Battling color vision deficiency and a chronic illness which left him aided by a wheelchair, Florence educated painter Danilo Arriola confronts his ordeal by devoting his life into art one canvas at a time – painting from life using subjects and compositions that mirrors his isolation and torment. His works are classical in nature after his early formative training into traditional painting, but over the years Arriola developed a conceptual approach on how to present his subjects without overriding the classic influence. His works could bring the viewer to his world of collected objects containing multi-cultural origins, oftentimes in a deteriorating state which are distinctively biographical in a way how the painter sees the world face to face with a predicament.
Arriola gained his early mentorship under the esteemed Fernando Sena before finishing architecture at the University of Santo Tomas which brought him to Singapore and Hongkong as a designer and perspectivist. The pressure of the corporate world directed him to take classes under Singaporean painter Wee Shoo Leong which rekindled his dream of becoming a painter. That dream led him to Florence, Italy in 2004; attending the yearlong Intensive Drawing Program at the Florence Academy of Art under the directorship of Daniel Graves. In 2007 he obtained scholarships for the Intermediate Program from Philippine Senator Jamby Madrigal, The Sharon Cuneta Foundation and The Tan Yan Kee Foundation. He was chosen as one of the academy scholars for the Advance Painting Program in 2008.
He had mounted three solo exhibitions, two shows at the Artist Space of Ayala Museum, “Chiaroscurist” in 2015 and “A Place in the Sun” in 2017. “Light in the Darkness” was held at the Yuchengco Museum in 2016 featuring the collection of his works by art patron Architect Daniel Lichauco.
In this grand exhibition, classical painter Danilo Arriola presents his largest body of works to date- 37 oil paintings completed from 2018 to 2021 which chronicles his life contemplation and reconciliation in his continuous confrontation of an illness. These are visual documentations of the passing days inside his studio , recurring objects on his canvases as mere representations of a pilgrim searching for meaning among glass, china, animal skulls, and mundane subjects. These still lifes of distinct compositions convey these messages: passage Niño heads, memorabilia of time, turbulence, death, acceptance, and healing.
The still lifes are Danilo’s personal account in devotion to art as he battles a condition that keeps him wheelchair bound for years. Through these masterworks sprang “Unstill Life” a fitting concept to this series of haunting visual language in classical form . This imagery of concepts, subjects, compositions and atmosphere has been existing in his practice and was developed intuitively as a Florence-trained painter. The completed works are his life testimonies of how he struggled to contain life inside his studio, bleeding for those he had lost, dealing with his own demons while being vulnerable to the unpredictability of existence. Still lifes of unstill nature.
This show is for everyone- for the broken, for those who’ve lost and suffered but have eventually found beauty in living. Memories could prick a heart, and the injury will never heal. Everyday there will be questioning. But in the way of life, art can sooth an aching heart.
What inspired you to become an artist?
Nakapag-trigger ba para maging artistic? Parang wala yata ako nung what na ‘yon, kasi since bata ganito na talaga ginagawa ko, pa-drawing-drawing at nananalo sa art contests.
Yung nag-trigger ba to make this into a career? Baka my Singaporean teacher Wee Shoo Leung, kasi was very relaxed. I took art classes from him Monday evenings after work. During that time, I was so stressed with work with all those deadlines then makikita ko siya relax lang. Gusto ko yung ganon.
Nitong malaki na ‘ko man baka itong si Odd Nerdrum, nakabili ako ng book niya sa San Francisco early 2000s; Painter Provocateur ang title. Sabi ko ganitong-ganito gusto ko maging, nauna lang siya ipinanganak. Lagi ko lang yon tinitingnan pero hindi ko naman talaga binabasa. Hirap kasi ako magbasa, parang wala akong naiintidihan. Pero until now wala pa rin ako sa kalingkingan niya. Haha! Pinangarap ko pa nga makapunta sa Norway matuto lang sa kanya.
Alam mo parang hindi ko like yang word na “artist”, mas prefer ko yung “painter”. Ganyan si Odd, gaya-gaya lang ako. Haha!
What was your first exhibit like?
My first solo show CHIAROSCURIST was in 2015 held at the ArtistSpace of the Ayala Museum. The walls were painted green, same green as my school and also my studio. Lakas talaga ng tama ng school ko sa akin eh!
