Pain and Paint: The Art of Arel D. Zambarrano


In Praise of All the Breadwinners
Arel D. Zambarrano (b.1985) unwittingly belongs to a growing amalgam of visual artists dwelling deeply into the personal and its inner struggles. Void of any social, historical or grand narratives his works nevertheless unleash the same artistic prowess displaying intrinsic acuity unraveling in multiple layering in perspectives that necessitates the contemporary in art. 
Rendered in deep macabre bordering in seriously surreal, Zambarrano’s first solo exhibition madly haunts. Timbu-ok retraces and scorches back his decade of struggle--as a long continuous visual diary. Every piece is part and parcel of the next piece forming the bigger picture that has marked his short-lived existence. As both an architect and an artist he creatively maximizes the available spaces at the Museo ng Iloilo to his advantage; how the pieces are maneuvered side by side making one appreciate every embedded emotion or the provocative thought captured through time. The gestalt effect is spellbinding: how adversity refreshes us and how we emerged from this painterly furnace defines (redefines) one’s built-in character. In Zambarrano’s case it is the constant rebirth of his artistry that make him a budding master. Every canvas was Zambarrano at his purest form as if the paints are still wet as the pain is still warm when he painted them. His brushstrokes are raw and moving, one can still hear the sound of brushstrokes brought to life.

The Need for Needles
Not for the faint hearted Zambarrano still revels the positive though veering on the somber and to the negative. Fixated with needles as an allegory to life itself, he often compares himself (us included) to the long threads passing through. Born in the coastal town of Banate, the fifth of six siblings, his family was dirt poor that even as he was being conceived in his mother’s womb she wanted to give her up. In fact he was even nourished from boiled rice water to alternate the scarcity of milk just to get by. Zambarrano took it all in without a tear or whine. What did not despair him only made him stronger as he yielded this mortality to his higher artistic purpose.
In The Black Rainbow

In slaying his demons Zambarrano uses these stark shiny pointed metals. By now you may inquire: how could someone so hopeless in life looks forward to living. After being a self-supporting student in college Zambarrano is now a licensed architect and an award winning artist. Using needles in ascending order to his ambitions Unlimited Optimism wants people to carry on whatever life impedes on them. As an artist he feels it is his responsibility to impart brightness in outlook and freshness in attitudes.

By nature people seek their potential, position and protection to survive as the fittest. In the Black Rainbow shows people cascading from this artificiality as we are defined by our titles, pay checks, flashy cars unmindful of that these are just ethereal things. Zambarrano has emptied himself in the form of a skeleton holding his now famous black shoes. The Advent of Stone Headed Wanderers solidifies his big bright vision even without material resources. When he shifted to architecture his eldest sister persuaded him not to pursue as he “does not have wings to fly.” However Zambarrano is as hard as he is committed to spread his imaginary wings to claim his dreams. One has to want their realization badly and be boldly determined in paving the way for them.

As a child he remembers drawing his heroes in the sand while other kids of his age carefree play. Unlike other artists who dabble in endless sketches, Zambarrano initially paints in his head. As raw and fertile as they are, he painstakingly tempers his ideas and concepts, translating them on canvas only when he is done thinking about it. The execution is fastest and the most gratifying process. Often done in glaringly red hues most of his paintings reflect his courage in predicaments and passion in fulfillment. They are captured in a moment of glorifying resolution some toned down but definitely nothing mushy in pastel colors. Such is the reprisal of the enigmatic Homecoming 2reminiscent of his entry which was recognized in a national art competition four years ago. Zambarrano recalls a client who after 30 years has returned to their hometown for it is his belief that one must die to where one was born. Zambarrano’s brilliance is to situate you in a state where you feel both longing and equanimity diffused in one abstract momentum. Even without people one feels disturbed and usually the spell lasts longer than you left viewing it.

The five pieces in Unhindered Series collectively takes the fear out as life’s biggest illusion. He once was a commencement speaker in his college and he challenged his audience that one may be mortal yet he must take a risk or even jump off a cliff unhindered of the consequences to one’s body. To this day Zambarrano may be scarred but he has remained unscathed.

