By Hannah Jo Uy
Layout by Pinggot Zulueta
It was really frightening!” says visual artist Gilbert Semillano. “Imagine seeing eyes in the dark staring at you? A lot of weird and scary creatures, like winged eyeballs, hovering around my bedroom.”
What makes his recollections even more disturbing is the fact that these visions were from when he was merely seven years old, all of which appeared following a severe fever. “As I get older, they still appear but in my dreams,” he says. “In stages, like parts of a story. The images were so clear, so detailed! Because most of them appear in full color, I get to record them by drawing them in my notebook and later on developing them into subjects, I thought I should use them as characters in my storybook project and then the ‘Realm’ was born.”
The vivid nature of these visions had a significant impact in the aesthetic formation of Semillano, who looked toward painting as a way to control the narratives in his nightmares. Soon enough the creatures that lived in his head, his visions for a strange world, and the many stories it had to offer, became his driving force as a painter.
This world was the focal point of Semillano’s latest exhibition “The Realm Chronicles,” which was recently showcased at the Galerie Joaquin. The show was a sequel to his “Mystic Realm” exhibition where he first introduced the main characters of his story, acting out pivotal scenes and events against the backdrop of strange yet stunning landscapes within this unique universe. Vivid, detailed, and very colorful, his paintings provide a refreshingly candid snapshot of the darkest part of his psyche. “I converted the gallery into a huge journal,” he shares, “along with writings, sketches, and studies to give it a feel like you’re walking inside a book—my storybook.”
Given the deeply meticulous nature of his works, it may surprise some to know that Semillano is also working as a creative director at McCann World Group–Middle East. He is also a successful professional DJ, playing on weekends for exclusive parties organized for notable brands like Red Bull, Adidas, and Nike .
“I spin on radio stations and fly out to play in clubs around the region,” he says. “It’s kind of hectic, but you won’t feel it much because you’re doing the things that you love. After a long day at work, I release stress by playing music in my apartment-studio and turn to paint afterward. I love music and painting. These go hand-in-hand in helping me achieve uniqueness and creativity in my works.”
Dabbling in different creative media only further contributed to the development of Semillano’s distinct visual identity, which can be described as “Tim Burton in a Bosch painting.” This is evident even among viewers drawn to his paintings, which showcase a mishmash of aesthetics inspired by fantasy and children’s storybooks, combined with sinister twists on the works of old renaissance masters, with Semillano admitting to drawing from “the perfection of Raphael, the art direction of Michelangelo, the dark story of Bosch, and the technique of Caravaggio.”
It is in this manner that he endeavors to create strange creatures distorting the features, qualities, and mannerisms of the characters in his head into a completely unrecognizable cast that seamlessly personifies the visual narratives within his wild and weirdly wonderful world. “I love adding the ‘extra’ to the ordinary,” Semillano admits.
Speaking on his evolution as an artist, he says that during his early years he was more methodical in his approach. “It was kind of systematic,” he reflects, “but as I’ve progressed, I found out that the messier, distracted, unorganized things are in painting, the more I get fired up. I fell in love with organized chaos.”
Admittedly enjoying the process of tapping into his subconscious, Semillano is never without the possession of a drawing pad and a pencil, ready to sketch the characters that haunt his dreams whenever the inspiration hits. The journal holds his most intimate thoughts, and the artist’s prime reference for his larger scale works, often returning to the pages to review, tweak, and polish the characters before transferring them onto the canvas.
For Semillano, the rules exist to be understood, and to be broken, both in art and life. “Always ask why and challenge the norm,” he says. “I believe that with constant learning and discovery, and by pushing things beyond their limits, you will come up with greater things.”