Ramel Villas is Homegrown


The long yet evocative history of Philippine art is replete with self-taught artists who have been struggling hard to be identified. They feel they can be creative enough and endowed with the same working hands to fill up a canvas or two. Not since becoming the first apprentices who assisted the masters in depicting murals in churches and public buildings have they emerged from a more practical need as they could not afford or were excluded from the formal fine art schools since the early 19th century. This probably explains why most of our earliest surviving religious and genre paintings and portraits from this period were standardly unsigned. They remain admired yet unrecognized to this day. Aesthetically, there seems to be a folk-like style in terms of how they freely compose their images from imagination, something unobtrusive with how they compose their subjects.

One such painter is Angono-based painter Ramel Villas. Although very much of what he knows is similar to visual oiuido, the art of Villas displays unrefined yet lush imagination. He proudly confesses he does not suffer from any lack of self-esteem or does not longs for the company for other artists brought about by his lack of a fine arts diploma. Even in Angono where he is based, in this highly artistic small town of Botong Francisco with a living school of more self-taught artists inspired by his apprentices, Villas still remains an outsider. Never mind it was just a mere coincidence that the Villas had decided to find a studio there for his art practice.  

The Novelist, Oil on Canvas 48 x 36 inches, 2012

Fond of that sentimental old world charm, it was that endangered yet functional typewriter, smacked right on an intense man’s head in The Novelist that got me interested to write about Villas. How this haggard-looking mustached man with his bloodshot eyes contemplates the viewer, compelling him to stare some more in the process. One immediately notices the rough texture of Villas’ brushstrokes, devoid of any of that Photoshop application commonly used these fast paced days. The viewer is further drawn deeper to his playground of metaphors: how Villas hands you the perspective, leaving you how to come up with your own version of such hopscotch narrative. A unicorn evoking attention while a castle of a bygone era looms. Given their desperate stance are the lovers who are about to part ways? And with time against their side, the option to escape as imposed by the hot air balloon remains to be the only spurious option. Their only moment is now.

More than decorative in intent, Villas uses symbols so well, functioning like some guide you that hint as how to conjure up with your perspective of the story. 

Mr. Brightside, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 36 inches, 2012
Art writer Philip Paraan who wrote on Villas one-man exhibition at the Galerie Anna (where most of these pieces were hanged) commented that these artworks “as vessels of thought, his paintings evoke hope and the intention to find beauty and harmony in chaos. This artist has been known to paint lush and detailed compositions, at times remarked to be even too detailed if not lacking focus or what others would say, an image overload. But such is the visual gambit that Villas embraces, to achieve a dynamic spread and dispersion in unity where all elements can be focal at any given time.”   

Mr. Brightside seems to be the perfect painting for this season of joy and hope. In fact Villas volunteers to infect you with his luminous message of positivity. Villas adds: Clear sight, happy inside, I am Mr. Bright side. Part of my process is to just keep painting as my thoughts flash with images from dreams. With the smiling face with a butterfly for an eye in front of you one explores various icons that is close to the subject matter i wanted. It is like connecting to the audience, like surprising 
someone by showing your face.

Feria, Oil on Canvas.48 x 36 inches, 2013 
Placing third at the Art Association of the Philippines National Art Competition in 2009 made Villas decide to be a full-time painter. He was also finalist in this year’s Tanaw: Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas National Painting Competition with his work Feria (Latin for “free day”).

Feria, as part of the fiesta, is his tribute to this dying culture of honoring the patron saints of towns. Villas realized: art as a wonderful blessing that is delightful to share. I might say that I’m just telling stories in a visual manner however I’m not a preacher. All I want for people is to see my stories. It will be a delight if people will find something essential in my works.

Oftalmologo is an example of that he has what comprises as “three stars and the sun” sentiment. Having some sense of history induced in this piece while displaying his usual take at various levels of interpretations. A wall-bound Jose Rizal field trip if you may, everything you need to know in a capsule: The feathered plume with his writings, the crocodile reference in his novel El Filibusterismo, the soup heater (not lamp as others claim) where his Huling Paalam was safely kept, the love of his life. As an ophthalmologist, he is also a figurative seer of our nation’s future. On this day of his martyrdom, Villas piece philosophically asks where are we in seeing the vision of what Rizal saw.

Like a reverend soul trapped in a 31 year old body, Villas who is the eldest in a brood of five from Quezon province, considers his depictions to be his longings. The layered images on top his main subjects are “his thoughts out loud.” He volunteers to add: I will always wonder about works of Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. Magic comes in appearance of daubs and slashes of paints in raw, loaded with emotions. In painting manner I’m respect tradition. Meanwhile, Salvador Dali sparks confidence in me in letting my dreams out.

Oftalmologo, Oil on Canvas. 48 x 24 inches, 2012
Reviewing the works of Villas the science writer Philip Jose Farmer comes to my mind. Farmer had his Riverworld series where he would often interlude real personalities like Mozart, Jack London met with his fictional characters in another world. Remember this was started in the 70s thus it was political, pleasurable and personal (even Farmer was there in his stories). A critic said it was “theology, pornography in an adventure.” Think Sir Richard Burton meeting Mark Twain. Like Farmer, the possibilities are without boundaries and Villas is just warming up.
Paraan unravels some more for Villas: His emblematic game purposely rearranges, in a playful and curious way, images and themes with known and immediate references showing his penchant for jolting images with such flexibility. His canvases produce such mingling of elements and understated juxtapositions that usually transcend time and boundaries and even cultural affinities as if they refuse to stay in their domain and normal associations. With his consistent mutation of usage and context in symbols, he seems to acts against the mechanistic way of seeing and representation but in the end results in with terrific cumulative energies and awe. Like a steady flowing stream, his art he could sound the mind’s dark depths more subtly than would the overtly grotesque and disturbing juxtapositions.
Villas explains more on his process: Creating a piece is a form of meditation for me. Every work is like a journal but not all of them are my own stories, but extract of my observation. Images around are symbols. I don’t consider them as support, but they are the essence and the heart of the piece. It is a challenge for me to put together symbols that most of the time people may find irrelevant and image overload. One goal in my composition is to find harmony over chaos.

In the midst of burgeoning art fairs and biennales where art concepts literally occupy spaces in a room, there seems to be a lack discourse and discussing much about two-dimensional paintings. The belief that a canvas can still sum up one’s thoughts is still startling and quite comforting. This untrained yet skillful should we say “craftsman” like Villas, whatever he lacked in acquired rudiments in the classroom, he very well make up with the forcefulness of his brushstrokes with organic originality.