Filipino artist Alfredo Esquillo Jr makes paintings and installations that centre on the daily and social happenings of contemporary Filipino life. Concerned with representing the complexities of his culture, Esquillio's works often reference popular culture and religious motifs within a post-colonial context.Read More
Esquillo's realist paintings frequently contain religious themes, as seen in Multi-tasking Goddess (2004). In the work, a crowned woman is seated at a throne and is depicted with various hands similar to Hindu and Buddhist deities. Many religions native to the pre-colonial Philippines were influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism; Esquillo's painting seems to directly compare this history with the Catholic-dominated post-colonial reality by including Jesus on the cross in one of the woman's hands, amongst various other domestic items, as well as traditionally masculine items such as boxing gloves and a hammer. In the painting, the everyday becomes sublime and elevated—quite literally on a throne—as well as critically examined.
Many of Esquillo's works also deal with the existential and transformations, particularly his triptychs. In the first frame of the triptych Prey Catching Prey (2015), a man is floating amongst what appears to be clouds and darts, while a pair of hands made to look like a bird appear at a distance. In the next image, the hand-bird hybrid engulfs the centre of the canvas with darts pointed to it. In the final image, the man, pierced with darts, is seen again inside the now-claw-like hands. In the first frame, the floating man seems to exist in a type of existential and oneiric limbo. The changing of the hands into an animal, as well as their final transformation in the last image, reverses the process of transfiguration or, rather, perverts it. As is common in many Esquillo paintings, the narrative questions the ideas of mortality, faith and existence.
In addition to his paintings, Esquillo is equally known for his installation works—particularly his assemblages that resemble the jeepney (a lavishly decorated form of public transport in the Philippines). The jeepney has a complex imperialist history; originally United States military jeeps, they were covered in vibrant ornamentation and repurposed after World War II. Esquillo's 2010 Alab ng puso (Fire in the heart), for example, repurposes the jeepney into a wheelchair-jeepney hybrid and includes religious iconography and a self-portrait of the artist. Far from practical, with one pair of mini wheels and one pair of large wheelchair wheels, the clunky vehicle offers social commentary on accessibility in various aspects of life including representation, culture and religion. The two-dimensional flames painted in the self-portrait at the front of the car and the three-dimensional flames coming out of the hood reference the Sacred Heart in Catholicism, a religion brought to the Philippines by Spanish colonisers. By way of his inclusion of his own likeness in the work, Esquillo references colonialism's far-reaching effects not only on Filipino culture, but on the individual as well.
Esquillo graduated from Manila's University of Santo Thomas with a degree in painting in 1993. His work has been exhibited at various art institutions such as the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Fowler Museum, Los Angeles; Fukuoka Asian Art Museum; National Portrait Gallery, Canberra; the Metropolitan Museum of Manila; and the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay, among others. He has previously been included in the the ASEAN Art Awards in Indonesia (1995) and Thailand (1996); the Philippine Art Awards (1996); and the 13 Artists Awards from the Cultural Center of the Philippines (2000).
Esquillo currently lives and works in Manila.
Perwana Nazif | Ocula | 2018