By Hannah Jo Uy
Images by Pinggot Zulueta
A joint exhibit is a delicate dance between two artistic minds that are distinct, yet conscious of their commitment to express their existence in a shared space. This is especially true in “Travel Light,” an intimate show in Singapore’s One East Asia Gallery featuring Abigail Dionisio, and Joel Rodriguez Bartolome, also known as Welbart. The show is not only a creative milestone for the artists, but a personal one as well—as a celebration of their recent engagement.
“I can say that the preparation now is much easier because of the fact thatwe know each other well,” said Welbart, describing how “Travel Light” embodies their journey as a couple, and how far they have gone from their first collaboration in 2010. “When we got engaged early this year, I said to her that it was time to bring the ship into shore. My five works represent our friendship, our love, our faith, our future family, and our dreams.”
This is Welbart’s second show with the Singapore gallery. The artist expressed his gratitude to Daniel Komala and Veronica Howe of One East Asia for the invitation to be part of the exhibit, which drove the artists to reflect upon the common thread running through their individual styles. “The modern sailboat and the hot air balloons connect our works,” Welbart said. “We have been together for more than a decade, but we have always talking about our future and how to set aside our differences in order for us to have a smoothsailing relationship.”
Dionisio chimed in, “What made me dial in on the image of the sailboat for this visual narrative was my present state of mind as an individual, artist, and a woman, entering into the new stage of life and being able to balance it all in different circumstances—just like a sailboat that needs to keep the right amount of ballast to be stable above water.”
When we got engaged early this year, I said to her that it was time to bring the ship into shore. My five works represent our friendship, our love, our faith, our future family, and our dreams.
Their individuality remains intact throughout the collection, with each one’s philosophy and process revealed through their own works. “Respect is always one of my driving forces in doing what I do,” Dionisio said. “It is also my way of coping with reality.” She described her process as methodical, using human forms, symbols, and objects that would best represent her visual narrative. “Creating my own system and applying it, working, and spending time in the studio are the things that help me come up with ideas, concepts, and process development,” she said.
Welbart described his process as labor intensive. “Even in my past works, I need a considerable amount of time to finish one piece because almost all of the colors in my palette are semi-transparent,” he said. “In order to achieve my desired outcome I do three to four coatings of paint. In my current style, the process is more time consuming. The texts are stenciled and painted manually. Time consideration is needed to dry one layer in order put another layer of words.”
The aesthetic, as well as the medium of choice, holds strong emotional meaning for each. For Dionisio, the decision to dive into embroidery came in 2014 as a loving tribute to her father, a tailor, who underwent two major operations on his cervical spine. “The condition consumed him and our whole family for two years,” she said. “I wanted to make the most out of our situation and I still continued on with what I was doing.”
For Welbart, art is life. “To create is to breathe for me,” he said. “Ever since I learned to paint, I always reminded myself that I am not a mediocre producer of pictures. Maybe the reason why is that I was told early on in my art career that I will go nowhere in this ‘line of work.’ They were upset that I chose art. I was a nurse and they expected me to work overseas. But I found my special place under the sun, so I have to work hard educating myself about art and teaching myself how to do art. I am always in pursuit of excellence.”
Indeed, the beauty of a show is not just about the technical collaboration of two individuals, but also its merit as the embodiment of an intimate dialogue between two souls.