Surrealism in the Philippines

Danny Castillones Sillada has recently been included among the international artists in Martin Dawber's book ''Modern Vintage Illustration,'' composed of some of the best illustrators worldwide. Martin Dawber, author of several illustrated books on fashion, photography and vintage illustrations, is a fashion and textile expert, lecturer and a consultant editor for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture.

Stephen Bayley, author and one of the world's renowned commentators on modern culture and contemporary design and architecture, wrote the foreword of the book due for release this August 2012 by a London publisher Anova Books, Inc.

Paulo Villones: How would you describe surrealism in the Philippines?

Danny Castillones Sillada: Surrealism in Philippine art is an individual style rather than a movement compared to its development in Latin America, USA and Europe. We have no historical surrealist movement in the country with a cohesive manifesto that sprang from political or anarchic cause relative to its inception in the early 1920s by French poet and writer André Breton. Hence, I could say that Surrealism in the Philippines is a road less traveled by local artists, a personal pursuit of creative style and technique rather than as a popular genre in our local art scene.

Paulo Villones: How do Filipinos perceive art, in general, in relation to Surrealism? Is it widely accepted by Filipinos?

Danny Castillones Sillada: I can't say that Surrealism is widely accepted by Filipinos because there are very few surrealists in the country. Besides, Filipinos are not outspoken when it comes to appreciating art or any artistic movement, for that matter.

In general, Filipinos are more emotional and visual than intellectual when it comes to appreciating and understanding art. If a painting or sculpture, for instance, is nice and pleasing to the eyes, they can relate to it in terms of sensual perception (forms and colors) rather than as a metaphysical encounter of symbol and meaning.

But Surrealism is not just visual based on sensual perception; it also appeals to the cognitive human perception. A viewer must think and reconcile the visual narrative of the surrealist: What is it all about and what do the symbolic elements signify in relation to their lives or conditions in the society?

Conversely, the Filipino concept of art is about landscapes, flowers and realistic figures. It is more of a decorative piece that fits the color and motif of living room, e.g., wall, sofa or curtains, than something symbolic to be pondered upon as the manifestation of Filipino psyche, culture and sentiment.

Lamentably, the younger generations of Filipinos are more attracted to social networking, computer games, soap operas on television, gossips and rumors of showbiz personalities, coffeehouse gatherings on weekends rather than reading Filipino literature, like poetry, short story or novel, or watching opera and theatrical plays, art exhibitions and other cultural events.

To appreciate art, one must comprehend the thematic message of a particular work, the artist who created it and how it is addressed to our contemporary milieu. What value or meaning does art reveal as integral part of our life and culture? If an audience lacks these basic faculties to appreciate any aesthetic form; then, the symbolic representation of art would become meaningless, and the artist would become a solitary voice in the wilderness.

Paulo Villones: Is there a Filipino Surrealism? What makes it different from others?

Danny Castillones Sillada: Once a particular art movement is integrated in a particular culture or society, like ours, it filters through the consciousness of the artist. From there, whatever the artist created is a reflection of his or her socio-cultural condition. And that, in my own opinion, makes the Filipino Surrealism unique from others!

Paulo Villones: How would you qualify or define Surrealism? Is there any guideline for an artwork to be called surreal art?

Danny Castillones Sillada: There are no guidelines in surrealism; otherwise, if it has, it won't be called surreal art anymore, because it is supposed to defy logic and reason in a rational manner, paradoxically speaking.

Surrealism today as an artistic approach and method explores and addresses the shifting of aesthetic perception in our post post-modern society due to the advancement of technology, globalism and mass culture. Despite its diminishing impact as a movement, surrealistic method thrives in varied fields and mediums, such as painting, installation and conceptual art, graphic and digital art, film, cartoons and anime, photography, music, literature, performing arts, and even in commercial advertisements on social media, print media and television.

A surrealist is like a 'Modern Day Mystic.' He goes beyond the ''created realities'' of mass culture and technology. And, like a shaman, he conjures up and reshuffles these ''invented realities'' in a sardonic manner to reflect the convoluted condition of our global society.

