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Elmer Borlongan’s deep cuts

By IGAN D'BAYAN, The Philippine Star Published Oct 04, 2021 5:00 am Updated Oct 04, 2021 5:36 pm

Elmer Borlongan has been well-prepared for the apocalypse — er, lockdown.

Like a dutiful artist, he has stocked up on art materials in his Zambales studio, and — like the rest of us — he binge-watches Netflix (with wife Plet Bolipata) during evenings and connects with family via social media to maintain some level of sanity in this incessant tempest.

Recently, the sirens of printmaking started calling on the man who sails the seas of figurative-expressionist art.

What we are experiencing today is the continuing neglect of righting the wrongs of our forefathers. The whole of mankind should act now for the betterment of our world.

Borlongan explains, “I dabbled in prints in the late ’90s until early 2000s, but had to stop to concentrate on painting. It has been at the back of my mind to do printmaking again. Then COVID-19 happened. That was the sign to go back to prints because all of my shows got cancelled (including one in Paris slated for October 2020). I made small monotypes and then brought out all my materials for rubbercut. It opened a lot of possibilities to experiment and learn about materials.”

 “New Normal,” 2021, wood engraving

The artist employs rubbercut and woodcut. He is currently doing drypoint on alternative plates-matrix such as plexiglass, Tetra Pak and recycled CDs. He is also exploring kitchen lithography invented in 2011 by French artist Emilie Aizier.

Borlongan has allotted a corner of his studio as a print space. He says, “When I went back to printmaking, my prints were still hand-burnished. I noticed my right arm felt tired and painful after a day’s printing. I realized the need for a printing press. I decided to seek advice from master printmaker Benjie Torrado Cabrera and he said to contact painter Raul Isidro. Luckily, Sir Raul had one small fabricated etching press to sell. But it took two months before the press arrived in Zambales because of the lockdown. That started my adventure to explore different types of printmaking processes.”

 “Stay Safe,” 2021, rubbercut

The themes that the artist ruminates upon center on everyday life, alienation, grotesque figures, hope and struggle. Borlongan points out, “I love the graphic quality, contrast and velvety black of rubbercut and woodcut. The act of carving the plate relates to the hard labor of workers and peasants. I love the idea of multiples and each hand-pulled print is considered an original.” 

For cerebral artists such as Emong, the long lockdowns have afforded time for rumination.

 “Old Man Smoking a Pipe,” 2020, woodcut

“I realized that humans have not changed in the 21st century with how we deal with fellow beings and nature. The instinct of greed is still there. Heads of government are selfish (and) they enrich themselves first before thinking of the welfare of their people. What we are experiencing today is the continuing neglect of righting the wrongs of our forefathers. The whole of mankind should act now for the betterment of our world.”

This sense of agitation does show up in the man’s works (drawings, paintings or prints), but rather than recycling the clichés of protest art, Borlongan says he uses metaphors and subtle approaches.

 “As The Crow Flies,” 2020, rubbercut

“Visual arts is a universal language. An artist engages the public in cultural discourse. Culture makes everyone a guardian of a nation’s soul regardless of race, gender or politics.”

This begs the question as to how can an artist create Beauty in a world that is becoming more toxic, troubled, sometimes even terrifying? Clowns to the left of us, jokers to the right…

 “CGO (Corrupt Government Official)”

Elmer Borlongan concludes, “By continuously creating artworks that reflect not just what we see but how we feel towards our world. The essential quality is soul.”

And how soul oozes from those lithographic grooves.

Borlongan is part of the upcoming online “Limbag-Kamay: Contemporary Print Fair” in October. He is also a participant in the ongoing group exhibition “20/30: A Limited Edition Print Portfolio” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.