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The Skull School in Philippine Art

Picture: The illustration for "The Traveling Companion" is from the book, "HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN: ONCE UPON A TIME". The ten stories in the book were retold in English by Fran Ng and was published by Tahanan Books.

Something "sinister" is afoot in the Philippine art scene. For the past three years there had been a marked increase in the number of painters flaunting the skull motif in their artworks. Igan D`Bayan, the Philippine Star`s star columnist started it all. His 2007 first solo painting exhibit at the Crucible Gallery, "Apocalypse Jukebox", should be regarded as a milestone in Philippine art history, because after its astounding commercial success, there emerged a slew of imitators, and even an art group, 666, who profess fascination with themes of death, the occult and the macabre.

Igan was not the first to specialize in depicting gothic images here- there was Jose Legaspi, before him, and also, in a more subtle and still quite wholesome way, Ronaldo Ventura. But it was Igan who gathered around him a flock of disciples without his meaning to. Now, we have skulls galore everywhere we look. I`m exaggerating a bit of course, but keen observers of the art scene can see that skulls and bones have already been painted to death by many Filipino artists.

Although I don`t dig his theme, I am really a fan of Igan. I admire him for his audacity and his, I`m sure, pure non-commercial motives in creating his art. Igan asserts that he doesn`t care for wholesome paintings. He doesn`t aspire to be a favorite of interior designers and art collectors, that`s why it doesn`t bother him if his paintings won`t ever match the colors of an apartment`s curtains, sofas and walls. So, it`s really ironic that a fellow who painted not for commercial gain but purely for self-expression gets to sell all of his paintings in every exhibition. There`s no question about it- Igan is one of the few really original painters around. His technique is solely his own, and would quickly put to shame many fine arts graduates, with their mannered, overworked and less spontaneous brush strokes.

I wish that I can say the same things about his followers. I wish that their preoccupation with themes of death and decay is really genuine, and not just a marketing ploy similar to Dali`s strategy of feigning lunacy to attract attention. Because I doubt that there would be such a proliferation of skull-enamored painters if Igan D`Bayan`s exhibitions hadn`t been such stupendous commercial successes. There`s a market for the macabre and the unwholesome, see.

So, where does my illustration for the story, "The Traveling Companion", come in? Well, I posted it just to show that there is indeed skulls galore everywhere in the Philippine art scene, even in the field of picture book illustration. Incidentally, this illustration, was a left-over from my 2001 solo show of fairy tale illustrations at the Crucible Gallery. I sold it several years later to May C. Reyes, who until now hasn`t claim it. It is still in my possession. May confessed that although he liked my depiction of the beautiful princess very much, she found the skulls lined up in rows on both sides of the stairway disturbing. Maybe, after reading this, and finding out that skull paintings are such hot collectors` item nowadays, May will finally get over his fear of skulls and text me to please deliver to her, pronto, the Traveling Companion illustration. Hahaha...just kidding May.



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Shannon Lim

Press contact Co-founder Business Development 96855952 Artyii

Ng Cai Lin

Press contact Co-founder Business Development +65 94559944 Artyii