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A life born from comics

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LONG before the advent of smartphones and television, people were entertained by comic books, known locally as komiks.

In the 1980s, artist Reynold Dela Cruz spent his childhood along the train tracks or riles in Muntinlupa, a crossing of many things, people, and places. Among them was his own mother who used to sell komiks to everyday Filipinos.

“Ito ang hanapbuhay ng nanay ko noong maliit ako. Hindi ako mahilig magbasa pero gustong gusto ko ng mga action words at suntukan, kaya siguro gumagawa ako ngayon ng pop art(This was my mother’s livelihood when I was little. I wasn’t much of a reader, but I loved seeing action words and fight scenes, which is probably why I’m now drawn to the pop art style),” said Mr. Dela Cruz at the May 29 launch of his latest exhibition.

Titled “KO-MIX,” referring to komiks but with emphasis the Filipino word “ko” meaning the self, it is a reflection on the artist’s own identity parallel to that of the Filipino identity. Now on view at Museo ng Muntinlupa as an apt revisiting of his origins, the exhibit blends the past with the present, and local pop culture with global pop culture.

SLICED CANVASOne example of this is his series of nine oil paintings, depicting different variations of the same woman’s face, is quintessential pop art. “It shows how everyday life varies from one day to the next. Nothing is the same,” Mr. Dela Cruz said.

His signature sets it apart from Andy Warhol, however. The faces in the paintings are sliced, the canvas ruined methodically so that the board underneath peeks through with the cloth held in place by a large safety pin.

Slightly visible beneath the slashed canvas are floral patterns and even secret messages placed by the artist. He clarified to the press that they aren’t necessarily meant for anyone else’s eyes, near-invisible proof of the hidden meanings behind everything.

On how his sliced canvas signature came to be, Mr. Dela Cruz said it dated back to 2014, when someone had commissioned a painting but then refused to pay for it. “I needed the money and I was broken-hearted,” he said.

When he told his wife that he was going to burn the painting, she replied that he should slash it instead, so that it could bear witness to his anger. The habit stuck, and his sliced canvas paintings became successful.

“The negative became a positive,” he added.

“KO-MIX”is a milestone as well, being his first exhibit in Muntinlupa in 30 years. The last time he showed his work there was in 1994, at a group show at city hall, making this a true homecoming.

Riding on the medium of the comic book, both a subject and a vessel of reflection, his sliced canvas paintings offer a peek into the past. The slices are better seen in person than in pictures.

‘POP!’, ‘POW!’, ‘KABOOM!’As a child, Mr. Dela Cruz was enamored when a friend and he playing on the street were lucky enough to see actress Gretchen Barretto across the road.

“Naging espesyal siya sa isip ko kaya nandiyan siya sa komiks na Espesyal ang title (She became special to me which is why she’s seen here along with the komiks titled ESPESYAL),” he said.

SPECIAL depicts Ms. Barretto beside a small Mickey Mouse, included because of its special place in kids’ minds being the first cartoon they watch. A basketball aligns perfectly in the “O” of the action word ‘POP!’, indicating Filipinos’ love for basketball. 

“When I start painting, I don’t have a clear idea of what to put there. It just happens,” said Mr. Dela Cruz. The slicing happens at the very end.

The most memorable piece in the exhibit shows how awe-inspiring this process is. “KO-MIX” is a culmination of everything, a vast spread of the history of komiks, the artist’s personal history, and the history of Filipino culture.

Faces of celebrities, imitations of Warhol, Basquiat, and Banksy visuals, and characters ranging from Captain Barbell to Godzilla to a fat Spiderman fill up the massive canvas. Contextualized by komiks titles like ALIWAN, WAKASAN, and HIWAGA and action words like ‘OOPS!’, ‘WHAM!’, and ‘OUCH!,’ the painting is an overwhelming testament to memory and identity.

Mr. Dela Cruz lingered on random details, each related to a story from his childhood. He dwelled on the Incredible Hulk, recalling how he would wear a tight-fitting polo shirt and climb onto hills of gravel to pretend to “hulk out.”

“Kaya ito concept ko kasi malaki ang kinalaman sa story ng buhay ko. Kinukuwento ko lang ang narrative ko at ng Pilipinas. (This is the concept I arrived at because komiks has a lot to do with my life. I’m simply telling my narrative, and the narrative of the Philippines),” he said.

“KO-MIX” runs until July 29 at the 3rd floor of Museo ng Muntinlupa, Centennial Ave., Barangay Tunasan, Muntinlupa City. It is free and open to the public. — Brontë H. Lacsamana

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