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An artist from the Philippines has risen above his humble origins to create breath-taking cubist paintings of Bahraini culture.
Gary Manalo uses cubism to depict everything from the kingdom’s fish vendors to his son’s aquaculture inklings, but his childhood artistic memories are coloured in gray just like his earliest pieces, using charcoal from the streets of Calbayog, Philippines.
“I experienced poverty early in life which pushed me to find creative ways to fund my artistic journey,” the 43-year-old father-of-two told GulfWeekly.
“I would often take part in competitions with the goal of winning, because that was how I could afford more art supplies. I used charcoal in crafting my art when I was a child, and when I took part in my first competition, I only had one pencil brush and a borrowed watercolour kit.
“My classmates’ renditions were much brighter because they could afford higher quality materials, but the judges were impressed with my technique.”
Gary did not win that competition, but it encouraged him to keep going. And he soon went on to win a number of regional and national level competitions, using each event to further refine his technique.
“Raul Isidro, one of my mentors, used to say, ‘Pinta lang ng pinta,’ which means you can only be a painter if you keep painting. This has driven me to continue creating art, no matter what else life threw my way.”
And life certainly did throw its fair bit at Gary.
When he finished high school, he wanted to become an architect, but was unable to find a programme he could afford. Instead he took up General Drafting at Northwest Samar State University, but on the side, kept attending art seminars and workshops, as well as participating in competitions.
It was at one of these workshops, at the cultural centre in Calbayog city in Philippines in 1991, that he discovered cubism.
It was a turning point.
Cubism is an early-1900s avant-garde art revolution in Europe, in which objects are analysed, broken down and reassembled in an abstract form, depicting the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent it in a greater context.
“In addition to Pablo Picasso, the father of cubism, I was fascinated by Filipino national artists like Ang Kiukok, Vicente Manansala, Botong Francisco, Legaspi, Malang and Raul Isidro,” he said.
“To this day, I am fascinated by their styles and techniques especially the colour rendition, shapes, lines, figures and abstract forms.
“I am still working on my own signature approach to cubism, but I like to balance my composition and colour rendition. I use strong colours to visualise my life on the canvas, but I would like to experiment with earthy tones in my future pieces.”
Well-versed in watercolour, acrylic and oil, Gary blends realism and cubism in his works, telling textured tales, which have been exhibited in countless exhibitions including Discovered at The Art Space Bahrain Bay, Ma’Arte-All Filipinos Art Exhibit in Oasis Mall Juffair and Bahrain Through Your Eyes Art Exhibition at Harbour Gate Bahrain.
In 2004, he also won the National Postage Design contest in the Philippines, with an interpretation of ‘Rice is Life’ as part of the International Year of Rice celebration.
The artist, who has been working full-time as a CAD drafter and 3D visualisation specialist at Egis International for the last six years, is particularly proud of his latest piece My Son’s Aquarium.
He has also created a triptych set of paintings titled, Riddle of the Desert: Images of Peaceful and Prosperous Bahrain.
“These three pieces, done in oil, pose a silent riddle - what is the charm that makes Bahrain such a peaceful and prosperous desert state, despite its size?,” he explained.
“The paintings depict the answer – its hardworking people, talented artists, and empowered women are the deep held secrets of Bahrain’s ‘Riddle of the Desert.’”
These pieces are exhibited at The Art Space in Bahrain Bay.
For more details, follow @gary.manalo46 on Instagram.