How does one express without a face, without a body? While seemingly impossible, not only does veteran abstract artist Raul Isidro find it easy, it is his preferred mode of expression. With more than 50 years of artmaking under his belt, Raul is one of the most distinguished artists in the Philippines today. His latest solo exhibition at Galerie Stephanie entitled Glimpsing Terra Firma showcases the Samar native’s unceasing drive to produce artworks at the wise age of 75.
Born and raised in the coastal and mountainous region of Calbayog, Samar, it would not have been Raul’s destiny to become a world-renowned painter if not for his persistent drive and work ethic. With a life story that could trump most biographies, it was Raul’s fortitude that led him to where he is today. Fighting poverty tooth and nail to graduate from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and the Philippine Women’s University (PWU), Raul became a staff artist at the Advertising Marketing Associates, a truck salesman for Filipro (now Nestle), and an Art Professor and subsequent Dean in the PWU before starting several business ventures to support his career as a full-time artist. Even today, Raul’s philosophy in life is simply “work,” a dogma that has earned him numerous titles, including President of the Art Association of the Philippines in 1983, President of the Philippine Association of Printmakers in 2000, Co-Founder of the Calbayog Art Association, and Jury Member to countless art competitions. Raul has also been awarded one of Ten Outstanding Young Men for Fine Arts in 1979, the “Patnubay ng Sining at Kaliningan” award in 1998, and the Outstanding Thomasian award in 2006.
A professor of fundamental art techniques for 9 years, Raul firmly believes in the basics as basis. “You cannot work in abstract right away,” he says in an interview; “in your creative process you need a foundation.” The primacy of the fundamentals is the philosophy of Raul Isidro’s art. By learning and practicing the subtleties of shade gradations, contour, and tonal values, the artistic eye is trained to dissect figures into their component parts. Likewise, the abstracted landscapes in Raul’s canvases are rooted in the foundations of his lived experience – the vistas of his childhood in Samar. He takes the indispensable base elements of landscape scenery: rocks, trees, wind, and water, and projects abstract swathes of color and movement upon their image. For Raul, abstract art provides him with more freedom for personal expression, rather than an escape from reality; it is closer to pure expression than figurative art. While recreating the past, Raul gives it new life – materializing glimpses of Utopian color tempered by neutral negative space.
Raul’s art stays true to the modernist ideal, opening a rarified window into a universe of vaster reality. Contained within silhouettes of rocks and trees is a snapshot of the earth’s changing movements, interpreted as coalescing reds, glimmering greens, and shining yellows. As physical dramatizations of his inward universe, his canvases not only speak of a unifying feeling towards the mystery and splendor of nature, but also of the limitless possibilities contained inside the human person. Like a seafarer seeing solid land after a long deployment, Raul Isidro offers grounding in the face of life’s chaos, bridging the movements of the earth with the vicissitudes of emotion.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
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