Search for anything

I Will Do Anything for Peace and Freedom

  • Start

    22 September 2011
  • End

    16 October 2011
  • Artist

    Rodelio Cerda
  • Gallery

    Altro Mondo - Arte Contemporanea, 3rd Level Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati City

I Will Do Anything for Peace and Freedom

Kristine Domingo

It is often with excitement and trepidation that a collector views new work reportedly uncharacteristic of an artist admired for a distinct leitmotif, patented use of a medium, or signature palette. Longtime followers of Rodelio “Toti” Cerda’s oeuvre of youthful innocence in recollection—rinsed in celebratory watercolor, polished with healthy strokes of nostalgia and subtle commentary lingering—will be pleased to find his latest offering a thrill.

The exhibit marks a departure from earlier vignettes of childhood, yet it maintains winsome insights into youthful thought and feeling. The award-winning artist washed the watercolor off his palette for the new pieces. Gone are the street children showering in the rain. Gone too are the neighborhood kids playing Filipino games with war memorabilia. In their place are acrylic portraits of universal and national icons by turns worshipped and denigrated over time, as it suits the public.

The extensive range of iconography features a motley of movers and shakers in history. Among the dozen subjects is a blue-eyed Jesus Christ making a peace sign; Mahatma Gandhi in leather and dark sunglasses; a New Age-garbed Mao Tse-tung; Albert Einstein in a chef’s uniform; and Jose Rizal in camouflage, spanning the length of a Philippine map. Pop stars and artists include Michael Jackson sporting an afro sculpted into a peace sign; John Lennon without ears; Bob Marley as a poster boy for quitting drugs; Charlie Chaplin caught mid-scream; Bruce Lee in a clown suit selling balloons; Marilyn Monroe as a nun praying for world peace; and Salvador Dali grooming his ringmaster’s moustache with a small blue comb. An old Billboards hit, “What if God was one of us?”can’t help but cross the viewer’s mind.

Cerda adds depth and texture to his work by delving deeper into the minds of the youth and revealing more of his own vision, ars poetica. Where he used to illustrate children with crayons, he now provides a glimpse of their dreams and musings projected in sharp snapshots. The paintings may serve as coming-of-age imagery. Perhaps an experimenting teen is contemplating what “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery” actually means. A schoolgirl playfully dresses up Monroe in a severe mother superior’s habit. An artist daydreams in Math class, reenvisioning Einstein as an exacting chef.

But the works are not strictly teen-oriented. Red wine is the new doobie in the Marley painting. Lennon’s death is rendered as having his ears cut off. Chaplin is a Hitler yeller. There’s also a notable mastery of eras and pop music references in images of Christ and Jacko. Ageless concepts of choice, paths, consequences, and destiny figure prominently in nearly every one of these portraits, albeit in a charmingly familiar, yet often witty manner.

It can be said that the artist has deftly struck a balance rarely achieved in contemporary art—none of the images can be accused of blasphemy, naïveté, superficiality, and so on. In their candor and simplicity, they enable untainted insight (see Kick the Habit where freedom is a matter of both right and perspective) or at the very least, a chuckle (see The only difference between me and a madman is that I’m not mad.). They transcend irony (see Rizal in fatigues, poised for battle), which as Rainer Maria Rilke has once written, is often important in good poetry. This may largely be due, of course, to the viewer’s reluctance to clutter childlike, unprejudiced visions with overly critical, gravely political associations.

Ironically, the acrylic adds buoyancy, strength, sophistication. It calls for a more democratic eye towards interpretation despite the dynamic images created, reinforcing themes of peace and freedom that have evolved through individuality and multiculturalist notions of independence. What keeps the memory of icons alive is art after all, which in this instance, can survive through the painter’s own personal connection with the icons, and the humor enhanced by the medium.

The Warholian technique of painting the icon’s face at close range also renders the shift from national to universal motifs graceful, more meaningful. Such discipline must come from Cerda’s training in Draftsmanship, combined with creative experience in illustrating for local paperbacks early in his career.

Overall, from affirming famous quotes for titles like “Heal the world” and “As you think, so shall you become” to the youthful choices and concepts presented in the artist’s depictions, the portraits have the ability to offer fresh revelations, not tired, U2-preachy homage. This perhaps will assure collectors that Cerda’s new brush strokes do not veer away from his themes celebrating the youth. In fact, most viewers would agree that the series could still have been christened with the title of one of his earlier exhibits—Forever Young.