Ricky Ambagan: Bookmarks

(for Gabriel Garcia Marquez 1927-2014)

Very few Filipino artists figure prominently in as many national art competitions and still produce a distinct body of work as they eventually mature in their foregoing artistic careers. In Here Comes the Sun Ricky Ambagan revisits his past visual triumphs while traversing in new realms of visual dialogues. Thematically tempered by books, these bundled pages in between covers, some pieces personally essay like art journals in coded languages while others become more social in their current pronouncements. Transforming these near-obsolete tomes into stages of conflicts, each layer in the bookshelves serves as a arena of issues, possibilities and realizations.

While growing up Ambagan reminisces being impressed by the presence of encyclopedia volumes as semantics of affluence upon inhabiting the private spaces of his friends’ homes. Books would become his acclaimed prerequisite as one acquires a certain taste in lifestyle reflecting one’s stature in society.
In his famous essay Unpacking My Library critic and intellectual Walter Benjamin sought the dialectical in the function of books. Aside from the pleasure of actively squinting of one’s eyes in between lines, books aid to alleviate in the rudiments of writing creatively or exhibiting the obvious upon viewers its collective decorative interface.
Shadow of Wisdom, 2014

Acquiring of books has become status events as recent auctions prove more collectors purchase books in lots for the sheer aesthetics they project. Shadow of Wisdom is a solitary testimony of the long and short argument of the demise and eventual futility of books being read. As our digital age challenges its impending existence, devoid of emotion this lone advocate remains steadfast as it puts up a last defiant stand against the fading of this old world reminder. An unread book on a shelf is a marker of a better time spent than reading it, of the time your mind wonder that there are greater minds than yours and a book is a tribute to that achievement.

Let It Go, 2014

Although stark in depiction, Let It Go looks forward to the blue horizon of how books will matter to the next generation. Shelf life is the difference between actual books and electronic kind, and this cannot replace the romance of turning its original pulp and be engrossed by it. A reprisal of Ambagan’s winning piece in the GSIS National Painting Competition in 2011, books remind us of what we know and more of what we don’t know, that a people is as progressive as the gathering illumination of knowledge will liberate them. Ambagan’s depiction of light emanating from many sources represented with the flight of lanterns inspires as it enthrals our responsibility to initiate our own spark for the literacy of others.

We Will Riseuplifts the prevalent gloom wrought from last year’s fortuitous disasters, setback in sports and political and spiritual dilemmas. We see an amalgam of contemporary personalities who were in the news from an embattled boxer Manny Pacquiao to an auspicious Pope Benedict to dignified yet still hopeful Yolanda victims. With a pieta scene looming in the centerpiece imbibing compassion, each section of the shelves are like cubicles of status updates of what is happening in our midst. Ambagan’s pieces can be read as alamanac for the year that was. Emphatically composed, his play of images are whimsical as the graphic device involving shelves can be viewed as small worlds in themselves. 
We Will Rise, 2014
Kilometer Zero, 2014

Kilometer Zero exudes sentimentality as Amabagan recalls another favored recognition in a national art competition five years, this time for a government metro train system. He wanted to duplicate this work for himself as it has brought him commercial and critical success. Using distortion as a visual style, Ambagan has captured in astrayed brushtrokes the actuated motion of an MRT train. Ambagan himself is witnessed with his son in the forefront of this frame which is on top of a shelf contextualizing that this is an afterthought, a remake of his devotion to familial love and ode to his initial struggle as an artist. 

Reflective of Ambagan being well-versed in visual communications, Boom!captures the drama of what goes in the divergent minds of advertising people in a normal brainstorming session.  Second to nature they debate regularly on their concepts and progression of ideas. Seems surreal as a plethora of conniving yet contrarian in characters like vintage airplanes, Van Gogh biography, the ever-present Albert Einstein, a gallant Napoleon Bonaparte even the Beatles subliminally float like a multiple of presents. Allegorically driven by performance as seen in the platform diver, it is not necessary a pretty image as this diptych seems to be. Comical bombs contrasts as they immediately tones down all half-baked solutions adding texture to the overall picture.

Boom! 2014
Ambagan’s recent works stare back as they remind you why we are attracted to art in the first place. Here Comes the Sun may also mean temporary respite, as Ambagan continues to experiment from his tried and tested, raw and rough brushstrokes to thinner but more definite layers grounded in earth color palette.  From featuring throngs of people in the metropolis and Baguio City, whether they are in pedicabs or part of the desperate multitude earning their keep, he shifts to more upscale ambience, more ethereal in iconography.  
Here Comes the Sun has always been a song of redemption as it is relevant now for Ambagan. There’s an anecdote that as the Beatles were finishing Abbey Road, its last album before eventually breaking up, its composer George Harrison was avoiding the other members of his band. And the phrase “here comes the sun” was how he really felt every day when the day’s recording session was over. At his prime, Ambagan churned out these pieces were as comforting as Harrison’s but as essential as his subject matter—books. It is also scorching welcome to that intense season of the year and to the many passionate things we associate it with — summer.

Here Comes the Sun is Ricky V. Ambagan’s 5th Solo Exhibition. Ongoing until May 6 at the Galerie Anna, 4/F Art Walk, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City.