Of contradictions, unity, and paradoxes: A reflection on the art of Irish Glori Alvarado Galon

Irish Galon 2
The artist. (Used with permission for this blog)

Bohol, a province in the Visayas, is known for its beautiful sceneries, exotic wildlife, and warm people and creative people. Its name, according to Bohol Provincial Government website, supposedly derived from the word Bool, the place in Bohol where the sandugo or blood compact between Datu Sikatuna and the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi took place more than four-and-half centuries ago.

The bangkang papel, as Irish told me, plays a very significant role in her life as an artist and as an individual. (Photo from Irish Glori Galon, used with permission)

As a development worker, I used to work with lots of Bohol-anons (the native of Bohol). I have had a Bohol-anon lawyer for a boss when I worked with two non-governmental organizations for seafarers and laborers—the International Seafarers Action Center (ISAC) Philippines Foundation, Inc. and the All-Workers Forum, Inc., both were based in Quezon City. My former boss was from Loay, a 5th class municipality in Bohol.

But what is more exciting about Bohol is that is is also home for great visual artists, musicians, and literati. National artist Napoleon Abueva, I have recently learned was from Bohol, and also the polymath, lawyer, and poet/writer Eligio Lofranco was also from the said province. The famous and yet controversial actor Cesar Montano was also from Bohol. Montano, Cesar Manhilot in real life, is also considered as one of the painters to watch for in the local art scene.

And now, I have met yet another wonderful lady artist from Bohol—Irish Glori Galon.

Red Wall
Red Wall


Enigmatic, Paradoxical

I met Irish at the show of Valen Valero, the lovely woman artist from La Union. Galon was with her husband, who is an artist too, Melbourne Aquino, whose body of works was mainly abstracts. When I saw her sketches on Facebook, they immediately caught my attention for there was something enigmatic in them.

It is enigmatic for while there can be a direct interpretation of the figures—in her illustrations or on her mixed-media paintings—there are also some things that are hidden beneath that is worthy of exploration, of digging deeper for they will reveal something new to us, her audience.

I think this is the power of any artwork—to be a fount of endless meanings, realizations, possibilities.

There are three main ideas/subjects that I usually paint/create: Those I love, those I hate, and things that I fear. I hated flowers because they’re too feminine—fragile, loved because of their beauty but are oftentimes boring to look at. Not until Naima was born that I learned to see flowers as a symbol of womanhood, coming of age and hope. I am now a mother of two lovely babies,” Irish shared to this blogger in an email when I have asked her to permit me to feature her in my blog.

“I started painting and using (incorporated) origami on my works when I learned to create bangkang papel back in 2010–that was when I dropped out from school and was a wandering kid, scavenging old paints, used brushes and textiles in order to produce artworks. The inspiration came when I was on a coffee shop, alone, broke, depressed. I saw two young boys, nagkakarerahan ng bangkang papel sa may estero. That was the happiest scene I’ve seen on that cold, rainy day. Just like a flashback scene on an MTV or teleserye, I saw myself, my life as the paper boats sailing. Sumasabay sa agos. Tinatangay ng hangin. Nakikipagkarerahan sa ibang mga bangka. Kahit walang katiyakan, lumalaban. Mauna lang. Chos. That single moment changed the way I saw life. It’s like almost every single daily object is breathing with life, is a metaphor. Sumisimbulo sa mga bagay na minsan ay hindi na natin nabibigyan ng halaga,” Irish said in her short essay sent for this blog.

The Artist as Storyteller and The Senses as Tools for Acquiring Knowledge

As a painter, Irish is a storyteller. However, she’s more interested on the stories of the character not the character itself, thus the faceless men and women adorning her canvases. This makes her visual stories more interesting and thrilling.

At 19, I started creating abstractions at first for two reasons: I love Jackson Pollock and industrial paints are the cheapest and lone medium I could afford at that time. When I started to dig in with the aesthetics and researched on traditional to modern art, I explored more on different mediums—from scrap metals to spare parts, electronic chips, textiles, yarns, collage and cassette tapes. Even If I was often discouraged by my peers (contemporary, postmodern art are not celebrated by the locals. They were even hated by other artists seeing it as trash (no idea, plus exhibition of no skills; not as art), I still pursued on finding my own art style. When we had a show in Cebu, I released a series of works where daily objects are painted on a three-dimensional style (trompé el oilé), and faceless portraits of men and women. Those were my first figurative work. It was well received by the crowd so I continued creating them. When people ask me why the portraits do not resemble a face [I explained]: (1) I wanted to evoke equality and being anonymous—no identity, no gender—just random people. (2) I have always been bullied for having a flat nose, undesirable teeth (fuck all those meds I drank!) and long, black, frizzy hair. They said I resemble an old fashioned witch from horror stories. I was told by my mom: Ang nawng, makadani. Apan ang pamatasan maoy mudakop sa kasingkasing. (A pretty face captures the eyes. But personality captures the heart). Wala kayo sa nanay ko! I’d like to paint personalities, character, stories not just pretty faces. I also want to emphasize that portraits should not be judged on how well an artist copied someone else’s face, but also on the emotions and stories it can tell us in the future,” she explained about some of her works.

