By Hannah Jo Uy
“Remember,” admonishes Butch Payawal, “there are many good painters but only a few artists.” Art, for him, is more than putting color and line to canvas. Art is the careful weaving of ideas to provide audiences with a new lens in which to view the world.
A firm believer that boundaries only exist to be challenged, Payawal has long been a master of reinvention. His drive to constantly push the limits of his definition of art, as well as that of others, is driven by a childlike sense of wonder.
This childlike wonder is what sets Payawal from other artists. It serves as the elixir of youth that injects his oeuvre with a level of freshness. He revels in the unexpected, and each exhibit throughout his long and prolific career unleashed a new dimension of his being, showcasing the infinite capabilities of his creative soul. He is unassuming and unabashed in the manner by which he presents his idea, breaking down preconceived notions on what is and what is not acceptable.
“We’re now in the 21st century and my approach to my recent exhibit is a little bit non-traditional,” says Payawal. This is no more evident than in the title of his most recent show at J studio: “VAMVAMDILANGDAMDAM.”
“Someone asked me why I made that my title,” he says, sharing the quizzical looks he received following the announcement of his latest exhibit’s moniker. “And I said to him, ‘Why do you like to wear your favorite shirt?’” Payawal shares his amusement at his interaction, confessing that he was even more amused in realizing that his simple answer was enough to enlighten those asking.
Initially, the artist considered a show title that signified some sign of our times and hinted at the underlying dark themes shining through the collection. Spoon-feeding, however, he says adamantly, is against his philosophy as an artist as he prefers to let the art speak for itself.
Curiosity is what Payawal hopes most to provoke in the viewer and he hopes to achieve that by leaving things unsaid, by allowing the mystery to seduce the viewer. The playful and lighthearted attitude the artist embodies does not mean he did not invest in painstakingly working and reworking his ideas. “Conceptualization is the hardest part. It takes a long time to think something different and create a fresh start all over again,” he says, not only in reference to the show but to art-making in general.
Indeed, there is an underlying seriousness within the collection, not only in concept but also visually. Tensions and contradictions serve as representations of human character in shades of black and white, further set off by details in red and yellow burning brightly and stealing focus. Animal heads take on human characteristics in dramatic settings and the menagerie encourages viewers to reflect upon moral characterizations and the parallels between man and animal.
Payawal’s ability to dabble and excel using a variety of mediums is drawn from his diverse and multi-disciplinary background. He used to work as an art director and it wasn’t until 2002 that he decided to become a full-time artist and move away from what he called “the stress and grind of the corporate world.” Though he has since gained critical acclaim in both local and international art circles, through exhibits and guest lectures spanning across Manila all the way to Perth, Australia and Paris, France, he is not ashamed to admit even to this day, he has a lot more to learn. “I always want to be a student or an apprentice,” he says. “I feel I need to learn many more things. So it’s always been a challenge for me to present good works every show. I’d like to see something different.”
In his earlier days, his affinity for color was very evident, but lately, as he matured as an artist, he has dabbled in monochromatic work. He says he is now inclined toward the more dramatic monochromes, such as black and white, dubbing the contrasts as the best way to “experience classic chiaroscuro.” When asked what serves as his biggest influence, he says, “All of the artists in the whole universe, they give me inspiration and aspiration.”
With most of his work now bordering on surrealism, he admits that “from the standpoint of the viewer it has meaning but as for me it has no meaning …you can call me a dreamer but sometimes the absurd means lucid.” Indeed, Payawal doesn’t venture to explain life or overthink, he creates, he observes, he comments, he laughs, and, most important, he lives and encourages others to do the same.