Rhapsodizing the Region with Rock’s Art

By John Anthony S. Estolloso

It was 2017 when I started teaching the then-fledgling Grade 12 core subject Contemporary Philippine Arts from the Regions. Practicality would have dictated staying with the lean two-page curriculum guide provided by the Department of Education, but it also challenged the teacher to take the initiative to make connections with the local contemporary art scene: identify artworks, communicate with artistes, and to bring these to the classroom – or vice versa.

This unlikely situation acquainted me with Rock Drilon’s art – or at least his name, at that time. Converse with local and regional painters, writers, and even musicians and surely, his art would surface in the discussion: mention Rock Drilon’s name among art circles and you would evoke quintessential projections of what constitute a constant iteration of contemporaneity in Ilonggo art.

It was only in the following year when I saw a painting of his displayed at Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art; a trip to the National Museum the next year acquainted me with an entire wall of Rock Drilons in the contemporary art wing. It was mesmerizing to see regional art celebrated and lionized on the capital: peripheral aesthetic sensibilities on display at the artistic core.

Take time to contemplate even just one of his paintings and you can somehow trace where it all came from. Harking back from inspirations of his native Dumangas, one can sense the traversing through the shifting zeitgeist of the artist: spanning several decades of artistic work that figured in exhibits in the art capitals of the country and even on to the aesthetic meccas around the world, Rock’s artwork is abstractly introspective and speaks much of the advocacies that he champions: the advancement of art and culture, heritage preservation, and an active environmental awareness.

Currently, his one-man exhibit Visayan Rhapsodies 2 reiterates this navigation through the artist’s psyche and segues from a previous exhibit done in the same lines back in 2018. On display in the exhibit are some of Rock’s definitive artworks, some of which have been commenced several decades ago only to find a completeness and readiness to be appraised by a judicious eye quite recently. Though eclectic in the selection of pieces, these artworks constitute a personal visual bricolage. Then again, what is a rhapsody after all if not a stimulating hodgepodge of various musical motifs?

Visit the exhibit and you would experience Rock’s distinctive artistic techniques reminiscent of his previous works. One would recognize the artist – his regional roots and introspective contemporaneity, among others – by the trademark curls and swirls of colors in limited palettes accented by vivid patches of sharply contrasting hues and shades or sharp projections of abstract images that seem to recur in irregular sections. Read the text accompanying the artistic display and it points out ‘the sinuous lines of varied colors snaking through his canvases hint on a continuous pathway, akin to an unbroken bike lane: it is reminiscent of that artistic journey, as mentioned above, and projects the artist’s experiences in varying layers – from the regional to the international, from creator of the art to curator of artworks.’

In Rock’s canvases, one also has to come to terms with the idea of art as a means of advocacy. Looking back to his artworks, one sees interjections of abstract figures and blots that appear to be milestones corrugated and juxtaposed on the sinewy pathways cutting through the canvas, evoking time and again the things he is passionate about: the flourishing and thriving of regional art and art appreciation, the preservation and conservation of heritage sites and of course, environmental activism that advocated for the propagation of local flora and arborea.

All in all, Visayan Rhapsodies 2 may appear to be a completed hodgepodge, though essentially an accumulation of on-going experiences rendered with paint and canvas. Again, to take some lines from his accompanying gallery notes, it still a work in progress: the artist in search of himself and his place in his world – and if takes a rhapsodic mix of aesthetics and introspection to make sense of Rock Drilon’s art, then we concur and immerse in the spectacle.

Visayan Rhapsodies 2 opens at Finale Art File’s Tall Gallery on September 5 and will be on exhibit until the 23rd of the month.

[The writer is the Subject Area Coordinator for Social Studies in one of the private schools of the city. The photos are from the artist’s collection and are used with his permission.]