Like a wallflower, we aren’t really boring or just pretty; neither are we just decoration. We are made for a purpose. Just like flowers when stepped on, they grow, again, into stronger, lovelier beings. And even if they wilt or die, the joy, the scent, its beauty, will remain in our memories through eternity,” Irish explains further.

The abovementioned statements were all true. We often are caught by the superficial. We, most of the time as human beings, judge according to what we saw, or what we feel at that moment only to find out, at the end that our senses deceive us.

As a writer, a former journalist, and as a critic (and a person who is also fond of mysticism, spirituality, and philosophy), I usually don’t intend to look at things in an ordinary way. For me, there is always a story or something behind every thing on earth. You need to understand them deeply and completely, or else you might just misunderstand them. But of course, as what Alexander Pope said: “To err is human, and to forgive is divine,” I also commit mistakes on seeing things and understanding some situation but I’m also quick in forgiving myself for doing those mistakes. Nothing is perfect in this imperfect world, right?

Nonetheless, irony of all ironies, the senses can also be effective tools for us to gain wisdom and understanding. As St. Thomas of Aquinas has said:

The senses are a kind of reason. Taste, touch and smell, hearing and seeing, are not merely a means to sensation, enjoyable or otherwise, but they are also a means to knowledge – and are, indeed, your only actual means to knowledge.

At first, we perceive by our physical eyes and feel by our physical sense of touch. We receive instructions by our sense of hearing and savor every flavor of the earth can offer by our physical tongue. But as time goes by, when we learn to perceive by the senses of our hearts and learn to listen to the guidance of our Soul or Consciousness, then we can truly understand the true meaning of existence, the real meaning of beauty, and the true meaning of love and appreciation. This is the true Wisdom that can be also obtained by savoring the beauty of nature and of the art. However, this kind of perceiving will take some time to develop.

Art that wants to be felt does not have the need to be admired.—the late Darby Bannard

Delving into “Forbidden Bliss”

Another quality of Irish Galon’s art is that they are somewhat sensual.

Aside from books, I am a fan of erotic art. I have been making sketches, illustrations and drawings since grade school (landi!!?). Although my parents are not happy with the illustrations I am making (was raised in a typical conservative, devout Catholic Boholano family), the more fun it is. I am delving into a world that excites our innermost thoughts- sex. It’s fun, sexy and satisfying. I won’t be stopping,” Irish has to confess.

Quoting the famous Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud,

“The behavior of a human being in sexual matters is often a prototype for the whole of his other modes of reaction in life.”

In other words, one’s point of view of sex and sexuality sums up the way that a person sees the world. It cannot be denied that lust is part and parcel of the natural world. If someone will thoroughly examine the Genesis, the first law or command that Yahweh has given was, in fact, sexual in nature:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1: 28, King James Version of the Bible)

As God has given Adam and Eve power to subjugate other creatures as to be able to manage them for the divine purpose, Yahweh also has given them the power of lust, for them to be able to procreate and multiply. In the Eastern tradition, it is called the Tantra—the power of divine union, wherein the Masculine and the Feminine Power combines, and then here comes Self-Realization.

As for the poet Walt Whitman wrote:

“I believe in the flesh and the appetites;
Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle.
Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from;
The scent of these arm-pits, aroma finer than prayer;
This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds.”

But of course, one must avoid the trap of too much indulgence for worldly pleasures. Always bear in mind that anything that exceeds is a poison that kills.

Expressing Her Point of View on Things and Situations

And because Irish is not living in a world of dreams where horses fly and geese lay golden eggs—some of her creations show her view about the current social milieu and her stance on some social issues—the objectification and commoditization of the female body, the addiction of people to social media, the alienation of people as the capitalist system continue to reinvent itself for it to survive and continue to exploit human bodies, human mind, and labor and even the environment, just to gain superprofit. Unless the capitalist system will transform itself into a true humanistic system (which I doubt it can), it will just put itself into destruction, and it will die a “natural” death.

To sum it up, the works of Irish Glori Galon-Aquino are but her realizations brought by the inner contradictions that she has experienced as an artist and as a human being; her observation about the external reality that surrounds her; and her pursuit of finding her own identity as an artist, as a woman, and as a human being. Furthermore, they are the fruits of her quest for freedom, even though not absolute and complete, to create works that reflect her core values and beliefs. Because she has utilized that freedom carefully and consciously, without disregarding the paradoxes that she has experienced in the past and those she has been experiencing until today, the result is astonishing and amazing: artworks that can disturb the linear way of thinking and feeling and understanding things; creations that can bring you into a certain degree of social and spiritual realization; and masterpieces that possess true aesthetic and cultural value. (Updated 11 June 2017)

(N.B. – In this blog, I have violated my own rules, and that is not to use the first person point of view in analyzing things and calling the artist in her or his first name. I will try to be more “non-academic” in discussing my opinions and feelings about art, cultural issues, and the development of the local arts and culture. Hope that I can cope with some expectations. Happy reading!)


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