There was this fantastic gothic arko I borrowed from my event stylist friend whom I used to work for. Balak ko sana every time may show ako dalhin ko yon para maging trademark ba. Kaso naging dun lang sa first. Sa mga next baka mangyari.
Excited ako sa production design. I know the feeling ‘pag napasok ka sa isang exhibit at tama ang lahat ng nakalagay. Back in Singapore I worked as an exhibition designer, architecture pa kinuha ko nung college, kaya may scaled working drawings muna lahat bago buuin yung exhibit, hanggang ngayon gawain ko yan. Then may production designer friend pa ako who helped. Back then kasi super sakitin pa ako at hindi ako basta nakakakilos kaya I needed all the help I could get.
Ayoko talaga yung isa-submit at isasabit lang ang paintings, then yun na yon. Ang boring! Gusto ko bongga! Tagal ko kaya pinaghandaan yon at ilang venue pinagpilian bago mauwi sa ArtistSpace – doon kasi kasya yung arko. Gusto ko rin na maliit lang ang lugar, I feel people are meant to come close to my works at hindi yung maa-appreciate lang from afar. Medyo detached din kasi ako sa reality kasi galing nga ako sa sakit na may time pa na bed-ridden kaya ang importante sa akin ay magawa ko yung gusto ko bago ako mamatay. Kaya ayon, arko!
Marami naman nakapansin more than I expected. And plano ko lang naman ay gawing maganda yung show; maski magkautang-utang. Hindi naman yung sumikat ang habol, hindi rin naman yung kumita. Gusto ko lang ginagawa yung gusto ko. Until now ganyan ako.
What are you currently working on?
Tapusin ko muna lahat yung para sa show na ito like yung video na katatapos ko lang. Then baka magbakasyon muna sa Zambales, muni-muni ganern. I’m also doing the interior of my friend’s condo unit, puro shopping lang naman yon. It’s where I’m staying now sa Uptown Mall area para ‘pag may request na pumunta sa Provenance Gallery malapit lang. Kaso nga hello ECQ! Napaaga tuloy yung muni-muni.
Right now, I’m envisioning the look of my exhibit for 2022, pati din yung sa 2023. Medyo fuzzy pa but I’m working on it. Ewan ko ba kung bakit mas excited ako sa exhibition design kaysa sa actual paintings. Puro still lifes pa rin naman, somehow I don’t get tired of doing them. So expect more of the same. Sabi nila dapat daw lagi may bago. Pero hindi eh, hindi pa.
What is your process like?
I like nice things, specially old ones na madudumi, pwede rin yung odd. They need not be expensive. I’m attracted to their form more than their historical or monetary value. I just pick those that please my eye then good luck na lang kung magawa ko sila na subjects sa painting. I used to go to antique shops, sa segunda mano shops to buy them, but nowadays online na lang. I have naman my trusty assistant, who can get them for me and do meet ups.
Not so often do I already have a composition in mind from the stuff I’ve acquired and the ones I still intend to find. I get flashes of images in my mind, ideas kung paano ayusin. Right away I’ll do a quick sketch of it on my notebook. I learned that from Daniel Graves, the Florence Academy of Art school director, to capture that moment, to record it maski pa tinatamad ay dapat pilitin. Say napanaginipan, pwes gumising para i-drawing!. This way I can set it aside muna, then come back to it when the time comes to make it into a painting. Madalas yon mga months after, even years.
Come that day. From the shelves I get the subject items and try to replicate the sketch. Just like a puzzle they get tumbled around to get the perfect fit. There can be as much as twenty items in this hit and miss extravaganza trying each combination to see which is kasali and which is etsapwera. This goes on for one to three days. And then after so many trials, I come up with a composition that is so correct by the millimeter! I might sleep over it and see if it still has the same magic when I wake up. I get this feeling na … eto na yon! Until now I couldn’t explain why I go to such length. Intuition ba… or deliberate…na hindi naman na ewan. Baka cosmic ekek. Mas okay na lang na hindi ko na lang maintindihan, baka ‘pag naintindihan ko pa mawalan ako ng gana.
My training in FAA was strict. I had to go through a series of Bargue drawings then cast drawings for one and a half years before I was allowed to handle paint. That rigorous practice until today somehow I still carry. Yung walang patawad, na maski konti ayaw ko na may mali. As if there are still my teachers who will check on me.
