He is slightly built—very unlike the robust figure of the Joker that serves as his alter-ego on canvass. The merriment and mischief in his eyes betrays him as its creator though, as does the fondness with which he regards all the characters in his paintings.
“The Joker is present in almost all the works of this series,” he tells me, surveying the paintings lining one wall of his studio. There are ten of them—all part of an exhibit he calls the Renegade Buffoon.
At 33, Vincent Padilla exhibits the excitement and exuberance of a person half his age. He tells me he has been painting since the age of 13, and drawing since the age of 4. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts, majoring in Painting, from the University of the Philippines in 2008 and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in the same field from the same institution.
He produces exclusively for shows, finding the parameters usually required in commissions and consignments too constraining. He has participated in roughly three dozen group exhibits to date, some of them in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The most recently completed series was for a solo exhibit—his eighth following Umaga in 2002; Kinahon in 2004; Iconized, Oubliette and Eskinita in 2007; Pilier in 2008; and Les Bravades Legendaire in 2009. He has no free-standing works—every single painting has been part of a series.
Although he has won more than a dozen awards—among the most prestigious being the top prize of the 2003 Philippine Art Awards for his painting De Kahon—he identifies himself as a teacher just as much as a painter. He tells me that teaching is his principal source of inspiration and that he derives as much joy from teaching art as he does from creating it.
As an artist, he works relatively fast. It takes him eight weeks to produce a dozen works, everything coming out in a single massive rush. He merely does rough sketches and will move from one unfinished work in a series to the next until all the pieces are finally completed.
All his works are suffused with political overtones, though he tells me that he tries to avoid too overt a social realism. His works are vastly ironic—even towards themselves. They display a clear refusal to take anything too seriously or to express views too forcefully. He refers to his paintings as “funny narratives,” with the humor and the occasional sarcasm intended as tools to induce reflection.
His most recent exhibit, the Renegade Buffoon, is yet again a meditation on politics. The ten works portray three figures repetitively: the King, the Queen and the Joker. The paintings were exhibited with matching sculptures—the first time he mounted a show featuring both types of art. There were three major sculptures of the King, Queen and Joker, plus five to six smaller renditions of the same characters. All the figures, whether in their two-dimensional or three-dimensional forms, exude vigor and vitality. “They’re fat,” Vincent puts it flatly, though he smiles when he says it. The corpulence of the characters deliberates conveys the tendencies toward gluttony and indulgence displayed by people in power.
The sense of excess and surfeit in the political is merely secondary, however. The primary themes of the series are isolation and manipulation: the essential aloneness of authority figures, their self-defeating remoteness from the very realities they are expected to address, and the irony of the puppeteers ultimately being puppets themselves.
The theme of isolation is carried by six of the ten paintings in the series. A sense of seclusion and separation is conveyed by the pillars on which the figures in three of the works appear. The origins of the pedestals stretch far below the confines of the paintings and their summits emerge against the backdrop of a sky. The realities of the ground do not appear remote so much as altogether inaccessible. The figures peer from their isolating perches with their own characteristic gazes.
In the painting entitled Bored to Death, the King looks out onto the world with massive indifference, the dried leaves swirling around his figure symbols of desiccation and stagnation. He nevertheless continues to exude power, for, as Vincent puts it, “He’s still the King”—inertia and dormancy notwithstanding.
In the painting entitled One Pair, the Queen stares at two cards in her hand with a strangely smug and secretive smile. The cards are of her and the Joker; the rose petals spiraling in the background symbolize the allure and intimacy of sex.
In the painting entitled Love’s a Gamble, the slightly malignant figure of the Joker watches a scattered deck of cards flutter in the wind—while holding on to the two cards that represent him and the Queen.
Even the works that don’t portray the figures in isolation only serve to intensify the sense of aloneness. Three of the paintings show two figures embracing—yet neither figure belongs to the other. Two of the paintings show the Queen and the Joker in each other’s arms. The incongruence and inappropriateness of the pairing is exceeded only by the pairing of the King and the Joker—an idea inspired by one of the Vincent’s painter friends that continues to provide him with endless amusement.
The theme of manipulation is carried by the four remaining works in the series. In the painting entitled No Strings Attached, anonymous hands grasp strings tied to the King’s crown, representing the multiplicity and obscurity of the forces that control the people who believe themselves to be the controllers. The other three paintings are much less ambivalent about the identity of the ultimate manipulator—they reveal the Joker with a puppeteer’s strings, a joystick and a hypnotist’s circle respectively. The symbolism is unmistakable: Is the Fool really the fool? What hides behind the overt subservience of those who claim to aid the people in power?
The seriousness of the themes notwithstanding, Vincent is clear that his works are neither bleak nor grim. In the end, he tells me, even the isolation he depicts in his paintings has a redemptive value. Only in and through isolation can one find the true source of one’s happiness. And happiness, Vincent tells me, is the only thing worth taking seriously.
Vincent Padilla’s Renegade Buffoon was featured at the Galerie Anna on the 4th Floor of SM Megamall’s Building B Art Walk from September 16 to 30, 2010.