Everything you hate!
by Manny Reyes
There was this scene in the first half of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) where the much disliked guardian, Thatcher, asks his former ward, Charles Foster Kane, what he wanted to be when he grew up. Kane replies, “Everything you hate.”
I always didn’t do artworks that people hated. In fact, during the first 30 years of my life, people actually liked my work. I wrote essays about Philippine movies that regularly got published. I took pictures that got exhibited. I even wrote, produced and directed a documentary by the time I was 25. Of course things became very different when I began making artworks that were more interesting to me than my audience.
I grew up in a bourgeoise family where the subject of art was never discussed seriously. Although art was one of my favourite subjects in school, unfortunately, I wasn’t very skilled at it. In fact I wasn’t great at handling art materials because I was heavy handed. Moreover, no grown-up was around to show me how to use art materials to create something exceptional. In my teens, I set all this kid stuff aside and devoted my time to learning more serious pursuits like writing, photography and even filmmaking. But despite my extended forays into these diverse art forms, I continued to nurse an irrational urge to paint. I describe it as irrational because I felt I had no real talent for it and that pursuing it seemed like a waste of time.
This explains why it took me 58 years to finally have a painting and drawing exhibit albeit online. As they are sexually explicit homoerotic works, galleries are predictably wary about exhibiting them in their premises. This is why I felt that showing them online was the best way for the public to see them in its integral version. Given the fact that I got a Catholic education, I’m probably the last person anyone would think of who would produce this type of sexually charged work.
My involvement with painting actually began with museum visits and reading art books. I remember seeing the Degenerate Art exhibit in Los Angeles in 1991. Although I thought title of the show was an exaggeration in relation to the German Expressionist paintings on display, I thought I could try painting in this style because it looked easy. But I was wrong. My first attempt at painting with oil appeared naive, lazy and lacked any kind of style.
I knew then that I was consciously avoiding painting in a realistic way because I thought it was just beyond my abilities at that time. Since I was terrible at drawing freehand, the only way I could render the human body with some degree of proficiency was to apply what I learned from 4 years of high school technical drawing. That meant using grids and drafting tools like French curves and templates.
I’m aware that using these tools are taboo in art school which is why I never considered enrolling in a painting class. Using this technique, I managed to create many of the painted artworks and charcoal drawings that appear in this website. I must admit that it was only in the last few years that I mustered the courage to make exquisite drawings of the male form freehand. My efforts appear in the pencil and charcoal drawing section of my website.
As for the choice of subject matter, I had hoped that I could keep my personal concerns separate from my art. In hindsight I think this was the reason why my early paintings were terrible. But by the time I completed my breakthrough painting, Up In the Clouds, in 2004, I realized that art is most meaningful when’s one’s identity and one’s artistry are just one. In other words, our art should clearly express who we truly are as an individual. If we paid heed to our distinct creative voice, the result would easily set our work apart from others.
I came out as a gay person when I turned 30. I realized that I couldn’t create artworks that hinted it was gay. That would mean that I was somewhat embarrassed by it. My work had to be decisively gay and it had to accurately reflect what was truly interesting to me. Admittedly, my works are sexually explicit and in hindsight, it was most likely inspired by the word “degenerate” from the Degenerate Art exhibit that I saw in 1991. As a gay person living in more liberal times, I wanted to create artworks that truly lived up to that Nazi label and left no doubt in the mind of the viewer of what it really was.
My artwork never fails to shock people and I chose my latest chalk drawing, Blow, to accompany this article because my art has always been about finding a potent image in what many would consider as a disagreeable or contentious subject. I’m resigned over the fact that religion as well as conditioned thinking would always get in the way of viewing my work. People hardly see the craft in my paintings. The only thing that draws their attention is the choice of subject. Male homosexuality is just polarizing and it appears to embody everything that people hate.
One thing that I have learned from making movies in my 30s was that one cannot meet an audience halfway. The product that results from such a compromised approach would most likely disappoint because it doesn’t totally satisfy the expectations of the audience nor does it make its creator proud.
My art may anger people. But I feel very strongly about articulating what I see in my head. If it comes down to a choice, my artistry has to come first.
August 31, 2018