I use the sight-size method, Yung nakikita ng mata na size ng subject ay yon din ang size ng drawing/painting. The pedestal where the subjects are on and the easel holding the canvas, are arranged along an arc and my eye is at its midpoint. It requires going forward and backward multiple times to get it exactly right. I use a wheelchair to go back and forth kasi I couldn’t stand too long, my knees have this tendency to buckle.
I was taught a method that each step is a preparation for the next. The following years I have edited those steps to what works for me. So it’s assembling the items first. Then after finding that magical composition comes determining the dimensions of the canvas using my handy dandy view finder. That sizing also takes me so long to finalize. But at this point, I know how the painting will look like, rarely do I change anything. I then stretch my linen canvas on stretcher bars. I toil on the drawing using charcoal sticks for a day or two. Then do an imprimatura the next day using raw umber color. I mix the colors for a whole day and do block-in step by night time if I’m lucky. But usually, I’m not. So I set the mixed colors aside, sleep, and do the most frantic block-in step by sunrise! Yes!
The next days, I make the reinstatement of lines and maybe adjust a few colors. Then comes the second layer using a newly mixed closer color inching my way to smaller shapes. After that on the next days, it’s detailing time wherein I do those intricacies, which may just be 1×1 to 3×3 inch square of an area per day. Around this time is when doubt kicks in. I ask what was I thinking using this subject. It’s just so difficult! Even with a slow pace, I keep making mistakes, just scraping them off and laying a new stroke making it look deliberate. I recall my teacher saying “You cannot accelerate in as much as you want to.” That means I just have to bear with this speed and it is right that it is slow. I take a break after finishing an area, sure, but then again I have to choose another area to work on that will inflict the least damage. The same doubt comes again and again every time I do the tinier details of all area. There must be around three rounds of doubt and questioning with the big “Why am I even a painter?” for crying out loud.
And so I come to realize that I’m at the start of the end. It’s just the tiniest details remaining and tying them all together that are left to do. But now I’m so tired and impatient seeing the same thing day in and day out that I just want to stop, but I can’t. I only need one more day for this to be done. However, that one day without fail really means three to five days. By the time I get to sign it to a finish, I’m already so drained and all that matters is that I’m exhausted. I keep it in a box with a cloth lid to protect it from dust while keeping air and light through.
Only after a few weeks do I check on that that painting again to see if it’s touch dry enough to be oiled out. Oiling out is the process in painting to bring back the luster when the colors have sunk. After oiling out I get to say “Maganda naman pala!”. So, it’s all worth it! Then another round of waiting time to get it varnished naman. Then hintay-hintay uli para matuyo ang varnish, para for framing na. Sa wakas!
I know I’m very slow, and I tire easily. I still have to mention that I’m in constant pain because of a chronic illness. Constant, that’s 24/7, yes, every waking hour. But I’m so used to it. The reason why I can produce is I have learned to conserve my time, doing almost nothing else but this, saying no to many social activities. At dahil pandemic, ayon lalong nakarami.
What was the most valuable thing you learned doing your art?
That I can get away with anything.
I am most fortunate despite my shortcomings.
I have my voice after all.
I can say anything without using words.
That there is money in art.
Painting can provide.
It solves a lot of problems.
But if you’re asking the most valuable,
Siguro yung… I can finally say that it’s okay to be me.
What is your favorite piece you’ve created?
Marami sila na runner up:
What is your favorite piece by another artist?
I have many, but I‘m just thinking of saying Bouguereau’s “Nymphs and Satyr” because I feel I need another lifetime so I can create something that’s close.
I wish you asked me five, or ten.
Why do you work in the medium that you do?
Oil was once a big mystery. Feeling ko noon ang sosyal-sosyal ng oil. And when I first tried it I knew it was what I had always been looking for! Other mediums they’ve attracted me yeah but I always come back to oil. I like it that it’s old and traditional, same stuff used by the old masters hundreds of years before now. I like it that it’s slow. It’s complicated yet versatile and forgiving. It’s fascinating that oil paint is made of out of oil plus a myriad of materials. So, when one looks at a painting one really sees stone, earth, bones, plant, soot, urine.
What is your favorite place to create in?
My studio. It’s like my own world. Everything is happening in that tiny room. I dream to have a bigger space though, to accommodate a live model maybe, and also to store my ever increasing collection of subjects. But for now this will do, it’s my whole world anyway.
Poem by: Joar Songcuya