Shoe Biz

Typical of normal guy of style, these may be just ordinary black canvas shoes. The double a on the side is a giveaway–it was his sign (for art and architecture). The presence of beige straps crisscrossing gives you an inkling that they also stand for adventure. They might be even intended for car racing or cycling as the fit suggests. For Zambarrano practicality outweighs the design. For bargain 25 pesos the materiality costs even more than what the black shoes were intended for. For Zambarrano one has to brace one’s feet for the long haul whatever the ride maybe. As soon as the vendor took them out of the sack, he immediately wore them to the streets.

From an ukay-ukay in Jaro market the black shoes would eventually be immortalized in many of Zambarrano’s canvases. They are living evidence of travails of a typical striving artist. From the muddy alleys of Iloilo to the air-conditioned galleries in Hong Kong, how many artists are bold enough to repeatedly depict them various capacities readily defines Zambarrano’s significance. In fact even these black shoes physically gave up on him. The event was his telling sign that he was ripe enough to exhibit his stories around them.

From Banate he wanted to explore further and study college in the city. However those he thought would take care of him were the ones who even maltreated him. Prodigious Escape was that epiphany of seeing the light and regaining freedom from the cycle of oppression and lack of familial love. The symbolical use of the chain block in uplifting the heavy burden of his sorrow was effective in addressing his relief in being out of the troublesome pit he was wallowing into. 

Uncanny in depiction all is not lost for Zambarrano. Evident In the Garden of Hope ardent chess pieces, pawns may be of the lowest value however they are meant to be sacrificed for one to proceed further in the game. A nocturnal being Zambarrano always waited for dawn as the sunrises before he sleeps. And like the ants seen here brave and hardworking enough to face another day.

Even in the not-so-sunny there is beauty in tragedy. In the Beautiful Rain even the poor should remain dignified and live in excellence as encircled letter shows. Notice how needles morphed as the rain subsides. Zambarrano can be romantic as he was brutal in the most of his works.
Detail of Two Steps Behind
In the installation Two Steps Behind Zambarrano honors the famousblack shoes for the last time. Resting on the famous black shoes are both his college diploma from Iloilo Science and Technology University (ISAT-U) and his certificate as a licensed architect from the Professional Regulatory Commission attached to it. Providing the main altar in the exhibition is this testament to his hardship as he stuck more than 5000 needles around these elements. There are as many needles in one’s life; in fact they even come back as cycles. Using resin as his base Zambarrano wanted to pause and freeze this moment of elation. As an artist the defiant act was the most liberating this to do, a gentle reminder to stay grounded and humble and move on with his head up high. Providing a fitting backdrop to this tributes sculpture is The Evidence some 60 portraits of these black shoes on paper mounted on two sets of plywood.
Having practiced both as an architect and as a painter Zambarrano has developed a multi-disciplinary perspective to his art pieces in imparting cutting his messages across. In fact he even uses it to debunk its very essence.
Contemporary artist Alain Hablo specially did Zambarrano’s portrait for On the Ground (Highest Level). One of Iloilo’s proudest son in the visual arts, Hablo has been looked up to by Zambarrano and his generation of artists. He is much of an inspiration as an influence for Zambarrano. Overcoming his destitution epitomized by life-size pawns impressed upon his image like a reminder the successful you become the more humble one must be. 
Two Steps Behind and The Evidence
Meanwhile Timbu-ok tackles the same humility but in reverse: soar up high towards a higher ground but not the sky. Thirty kites denoting his existence are attached to red nylon strings which are firmly planted on the ground. Ilonggo word meaning soaring high, timbu-ok values humility above all; that despite life’s unexpected twists and bumpy turns one who eschews pride and keeps his feet on the ground is always exalted.

Choosing to stay in Iloilo Zambarrano’s art practice goes beyond the usual norm and against the tide situated in the imperial art centers. His art may not be festive as Dinagyangor commercial enough to be the celebrated in art fairs and bids in local auctions but being an Ilonggo artist has already contented him in his bigger canvas--art of his life. He is just warming up.