By Hannah Jo Uy
Images by Pinggot Zulueta
Very few artists can capture the nuances of classical art forms so well that they are able to assimilate the same aesthetic values within their own creations. One such artist is Orley Ypon.
Born in Toledo, Cebu, Ypon has made a name for himself in both the local and international art scene for his creations, which pay homage to classical art forms by reviving them within the contemporary context as a commentary for modern issues.
From the onset, the works of Ypon serve as a portal for viewers to a time anatomical precision, composition, and symmetry were regarded as standards of beauty. In this tradition, color and composition move into a streamlined narrative that evokes emotions and sensations. The human figure plays a central role, and it plays upon the established ideas of academic art, which requires a unique discipline and trained eye.
Ypon showcased this effortlessly in “Adam’s Rib,” featured at the 2017 edition of Art Fair Philippines. In the 11 works Ypon presented in the exhibition, the human body is showcased in all its naked glory, each painting a unique study in movement and anatomy.
We interact with the flesh of the subject and revel in its nakedness, from every tense muscle to every strand of hair, from the delicate curve of the hip to the intimate shadows. The jarring images, which may shock some and entice others, all urge viewers to become aware of their own nakedness and reflect on their most basic natures. This is more emphasized in the natural setting where the writhing bodies are frolicking in natural settings, almost reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, when we were still strangers to shame.
This nostalgic quality of his art and his unparalleled skill as a painter solidify Ypon as a revival of the old masters, as, like them, he is constantly struggling to capture the essence of the human condition through realism. He does so while also injecting his own social commentaries. Each character within the work is a crucial player, and behind their eyes, the curve of their mouth, from either pleasure or pain, as well as their most minute impressions, viewers are given the chance to be immersed in the world that the painting brings to life.
We are reminded of the meticulous strokes of masters in looking at the artworks of Ypon, who admits he was heavily influenced by the likes of Rembrandt, Eugene Delecoix, John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla, Ander Zorn, Odd Nerdrum, Fernando Amorsolo, Felix Hidalgo, and Juan Luna, among others.
According to Ypon, the innate creativity of the artist will always bring about natural and organic changes that will help him effortlessly push the boundaries, both within him and in the work he does. This predisposition to step away from one’s comfort zone is a vital component of the artistic life, and for Ypon it was an invaluable part of his own creative journey. It is for this reason that he is not bogged down by artificial efforts to do something new. Instead he focuses on the unique joy that a careful and elegantly composed painting can bring, both to himself and the viewers of his work.
“I don’t know if I evolved or not,” he says, “I just know I’m happy with what I’m doing, I suppose the people around me would be the only ones who would know whether I evolved or not.”
It is this brand of humility that makes Ypon particularly refreshing, especially as his down-to-earth and easy-going nature stands in stark contrast to the epic proportions of his works, not necessarily always in scale but rather in terms of the subject matter and issues that it confronts. Though most eloquent in his native tongue, the poetry of Ypon lies within his mastery over the human figure, which he uses effortlessly to portray the Filipino way of life, a constant theme reflected across his work over the years.
His love for his people, their rich and diverse history, and their unique quirks has injected itself into his paintings, and his subtle yet powerful form of patriotism moves him to create pieces that urge people to contemplate on national and societal issues. “I often use concepts that tackle people, especially our fellow Filipinos and how or why we are who we are,” he says.
This is especially true among the youth, to whom Ypon always and ultimately dedicates his craft.
“By discovering new ideas, improving the work, and continuing as a purveyor of art, I want to share what I can, especially to younger artists who are looking to my work,” he says. “This is what drives me.”