So rich and abundant is our country in cultural traditions that certain specific places have become famous for their own products and, by extension, their personages, that they have become synonymous with their place of origin. Acknowledged as the “Art Capital of the Philippines” is Angono, previously a small municipality in the south of Manila, but by dint of their immense contribution to the artistic and cultural heritage of the country, has grown so much bigger than its geographical site, for Angono now occupies a revered place, not on mere land, but in the national consciousness. Truly, no other single place has spawned two National Artists, one for Music and one for the Visual Arts, namely Lucio San Pedro and Carlos “Botong” Francisco. While those two names remain giants in their respective fields, other distinguished luminaries in the arts have further burnished the sheen of Angono’s luster in the arts, with names such as Jose “Pitok” Blanco, Nemiranda, and Perdigon Vocalan. More impressively, their young progeny, representing the next generation of Angono artists, have been emerging in the art scene. And by way of that brief historical background is the opportune time to introduce another son of Angono, one who is fast making waves, not only because he is related to the well-esteemed late Perdigon, whose same surname he proudly carries, but through his individual style or idiom that, by way of forewarning, “rocks the boat,” or rather the bancas, along the Laguna Lakeshore. In short, his works are a clear, and daring, departure from what we associate with Angono art. Just this alone, in my estimation, makes him an artist that bears watching.His name: Franz Marion “Nano” Vocalan. Early on, he was noticed for his style of painting which affects what we know as graffiti art. The word graffiti, of course, has had its bad share of media publicity. After all, its top-of-mind awareness is the desecration of public walls, with rebellious youth brandishing cans of spray paint, their instant instruments to inscribe their messages to the world. Graffiti, or the singular graffito, comes from the Italian word graffiato, meaning scratched.Not surprisingly, Vocalan’s works are resonant with a sense of release, of a playfulness of the imagination, unhindered, not by the police in the subway of New York, where graffiti art reached its apogee, but a permission to enter regions of existential anxiety for which mere words seem helpless to enunciate. Addressing concerns both petty and diurnal (such as waking up from a nightmare, hollering who ate his reserved meal or sending Happy Birthday greetings to a friend, here whimsically portrayed with his bushy hair topped with twin lighted cigarettes like horns) or global worries like a raging war subsumed into the metaphor of a prickly potted cactus. The spirit of that late demigod of graffiti art, the tragic, drug-crazed figure of Jean Michel Basquiat, hovers now in the genre of graffiti art. The other notable artist bred by graffiti art was Keith Haring, who died of AIDS. Of course, that street art has now become worthily an art of the museum, is one of those surprises that postmodern art likes to spring on history, where pluralism rules: anything and everything is ART, so long as the artist proclaims it. Indeed, it is the genius of painting that it can open up perspectives where previously there were none, or irreverently satirize all the sacred cows of our beliefs and philosophies.As it has done for the art of Franz Marion Vocalan. His handling of imagery, refreshingly rough-hewn, is comic surrealism ladled on canvas as irrepressible, hilarious fantasies: a dripping cauldron of chicken drumsticks in the company of what appears to be the cranium of skulls, a grinning bully of a monster with serrated teeth, a nonplussed sheep wearing green goggles, a floating brain in search of its master, the cactus as a transfiguring messenger of doom and vengeance. There is ample merriment for your gray cells and your funny bone.
By: Cid Reyes
Lives and works in Angono, Rizal, The Philippines