Style Living Self Celebrity Geeky News and Views
In the Paper BrandedUp Hello! Create with us Privacy Policy

Reynold dela Cruz at the crossroads with ’Ko-Mix’

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 10, 2024 5:00 am

When artist Reynold dela Cruz arrives at the 3rd floor of Museo Ng Muntinlupa for the opening of his show Ko-Mix, he’s wearing sunglasses. They stay on for a while as we’re introduced and start asking him questions. Eventually, the local artist from the railroad tracks of Bayanan removes the shades, and we do a walkthrough.

Mostly based on images of models shot by conceptual photographer Niccolo Cosme, then rendered as comic book covers and re-rendered by the artist, Ko-Mix is a pop feast. 

Some of the female models gaze up to the heavens with a look of religious (or some other) ecstasy, like saints in Bernini sculptures. Others hold up finger guns to the sides of their heads, even as they smile blissfully at the viewer. For one wall, Reynold has arranged a repeated model image against various road signs (“WRONG WAY,” “PARKING”), one hand fanning across an eye, while pop emblems dance across each composition.

Artist Reynold dela Cruz gets a closeup at Museo ng Muntinlupa

Dela Cruz is either reluctant or indifferent to answering questions in English, so my queries about the influence of Andy Warhol’s repetition or Banksy’s playful mode are mostly met with shrugs or monosyllables. It’s a little hard to parse his motivations, but we know this: Dela Cruz grew up in an impoverished area of Muntinlupa, behind an ice plant and along the tracks of the Philippine National Railways. Funds were scarce and his mom sold comic books to keep her kids fed and clothed. Reynold’s Christian name came from a brand of cooking pots lying around the house. The young artist watched many in his midst succumb to poverty, addiction, crime. Reynold chose painting.

While Pop Art has resurfaced with a vengeance among Southeast Asian artists, Reynold’s work is curiously intact, a personal system of images and motifs. He was a henna tattoo artist for a while, so that makes an appearance as a symbol of strength; kids wearing Russian knit caps, which he says he noticed while growing up, decorate one quartet of canvases titled Pilipino Funny Komiks.

Fire (20x16 inches) from Ko-Mix

There are plenty of pop icons from the ‘90s, during Reynold’s adolescence: Michael Jordan (“a crush”) appears often, alongside Looney Tunes characters, Bart Simpson, Disney, Godzilla, Astro Boy, Jeff Koons Balloon Dogs, the Incredible Hulk, images from comic books, movie posters. These figures dance freely across the canvases, sprinkled spontaneously, he says, almost as an afterthought.

But his most striking signatures are the careful slices running across many of the model faces. Held together with a shiny safety pin, the slices—made in neat rows like railroad tracks with an X-acto—reveal “hidden messages” beneath the canvas surface: sometimes floral imagery, wallpaper, words like “LOVE” or other, more private, meanings. It’s this layer that marks Ko-Mix as a nod to his own personal system of signifiers.

The slices came out of frustration. Once, when a client refused to pay for a commissioned work, dela Cruz told his wife Hasmin he wanted to burn the canvas; instead, she encouraged him to slash the painting. Doing so felt cathartic to dela Cruz; the gesture let off steam, and became an “added device to his arsenal of visual weapons.” The slices sold well at his next exhibition.

The safety pins are a personal touch as well—he sees them as the “fixer of broken things,” drawing our attention while mending the world.

Another signature: juxtapositions of hearts and guns, explosive “POW!”s mixed with hearts and “LOVE”s, guns and head-pointing finger bullets.

Head Shot (78x48 inches)

A seeming burst of violence behind the non-ironic declarations of love plastered onto the surface like Band-Aids? Looking at one canvas titled Head Shot, I ask about this hint of violence, but Reynold bats it away. With his work, he says, “I will change the impression of violence” into something else, somehow diluting its power with humor.

In Ko-Mix, we learn of dela Cruz’s skill for turning adversity into opportunity. That’s his strategy: there’s a playfulness, but also a prayer. He recalls his first show in Muntinlupa as a teen, a group show where the organizers and other artists told him his single panel was overpriced; he countered that it should be sold for twice as much. Knowing your value is important for an artist. Coming home after exhibiting in Germany, London, Italy, and the US, to a solo show at Muntinlupa’s surprisingly modern art museum, must feel like a validation.

What the Fun? plays with our expectations of subversiveness.

We come to one Pilipino Komik canvas with what looks like Mickey Mouse raising a middle finger. Slapped over it by Reynold—at Muntinlupa’s insistence—is a comical disc that reads “OOPS!” I ask about subversiveness in his work, but he seems unhappy with this word, saying he’s much more in tune with the notion of play. “These letters here, ‘WTF’? What do they mean to you?” he asks. I supply the acronym’s common meaning. He points to the actual title of the work: What the Fun?

With each gesture, dela Cruz can replace what’s painful in life with something fun or cute. Whatever interpretive edge might be lurking in his work, ready to be pronounced by The Art World, is deflated by the punning, mischievous artist at work (or at play). Which itself is a kind of subversion—a judo move to subvert critical analysis and interpretation.

* * *

Ko-Mix by Reynold dela Cruz is at Museo ng Muntinlupa, located at Centennial Avenue, Barangay Tunasan, until July 29.