By Kaye O’yek
When Googled, DengCoy Miel is a Singapore-based Filipino cartoonist, illustrator, and author. What web searches fail to mention, however, is how this consummate newspaperman fuels his production as a visual artist, holding an uncompromising day job and painting after work hours, relishing the full two-day weekend off to toil on his creations. Concepts, sketches, and canvas preparations are done during weekdays, interspersed with daily deliverables and personal chores, with working weekends starting right after his morning coffee. Internet hits cite Miel’s two Reuben Awards, numerous The Straits Times cartoons, two “Excellence in Editorial Cartooning” awards from the Society of Publishers in Asia, sold-out paperback SceneGapore and Master’s Degree in Design (MDes) from the University of New South Wales, but omit the fact that he is highly regarded by his colleagues and peers both in publication and in the arts.
He has joined quite a few notable group exhibitions, most recent of which are the “KARAPATAN Group Art Show” at the NCCA Gallery, Manila, and “Take a Line for a Walkin” at the UP Vargas Museum. Though he just started mounting solo exhibitions last year with Philippine Barokue, his works are well-received and eagerly anticipated in the Philippine art scene.
Miel’s “Enigmas” at Kaida Contemporary affirms this esteem as it shows the artist’s hand in each painting, his convictions shining through every piece. Trusting his audiences’ reception toward good art, the artist warns that veracity and duplicity are apparent to the viewer accessing artworks, and “no amount of bullshit text can validate your work if your output doesn’t measure up.” He is soft-spoken but speaks strong words, and has intrepid images in oil on canvas to match his audacity.
Among the paintings, Santo Fentanillo speaks the loudest about Miel’s opinions on politics, with one of today’s most prominent characters holding a gun shaped like an inverted cross, launching a swiftly escalating unholy crusade.
In Thou Art in Heaven, a Christ-like figure ascends to the upper atmosphere under a UFO’S light beam, creating a prophylactic-like sheath and detaching him from a burning world that he is supposed to save.
Disillusioned is a questioning piece, as the artist explores his own unraveling relationship with his faith. In hoping for redemption through art tackling religious themes, each painting becomes a prayer or a panata, articulated by a paint brush in fine strokes, vibrant colors, and veiled humor.
Then there are the women.
Pilya is a portrait of a feisty Filipina, proudly showing off her Mickey Mouse tattoo, unmindful of its imperialist connotations. As she publicly declares her hidden self, she seems to question misogyny and the Filipinos’ attachment to madonna/whore complex judgments.
Frida plays confidently with a monster cat whose maw cradles a baby. Inspired by Kahlo the Mexican artist, Miel refutes a common representation of the famous figure, that of a sickly, barren woman who needs to embellish herself with colorful ornamentation to mask her incapacities. This Frida is relaxed and shorn of all adornments while she radiates joy with the abundance of fruits from her womb.
Blues I features a solitary woman creating music with a femur, poised, collected, and unashamed of her nudity.
When confronted about the commonality of the women in his paintings—unflinching, self aware, and powerful, refusing to see themselves as weaklings or victims, Miel only has this to say: “I like strong women.”
Voltes V versus The Manananggals was borne out of loss, because at the time the Martial Law-era sensational animated feature was taken off the air, Miel thought of what could substitute for a giant Japanese robot—the local manananggal of Philippine mythology seemed to be a formidable opponent, if taken in scale.
In Ultraman battling the Yokais, supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese mythos create discord, and a masked hero vanquishes them with a laser beam from his laptop—a manufactured, but still possible, future, pitted against the traditional: fiction versus folklore. Shunga, erotic art-inspired paintings complete this cluster, replete with genitalia skewered by arrows, or a massive erection used as a saddled battering ram, equating the passions of desire with warmongering.
The pieces in “Enigmas” may be taken as parts of a story, told by an artist seeing red as he witnesses the current epoch unfolding. Seeking pleasure in artistic production, he takes on the visceral and renders the invisible into visible, interrelated visual cues, creating pieces of a puzzle that will take further interrogation to solve. The answers do not come easy, but then, isn’t art at times perceived as necessarily difficult to have any relevance?
For an artist like Miel who does not seem to know the meaning of idle time, the easy way out is simply unacceptable. His own words reflect his slightly masochistic sentiments when he says, “I paint because it is not easy. I paint because it is hard. If you want easy, just print out the whole damned thing.” Painting, after all, is spelled with “pain” right at the very start.
‘Enigmas’ may be viewed at Kaida Contemporary until today. Please contact the gallery at 63 927 929 7129 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.