Poppies and tripping on opium: ‘Pardo ‘Bubbles’ de Leon leans into whimsical experiences and spirituality in ‘Transcendence’

Pardo’s work in “Transcendence” span three decades of her experimentation with various genres and experiences.
Pardo’s work in “Transcendence” span three decades of her experimentation with various genres and experiences.

It would be hard to place Pardo “Bubbles” de Leon’s body of work within an artistic construct, which suits the artist just fine.

The legendary UP Fine Arts professor Roberto Chabet profoundly influenced her creative philosophy. “Sir Chabet tapped the uniqueness in each of his students,” she says. “He gave us the confidence to follow our instincts in art-making, to see how diverse the range of his students’ art works is.”

In effect, Chabet gave his students license to explore and exploit all artistic possibilities, which de Leon proceeded to do with flair and courage.  In the years after her Fine Arts studies, the artist has painted in the manner of the old masters, delved in abstraction, and even created hybrids from different genres. 

At Salcedo Auctions’ ArtFair PH 2022 exhibition, titled Transcendence, a sampling of de Leon’s range is on show, “a mishmash of paintings from different years,” says the artist.  “So they span over three decades — that’s how old I am!” de Leon cracks.

PARDO DE LEÓN, ‘White Poppy : Young Girl’, 2022, Oil on canvas

A current work titled “White Poppy/Young Girl” nods to a well-established fixation with poppies, which de Leon admits “was already among my favorite flowers as a young girl.” That infatuation deepened many years later when de Leon, together with her fiance, went on a hiking trip on the Thailand side of the Golden Triangle. “I did find myself surrounded by fields of poppies. At night, old men would knock on huts, pipes in hand, offering ‘medicine’ — raw opium that they harvested themselves — to travelers.”

De Leon did in fact take on the old man’s offer, describing the subsequent experience as “bongga” as the opium was unadulterated.

Ang sarap ng tama. Para kang nanaginip, magandang panaginip … lumulutang ka sa panaginip. (The high was good. It was like you were having a good dream, floating in that dream.) Those were my first tastes during that 5-day trek, and I never had it again after. Good thing I was far from the Golden Triangle.” 

PARDO DE LEÓN, ‘Sili’, 2021, Oil on canvas

From 2021, de Leon’s Sili series represents a dalliance with still life. On why she chose the subject, the artist (who doesn’t like talking about her art, or herself for that matter) says “I actually can’t eat spicy food …  I have a very low tolerance for heat.” “So the honest answer is: I don’t know.” Nevertheless, the artist Dex Fernandez – also known as Garapata — was drawn to the pieces because of its color composition.

Apart from poppies, frogs also recur in de Leon’s canvasses, a colony of which populates a triptych from 2011. It appears whimsical, except for the title,  “Bardo of Dreams,” which suggests otherwise.

Artist Agnes Arellano posits that Bubbles spirituality runs deep. Bardo in Buddhism refers to a transitional state between death and rebirth, implied in the depiction of frogs in the various stages of their life cycle. 

PARDO DE LEÓN, ‘White Poppy’, 1989, Oil on canvas

One piece dominates Salcedo Auctions’ gallery wall: De Leon’s massive 6 x 9 feet “White Poppies,” which was part of the valedictory show curated by Chabet before the Pinaglabanan Gallery’s closure. Dated 1989, it was created a year after de Leon received the CCP 13 Artists Award. Though the title suggests the artist’s favorite poppy blossom, de Leon’s subject is practically indeterminate, and the strokes appear less dense compared to her later works. 

“ I think we are all a bit restless within,” de Leon says to explain the thematic and stylistic variance of her works, “and it shows.” “Or we fear being static,” she adds. 

While she actively explores various genres, de Leon steers clear of trends.“I cannot get into trends because my work is instinctive/intuitive,” she explains. “When the new wave of artists came along, heavy into hyperrealism, photo realism, I stopped in my tracks and almost quit painting. Then I realized that my work has never been about perfect technique, as I don’t have the patience for it, and I don’t need to compete with a camera.”

Transcendence runs until April 1. The online catalogue is available at salcedoauctions.com. 

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