The Artist in his Residence:
“On Max Balatbat’s Tahanan”
By Carlomar Arcangel Daoana
Known for his unique visual language that combines abstract elements with collage materials and sometimes intervened with the strokes of a paint-loaded brush or palette knife, Max Balatbat in Tahanan, a solo exhibition organized by Art Cube Gallery for the Dragon Gallery of Yuchengco Museum, explores the fraught symbolism of home.
For Balatbat, home meant—and still is—his house in Caloocan City, approximate to the whorehouses in Avenida Street that had been the enduring subject matter of his work. It is the fixity of the location of home that Balatbat wished to question and interrogate, leading him to live and set up a makeshift studio in Zambales. Here, the artist negotiated on how home could be brought to a remote, unfamiliar space.
In this space and within the span of two months, Balatbat was able to create his paint-on-paint method, as exemplified by the large-scale works in this exhibition. Patterns were serigraphed onto skeins and skins of paint and eventually attached to the support. While the process may seem similar to collage, he still worked solely with acrylic, and not with a variety of media. What Balatbat did was refine collage into an essentially painting process, achieving an entire degree of flatness and surface tension.
Based on this self-imposed “artist residency,” Balatbat prompts a new conception of home unburdened by old memory and history. Just like in the construction of a home, the process entails a build-up, a layer-upon-layer accumulation. For the artist, home is an idea that is open to an ongoing, never-ending process of change and transformation. Along this process is also the inevitable transformation of self.
For the artist, the visual is but one of the many strands that tie a house together. In “Bintana,” a work in mixed media, aside from the different kinds of paints, the artist also used alcohol, dust, vodka, coffee, cooking oil, dishwashing liquid, and other solutions, to explore their material properties and unique colorations and pigments. Everything could be material for art.
In this suite of mixed-media works, fragile thread (exposed to the eye, just like in the circular rags sold by vendors on the street) has sewn and visually and structurally unites the disparate elements together. It zigzags, intersects with its self-same line, traverses boundaries from one form to another, providing both visual and functional necessity.
In touch with the community where he grew up, Balatbat alludes not to the antiseptic domains of the rich but the humble abodes of the marginalized. His works, in their juxtaposition of varying forms, easily remind of the jumble of shanties that are prone to devastation because of inclement weather (the dotted lines are suggestive of rain), whose foundations can be easily rooted by a furious wind, if not by demolition. Out of this rough-and-tumble of elements a home may still emerge—an actual physical space, yes, but also a moveable, mobile concept for anyone who wants to start afresh.
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