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Mark Rocha Padernal captures the ‘Unguarded’

By IGAN D'BAYAN, The Philippine Star Published Nov 03, 2021 5:00 am

Not another show of portraits, you may devilishly snap. But, wait, this one is different.

A certain storytelling arc applies here, an eye for detail beyond the subject itself, with narratives gracefully, effortlessly striking a pose. 

It all started when Raul Francisco, the owner of Provenance Art Gallery, wanted to surprise his wife and gallery co-owner Joanna Preysler-Francisco with a gift to commemorate her 50th birthday. Raul had long admired the artist Mark Rocha Padernal (stumbled upon his Instagram account three-and-a-half years ago and loved his visual language right away) and thought of asking Mark to do a commissioned piece.

Joanna Preysler-Francisco on her portrait by Mark Padernal: ‘I would still love this portrait that Raul gave me — even if the subject was not me.’  

Raul recalls, “I decided that he would be the one to do a portrait of Joanna, something that even our children would love to have later on when we are long gone.”

I like to meet the subject and feel the aura, get to know the person a little bit beyond the physical appearance. There is so much that the naked eye cannot capture when it comes to the essence of an individual.

When Joanna received the gift, she knew the portrait captured her as a person, but there was something unmistakably transcendent about it. “It is a timeless piece, capturing a time in my life where I am most complete and whole as a woman. I may be battered and bruised, but I am still whole.” A woman who has tamed tempests, traversing with poise a most interesting life. Someone weathered into beauty.

 Natalia Zobel

The lady posted a photo of the painting on social media and there came an inundation of interest: friends wanted their own Padernal portraits as well. It was a ball-rolling, traction-gaining kind of post.

“So, we went on this two-year journey with Mark,” explains Joanna.

Mark Rocha Padernal’s portraits of 14 ladies and one gentleman, collectively billed as “Unguarded,” will be on view in a virtual exhibition starting Nov. 6 at Provenance Art Gallery in The Shangri-La at The Fort. “People will appreciate the paintings even if they don’t know who the subjects of the portraits are,” she shares.

 Camille Villar

Padernal explains his creative process: “Firstly, I like to meet the subject and feel the aura, get to know the person a little bit beyond the physical appearance. There is so much that the naked eye cannot capture when it comes to the essence of an individual. The countenance, the personality, the qualities that slowly come to light as we meet and discuss the portrait. I can then get a sense of the mood, the spirit of the painting, based on the spirit of the subject herself or himself.”

 Vicky Hagedorn

Joanna accompanied the artist to interview subjects, and she would always tell each of them, “Think of something happy or memorable; think of a great love, your children; think of a secret that only you or a handful of people know… so when you look at this portrait of you, that feeling and that memory will come rushing back.”

 Em Aglipay-Villar

After the meetings, Mark — who works full-time for Google Maps and does his paintings on his days off — would cocoon himself in his studio and come up with pieces that not only portray the sitter deftly but also present bits of backstories and histories of objects that enrich the entire narrative.

These are not your usual half-body portraits; Padernal renders the sitters in their own zoomed-out worlds: in their living rooms and dens, spaces where they hold court or simply let their guard down.

Ana De Ocampo sits ensconced in her beloved speakeasy, which has been closed down because of the pandemic. Natalia Zobel shares the frame with her dogs. Melissa Aboitiz Elizalde has a scarf of her mother-in-law’s who had recently passed. Tootsy Angara is resplendent in white against the throb of red.

 Melissa Aboitiz-Elizalde

The Franciscos will tell you that Padernal’s paintings would make you want to examine the practice of portraiture itself.

Raul points out, “Mark does not just bring out the subject, but the entire drama as well.” There are elements of deconstruction and abstraction in most of the pieces. Some parts are meticulously detailed while some are faintly dabbed, disappearing into swathes of haze. This goes to show that the artist will employ every approach or technique necessary to realize his vision and to do justice to the subject.

 Tootsy Angara

Joanna stresses, “The paintings are beautiful in themselves. I would still love Mark’s portrait that Raul gave me — even if the subject was not me. I wanted these ladies to have a cornerstone portrait: something that would bring them back to a special time or place. It’s an emotional journey for each of them. You see their vulnerability, their authenticity.”

 Ana De Ocampo

Their guards are down, the artifices dismantled, and all we see are women (and one man) caught in their empire of elegant contemplation.

Provenance Art Gallery is at Shangri-La at the Fort, 30th St. corner 5th Ave. Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. For information, call +63 917 825 2041 | (02) 946 3236. Follow Provenance Art Gallery on social media.