By Hannah Jo Uy
Images by Pinggot Zulueta
“Boredom is fuel for creativity,” says Reen Barrera. Early on, the visual artist knew how to make the most of what he had. Not particularly blessed with a large amount of toys when he was young, Barrera also did not often play outside with other children. But it was no hindrance to his imaginative soul. Instead, he used every available material in his possession—paper, carton boxes, or sticks—to craft his own world. “I still come up with new ideas when I’m bored,” he says. “When I’m bored, I’m at my best at being creative.”
Though he always cultivated a creative spirit, Barrera said it took a podcast and an alarming accident to get him to finally fully commit to life as an artist. “There is one artist named David Choe who said in one of his podcasts that in everything you want to do that you think you can be the best, dive in head first,” he recalls. “And that’s what I did three years ago.” After recovering from an accident that left him bedridden for three months, Barrera’s brush with death prompted him to quit his job. He dove, indeed, head first, and humbly began to sell his paintings and small sculptures along the streets of Bonifacio Global City. From then on, he started to connect with gallery owners, attending gallery shows to see what opportunities lay ahead. “I am blessed that the art scene in the Philippines is so alive right now,” he says.
His restlessness caused him to shift between paintings and sculptures. “I do have a short attention span. Maybe that’s why my art consists of paintings and sculptures,” he says. “I can say that sculpture is my rest from painting and it goes both ways. As for my painting and sculpting style being spontaneous, I enjoy the process of building and problem solving.”
Since committing himself to paint and sculpt professionally, Barrera has balanced the need for repeated efforts to refine personal aesthetic style with the need to indulge in the spontaneous nature of catharsis. “In the beginning, for every new idea, I preferred to be spontaneous with the process,” he admits. “With repetition the process becomes methodical and, for me as an artist, as I mature with my craft, I have some methods to follow to make sure my art style stays within my identity, but spontaneity will always be my starting point.”
When I was young and dealing with problems, I learned to just look at the sky and say to myself: At least the weather is nice.
This is a style that is continuously evolving as the artist remains hungry to learn, citing sculptors such as Allan Pangilinan and Louie Guevarra who’ve had a notable impact in his career. He has learned from them some key techniques in sculpting. Barrera says that he has also learned a lot from working with Sam Butcher, the creator of Precious Moments. “Having the World Wide Web as my library [inspired me],” he adds. “Artists who inspire me are too many to mention.”
While maintaining his hunger for knowledge, Barrera says that he also continues to search and refine his creative voice. Of late, he has been drawn to his childhood memories, peppering his work with flashes of nostalgia as he harkens back to emotions and experiences growing up. “I try to be genuine to my stories as much as possible, since no art is original nowadays,” he says. “I can at least be unique in my stories depicted in my works.”
This is evident in his latest exhibit “The Weather Is Nice,” which opened on Aug. 25 at Art Verite Gallery. The collection features 18 pieces of artworks consisting of paintings, dolls, and automata sculptures and provides a poignant glimpse into his early life.
“I want to tell my story,” he said. “I was born in Paris and, at a young age, I was sent to the Philippines because of my parents’ separation. But growing up I didn’t treat it as a reason for me to rebel. Yes it’s sad, but there’s a lot of things we can’t change, but always looking at the positive side is one attitude that can get us through hard times.”
This imbibes certain innocence in Barrera’s works. Not an innocence borne from naiveté, but rather an innocence stemming from a deeper appreciation of the reality of life. With his philosophy of gratitude, he manages to cultivate playfulness and wonder. “When I was young and dealing with problems,” he says, “I learned to just look at the sky and say to myself: At least the weather is nice.”
“The Weather is Nice” is on display at Art Verite Gallery until Sept. 6