Arnel Ramiscal: Art as Essential as Breathing

By Jay Bautista

In an old humble apartment, along a dark alley somewhere in West Rembo in Makati, like clockwork in sync with the crowing rooster by daybreak, moments before the desperate multitude rush to the streets, for the last five years Arnel Ramiscal habitually wakes up and does “this personal karmic thing.”

It doesn’t take more than five minutes to rouse him from his sleep and meditate himself to do his essential yoga. On an empty stomach but with a clear mind, with various stretching, twisting, and squeezing, this usually lasts until an hour.

With an acquired energy so high and an inherent focus rabidly intense afterwards, the same 60-square meter space, where Ramiscal grew up in with his six other siblings back in the 80s, transforms into his studio and workshop.

As the reality of the morning creeps in, Ramiscal’s unconscious takes full control. Observing him at work, he smears, rubs and even incises his canvases and on paper to enable him to continuously filling them up relying much on his instinct. Ramiscal is delighted by mixing various indigenous materials and combining them with oil or acrylic paint, oftentimes with mud powdered pigment to give it that rich texture he longs for in his works.

Inner Tuning, Detail

“Art is but a preparation for that bigger art, the art of living” Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), a Sri Lankan art critic and curator, once said. And to fully grasp the recent works of Ramiscal is to understand him in the purity of his context. Such is his simple art, basic life, and this is the essence of Ramiscal’s third solo exhibition entitled Dungan (Colors of the Soul) which is a common word for “soul,” a word both accepted in the provinces of the northern and southern Philippines.

For the last five years, Ramiscal has adopted and adapted to the benefits of yoga to his art. As a practicing environmentalist and also a performance artist, this graduate of Philippine Women’s University imparts his feelings on canvas by finding the preferred spaces within lines and colors.

Blending indigenous designs with elements of yoga, his continuous round and geometric figures are common in his artworks. Previously known for his tea-stained mocha-colored paintings of various unusual sizes of rustic and old feel, Ramiscal explores in depth for this show, titles like Heart of the Soul, Soul Circuit, Inner Tuning Mystical Union, and Uplifting Vibration give one a semblance of more meditative sense. His big gray round figures may look like a kindergarten’s writing exercise however the scribbled effect is actually painted gray strokes, resembling manually penciled circles in his masterpieces. It is in the process of doing and undoing that he attains fulfillment. By painstakingly doing this, through constant practice, he hears a timbre sound, similar to a hum from a husky voice, which excites him even more.

Mystical Union, 2009

His cross-motifs are culled from our indigenous people like the designs in the textile cloths of the T’bolis and Igorots. Being also a body painter and a tattoo artist, what may strike the viewer, as shown in his biggest work, Mata ng Dungan, which he specially executed for this show, are the cross and box-like images which were literally stitched on plywood. Here he denounces his frustrations in the environment, failure of religion or rampant poverty he witnesses or is part of, is seen in the crosses and squares. What he may lack in lyricism and harmony, he compliments with the forceful vigor of his colors and brushstrokes. He continues to paint dazzling and lurid colors as he paves the way to a more social, as his processes and materials he used, more enticing as there is more truth in the unspoiled, with never ending perspective.

Viewers may find crudeness in his jumbled up images. Some people may find his works rather loose or unordered, however every line has a meaning and every rounded form follows an age-old system. His paintings stresses the value of spontaneity, his gestural paintings exudes positive energy and contentment. As most abstract works are somewhat like gift wrappers in bookstores, so passive and lifeless. Ramiscal is not as evident in the chakra colors he uses.

His charka colors command in his works as he delights with its meaning. With Violet being the highest being one with the infinite and used with grace, other colors such as indigo, red, orange, yellow and green abound his paintings. Compassion and subtlety are key values that reflect in his expressions.

Heart of the Soul, 2009

The art pieces may be subtle but are meant to evoke positive compassion which is not forceful yet unintelligible and inexplicable. Ramiscal is totally unhindered by any western or academic canon, in fact he had to unlearn everything what fine arts has taught him, what remains is his passion to his craft.

Philippine abstract has come of age with the advent of Dungan (Colors of the Soul). Although for lack of an art classification he doesn’t want his works to be considered non-figurative rather let it be the formless response to his creative impulse. There is nothing that is not related to his well-being. Everything has its own purpose and he considers himself as his own artwork.

The exhibit is ongoing at the Galerie Anna, 4/f Artwalk, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City until November 9, 2009.