“Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling,” said editor James E. Starrs of the Literary Cyclist: Great Bicycling Scenes in Literature.
These words were summoned back from memory after viewing the Bicycle Series, recent works by Ilonggo artist Rock Drilon. The collection has a dynamic and energetic character yet it also hinted melancholy, not for the reason that the artist is aging, but perhaps because Drilon himself is a habitual biker.
The 10-piece mixed media Bicycle Series exhibited at Fitstop Bites and Bikes from January 20 to February 9, 2018, enticed the mind of the viewer to engage on the exhibition’s main theme – bicycles and biking, a familiar theme for the artist who is an active rider doing night rides with members of the Iloilo Folding Bike Riders and who also integrate his art on various advocacy effort.
Drilon who successfully built a career in Manila came back to Iloilo in 2012 to share back to the Ilonggo community his art and life. His composition resolved doubts why he is revered among his peers and questions on how he gathered public respect. Rock Drilon is considered a treasured abstract artist of the country.
The focus on biking as the main theme for this collection has effectively lured the under-initiated viewer on Drilon’s art. To note, the Bicycle Series is by far the third major exhibit of Drilon in Iloilo that I have attended since his homecoming 5-years ago. Yet the shapes and colors remained familiar, especially among his constant followers who credited it on his consistency by using lively multi-colors to highlight interloping lines, overlapping shapes, and multi-layer backgrounds.
Unlike “Iloilo Period” (2015) and “Untitled” (2016) collections, however, the Bicycle Series expressed a feeling of motion or mobility. This makes Drilon’s execution on the canvas true to form; bicycles are, after all, equipment for mobility and transportation, if not for purely leisure and play.
Bicycle Series 2 Bicycle Series 4 Bicycle Series 5
Motion and mobility invited instant connection to the collection. It seamlessly activated the viewer’s imagination by disregarding disruption and by directing the attention to focus on decoding the encrypted message usually carried behind abstract paintings. It is on this aspect that Drilon’s Bicycle Series was most effective.
His art motivated viewers to dwell deeper and take a detailed look into each and every piece in order to allow them to read messages represented by white, grey or blue colored bicycles above continuous and seemingly endless curves and loops like a labyrinth.
The strong saturated colors of blue, red, gold and black could be mistaken or interpreted to convey the complexities or spontaneity of biking: riding without defined direction, making unintended stops and pauses, riding mindless of time, biking to free the mind from worry, or to simply enjoy the merry-go-round with laughter.
One cannot help but also notice the layering of colors in Drilon’s work. Bicycle Series 10, for instance, appeared to have solid black background and with streaks of blue bringing to the secondary surface the emergence of charcoal grey highlighting gold loops and bicycle riding subject in beige and white.
In this piece, the bicycle riders appeared central subjects underscoring the necessity of visibility, an element of safety that every biker is mindful about, especially when riding at night or with poor lighting. This is perhaps one of the effective function of the layering of colors which made black appeared hidden yet dominating the background to evoke warning signals.
It may also have signified the environmental condition confronted by bikers during a ride: air pollution, noise, chaotic surrounding and unforgiving external elements. It implored consideration from unwanted punishment in order for the self to attain cheerfulness and jubilation similar to the contentment that bikers declare after every ride.
The playful mix of opposing emotions rendered on canvass by using different colors and shapes underlines metaphor to describe spirited or tragic encounters. Bicycle Series 3 exemplifies this play with two bicycle rider in tandem appeared to be pedaling joyously under the rain or against the wind as accentuated by the pastel colors and hues of blue. The use of pale red to light orange from the head of the rider flowing down to the waistline and further to the leg may have implied injury.
Most of the pieces evoked intense emotions stressing unresolved issues through robust use of colors like the one in Bicycle Series 8; noticeable distortion of shapes like Bicycle Series 6; isolated lines of yellow, red, and orange in Bicycle Series 9; and diffusion of forms held by untangled loops.
Bicycle Series 6 Bicycle Series 7
Bicycle Series 8 Bicycle Series 9
The diffusion of forms and shapes reflected Drilon’s experiences, struggles, and observations as a biker for years now and how all of these have contributed in shaping the artist’s involvement in many advocacy work in his attempt to disentangle the barriers and clear the path to realize its full potential.
The artist’s aesthetic sense was evident at every piece – neatly framed with smooth and continuous matting without noticeable disturbing edges from inside and out.
Yet one thing was evident on the Bicycle Series – the ability of Rock Drilon to produce an art pieces that can effectively connect with the viewer.
Drilon’s over-familiarity with the subject (bicycle and biking) certainly did not prove disadvantageous. On the contrary, in fact, his competence on the medium brought prestige to biking, and, it attained heightened awareness among viewers regarding the role and significance of both biking and art in society.
(Archived article. It appeared in the Section: In the Frame of the Iloilo Metropolitan Times in February 2018)