Paulo Villones: How do you create your art? Are you the kind of artist who plans his work, or the one who goes straight on the canvas and lets his mind (subconscious) flow whatever it dictates?

Danny Castillones Sillada: Any work of art, even a surreal art, undergoes a creative process, which includes mental and physical activities. As a surrealist, I rely heavily on cognitive and affective aspects of creative planning.

The mental planning would take a few months to one year, accumulating all ideas and imaginary compositions in my mind, and when I am ready to paint, I would lay the concept first as rough sketches on paper (from here on, the process is automatic). Whatever percolates from my mind and emotions, I translate them on paper before actualizing the final concept on my chosen medium, e.g., canvas, wood or metal.

If I were to explain the creative process based on the Aristotelian principle of causality, I should say that the ''Telos'' (final cause) or the artistic concept is already formed in my mind before it is actualized on my chosen medium. The ''efficient cause,'' the prime mover of aesthetics, is both the mental and physical activity (the amount of energy that I spent during the creative process). The ''material cause,'' on the other hand, is, literally, the material that I used in art making, e.g., canvas, paint, wood and metal. The ''formal cause'' is the final shape and form of the composition, depicting any subjects or themes for the viewers to see or decipher.

I also employ the same creative process in other fields of aesthetics, like poetry and short story writing, live art performances, photography, composing music, shooting and editing a documentary or short-short film and even in my philosophical essays and writings.

Paulo Villones: Do you have any influences? Are there any Filipino surrealists, whose works that you admired?

Danny Castillones Sillada: All artists, at some stages of their creative endeavors, have influences from the masters, so to say.

In my younger years, when I was not yet a full-time painter (I was still studying priesthood in the seminary), I should say that Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp and Vincent van Gogh were my inspirations and influences. Although, van Gogh was not a surrealist, but his overwhelming passion to create, which was bereft of fame and recognition in his time, became my inspiration to embrace my art in the latter part of my life.

In our local art scene, I admire the works of Raul Lebajo (surrealist), Bienvenido Bones Banez, Jr. (a Filipino surrealist based in New York), Francisco Viri (his art of 'soloism'), Eghai Roxas (his illusionism/abstractionism), Marcel Antonio (the theatrical composition of his figures), Federico Dominguez (his colorful ethnic art), Charlie Co (his works tread between folk art and surrealistic style) and Cesare A.X. Syjuco (his ''Literary Hybrids'').

Roxas, Viri and Dominguez are not surrealists, but I like the intensity and the vividness of their forms and colors. Although Marcel Antonio's art is reminiscent of American figurative painters Francis Bacon and R. B. Kitaj, I consider him as a Shakespearean surrealist because his figurative paintings have the elements of classical drama and characters portrayed in a seemingly theatrical manner. Cesare A.X. Syjuco is not a surrealist either, but his art is tiptoeing between surrealism and conceptual art. His three-dimensional works create poetry in space, literally and figuratively. They are iconic collocations of symbolic images and literary texts fused together to create a unique aesthetic genre, known as ''Literary Hybrids.''

Among the younger generation of Filipino artists, I admire the works of Ronald Ventura (the hyper-realist of Filipino surrealism, if I may call it), Camille dela Rosa (she recently crosses over from impressionism to traditional surrealism; her works are swinging between grotesque and magic realism), Gromyko Semper (a traditional surrealist whose works are laden with intricate details) and Jon Jaylo (the René Magritte of Philippine surrealism), to name a few.

Paulo Villones: Do you have any word of advice for any Fine Arts student aspiring to become a surrealist?

Danny Castillones Sillada: An aspiring surrealist must study and evaluate what is surrealism in the past as a movement and what surrealism today is, as an aesthetic style. To become a surrealist is not an overnight choice; it is an attitude, perception and process of predisposing oneself to surrealistic method and technique.

(Paulo Villones is a Fine Arts graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines. This Q & A interview with Danny Castillones Sillada is part of his thesis on Cartoon Surrealism.)