Expect ‘Crazy’: Artist Robert Alejandro talks about this year’s digital Art in the Park

<i>Photo: Robert Alejandro / FB</i>
Photo: Robert Alejandro / FB

A silver lining: no longer will you need to slug it out under the blistering sun and troop to a Makati public garden for this year’s Art in the Park.

For its 14th outing, you’ll instead be attending the country’s premiere “affordable art fair” indoors, via a one-week stretch packed with multiple activities hosted on their social media between August 10 – 17 (next week!).

Never mind that the proceeds from the fair will go to funding scholarships and grants supported by the Museum Foundation of the Philippines—you can score collectors’ items capped at PHP50,000 (US$1,000), and there’s plenty of workshops to go around.

Read: ‘Eat Bulaga’ nixes live audience, Art in the Park postponed following rise in coronavirus cases

Among big names whose works you can catch at the digital fair is Robert Alejandro, an art staple who’s been at it for five decades. A driving force behind craft store Papemelroti, the accidental TV host also ended up anchoring award-winning shows The Probe Team and Art is Kool. He’s done everything from designing the country’s super malls to releasing an art book about his backpacking travels across Southeast Asia.

The always pleasant and disarming 56-year-old illustrator and designer isn’t slowing down, though. He’s excited to be back at this year’s fair, with new works consisting of engraved glassware, vases, and woodwork for the home. He also has three live workshops that will kick off on Tuesday.

Alejandro, a colon cancer survivor, tells Coconuts Manila over email that he’s also just happy to be living “without any pain” these days. And in terms of his upcoming workshops—expect a riot.

We noticed that two of your workshops have the word “crazy” in the title (“Let’s Paint Crazy Faces,” “Let’s Paint Crazy Monsters”). Was that intentional?

Yes, it is intentional. I realize that I am not a traditional “art teacher”—I’m crazy! Fun is essential for my workshops. I hope I can surprise and make the session a delight.

Is the odd and the absurd an essential element in art-making? Or your art specifically?

I am quite logical and precise as a person and artist and so I do value being odd and absurd. I actually strive to be frivolous, flexible, and fluid in my art creation and teaching.

Samples of his previous sketches. Photo: Robert Alejandro

What can we expect from the live portrait session?

I am still working out the details with Art in the Park. I am supposed to receive photographs of people who want their portraits done and I proceed to do them live. 

I’ve done this a few times online. I wanted to do a series of “quiet art time” before going to bed. I also wanted people to create art with me online. I stopped doing this online class because I just got exhausted—it’s tiring, these online classes!

There was a time I was doing what I call “ugly portraits” for an event, I would like to continue doing this. Hoping it gets uglier and uglier!

Besides the live sessions, will you have other paintings selling at the fair?

I do! When I was asked to do these workshops, Art in the Park told me I could sell my artworks as well and so I created art especially for the fair! So far the artworks I will be selling are art for the home: I have art engraved on vases, glassware, metal, wooden trays, and mirrors. I am so excited!

I hardly sell my artworks. Most of my work is “commissioned” or for a certain client. A lot of people and galleries have asked to show and sell my art but I never had the time or chance to do this. 

I am much like some other artists who are not comfortable with pricing and selling art—which we need to learn to do. So this is new to me even if I’ve been creating art for more than five decades!

Speaking of creating art for a long while now, how do you separate your own art from Papemelroti? Or do you not feel the need to make distinctions between the two?

First of all, I don’t think about it so much. I know that Papemelroti is really really inexpensive, something that Filipino high school girls can afford. I like that idea too, making my art accessible to most people.

The pieces I am selling for Art in the Park are for collectors. I’ve had some people who have messaged me that they’ve always wanted a “Robert Alejandro.” This is probably their chance. I would like to do this more. It’s so much fun creating art for the home or spaces.

Photo: Robert Alejandro

You’re also no stranger to live drawing sessions. We noticed you’re hosting a free workshop every Saturday called Art Party. Can you tell us more about it?

Ever since day one of the lockdown, I started doing the free online Art Party workshops. I do it every 10am every Saturday. I am not young or a tech-savvy person but I thought the Filipino child would need some sort of distraction, regularity, or fun in this strange time, which can be quite scary for children. That is precisely why my art sessions are totally fun. I did it for my love of Filipino children.

When I first did the sessions, I was so nervous and scared! I had no idea what I was doing. I tried to focus on giving art lessons for kids who had no access to art lessons. I used to do art workshops for children living in extreme poverty with ATD Fourth World—in North Cemetery or a community living under the bridge in Pandacan. I also used to host an art TV show for children [called Art is Kool].

Since I’ve been doing this for quite some time now, I am much more comfortable and at ease. I can be more “crazy”! I also noticed that my students—they join my class regularly—are so, so, so fantastic and great at creating art now. My students are confident, creative, and absolutely nothing short of brilliant.

How is Art Party similar and different from the sessions for Art in the Park?

I’m sure it’s going to be the same crazy Art Party that I do—no reason why I should change. But who knows? I am quite unpredictable!

How tricky or easy is it for an outdoor event like Art in the Park to move into the digital space for a participating artist like yourself, and personally as an audience?

Honestly, I have no idea. I am an extremely introverted person and so I kind of avoid crowds of people. This could be a welcome change!

Painting by Robert Alejandro

Can you recall how many times you’ve been to Art in the Park in the past? What was your most memorable experience?

I think I was a participant in the first Art in the Park. I was with my friends and I remember that I was so embarrassed [about] selling my work. I ended up being a salesman selling my friends’ work. When people asked me about my work I would dismiss the query.

Which artists and works are you excited to see this year?

Everyone’s work! Most especially young people’s work. Hopefully something new and exciting.

Many will argue that art isn’t an essential need. Why do you think it matters still during these trying times?

These are indeed trying times. We got into this mess because of our greed, our unquenchable desire for more, and how uncaring we are for the earth and its resources. On top of all this, we have dirty politics, more greed, corruption, and we can be so unkind to fellow human beings.

I believe that art could be an antidote to all these negative vibes. Art can be a way of giving back, caring, and being kind to one another. Art can be incredibly inspiring and encouraging. In a way, it is very essential.

How are you, by the way? How have you been coping during this lockdown? 

Thank you for asking! It’s been a roller coaster—much like for everyone! At first, I enjoyed being on lockdown being an introvert, but then I missed seeing Manila and it’s grit. I like going to Divisoria, Cubao etc., and this being holed up can be quite distressing! I know I have it so much better than others. I have a nice place to stay, I have water, shelter, food and so I should not be complaining. 

Also, I was diagnosed with colon cancer around five years ago, and just being alive without any pain is already a huge blessing. There is nothing else I need!

What’s changed in the way you create and consume art? Pandemic or otherwise?

I now create more! I know I am also much more generous with my art with workshops, etc. I don’t have to commute to numerous meetings. I didn’t realize commuting takes so much time, and so there is more time for me to actually finish and create more.

 

Robert Alejandro’s live art sessions will run Aug. 11, 5pm; Aug. 13, 5pm, and Aug. 15, 5pm. For more details, visit Art in the Park’s Facebook page.

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