterall! But it has to be noted that these contests reward you for only one work. So after their win, these young artists immediatelydisappear, too. The main reason for this is they keep dwelling on their winning painting.)

Marc Leo Maac, ‘ Lightstruck and Accidental Loss’, 2017, oil on canvas, 48 x 96 inches. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Marc Leo Maac, ‘ Lightstruck and Accidental Loss’, 2017, oil on canvas, 48 x 96 in. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Gusto naming masundan nila ang sarili nilang gawa. (We want them to follow through with their work),” he continues with a firm tone:

Gusto naming makapag-produce sila ng solo show o body of work na tight – yung kayang sabihin talaga ang message na gusto nilang sabihin. (We want them to come up with a solo show or a body of work that’s tight – something that’s able to really express what they really want to say as artists.)

Lawrence Cervantes, ‘Falling Woman on the Greenfields’, 2017, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Lawrence Cervantes, ‘Falling Woman on the Greenfields’, 2017, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 in. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

The Pioneer Eight

Diversity is greatly felt among eight artists who comprise the first batch of the Tuklas Program. A number of them, for instance, graduated from art school, while there is one who was encouraged by a pastor to start and pursue painting. There, too, is someone who greatly values being part of a collective and interacting, while another prefers to paint in isolation, which entails proactively not looking at the works of others. Despite these differences in beginnings and preferences, the eight – Isko Andrade, Michelle Ballesteros, Lawrence Cervantes, Denmark Dela Cruz, Carlo De Laza, Harry Mark Gonzales, Mark Leo Maac and Marvin Quizon – share the talent and passion for art-making and are extremely diligent and competitive at it, as noted by Esquillo.

What aspects of their work did the mentorship program address then? Esquillo cites strategies in composition, pursuing themes and a few technical aspects, such as brushstrokes and colour composition. “These can still be refined. May i-pupush pa. (Their work can still be improved),” states Esquillo.

Harry Mark Gonzales, ‘Inang Tubig’, 2017, cold cast marble, 28 x 12 x 8 inches. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Harry Mark Gonzales, ‘Inang Tubig’, 2017, cold cast marble, 28 x 12 x 8 in. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

The mentoring also addresses issues such as time management, handling commissions and finding that “sense of comfort” when talking about one’s own artwork – issues which the founders have gone through, as the gallery founder confims:

May mirroring effect dito (Tuklas has a mirroring effect). Dito sa Tuklas, nababalikan ko ang dati kong experience na ngayong dinadaanan nila. (This program takes me back to old experiences –things that the eight are now experiencing themselves. It’s been a reminder of my past.)

Denmark Dela Cruz, ‘Tatsulok’, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Denmark Dela Cruz, ‘Tatsulok’, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 in. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Marvin Quizon, ‘The Eternal’, 2017, graphite and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Marvin Quizon, ‘The Eternal’, 2017, graphite and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 in. Image courtesy Eskinita Art Gallery.

Win-Win: the Next Steps

While Esquillo and Habulan intended to grant only four artists a fully sponsored solo show in 2018, it was announced last 8 December that all eight artists will be given one. “All eight of them deserve it!”, comments Esquillo after praising their evident talents and continuous perseverance. As a result, the eight will soon be joining Esquillo and Habulan’s studio sessions in Makiling, wherein they will receive mentorship from the established artists as they work their first solo exhibitions.

Andrade, Ballesteros, Cervantes, Dela Cruz, De Laza, Gonzales, Maac and Quizon will also participate in a residency in Casa San Pablo, one of the Eskinita Art Gallery’s many partners, which involves the Tuklas recipients in teaching the public school teachers. Other than helping them articulate their thoughts, Esquillo adds that “the purpose of this is to have a multiplier effect, so that many more can appreciate art more.”

Javelyn Ramos

1997

Tuklas Mentorship Program 2017 exhibition is on view from 25 November to 20 December 2017 at the Eskinita Art Gallery, 2nd Floor Makati Square, Chino Roces Ave., Makati City, 1230.

Related posts: Filipino, painting, emerging artistsresidencies, Manila

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