PSP NEAR Open Studio: Mike Adrao

Familiarity as a Stranger in Our Midst

Mike Adrao sees. He sees apparent truths accepted by Filipinos. He sees the irony of being lost in a simple yet ugly reality. He sees and tells the story.

A contemporary artist from Marikina, Mike does not dabble but sketches with such precision and tenacity using pen and ink. Textures come to life eliciting sometimes hair-raising reactions about the social ills of this country. The falsity of colors disguising skills and critical thinking is absent in his works and in its place is a masterful manipulation of shades and tones. Monochromatic renderings they may be, but bland they are not. Each product of his insightful psyche is a well-orchestrated drama of despair, mockery, and rebellion against accepted dimensions of truth.

“(Ka)MaCHO” is an imagery of a faceless man sitting naked on his throne with the conventional angel-versus-demon struggle influencing him. Where his genitalia should be is a blank space and a big gash removing all his biological indications of masculinity is clearly seen. The hypocrisy in the macho mentality of the population is in question here. Him holding an elegant tiara is the standard men use to define beauty. The creature on his right explains the continuous restraint to his bloody fist of violence. However, the one on the left fuels his tendency to assert his machismo. Worth noting also is the resemblance of his wound on his chest to the alibata symbol for the letter “P”. It being related to “Pilipino”, we cannot tell with certainty. “Do AS YoU WiLL” is subtitled “ReFLeCTiON – AFTeR FriDA” for a distinct reason. It combines the elements of a Frida Kahlo surrealism, the harrowing silhouette of the Virgin Mary, and the obscenity of a love doll possessing the face of a conservative woman. Filipinas are likened to the image of the Holy Mother and evolved into the Maria Clara stereotype of a pious and conservative female some time in the past. However, recent role mutations imply the opposite. Playing with gender issues, the artist once again explains the complexity of the essence of womanhood – that which is not isolated from changes. The connection between love and a woman's sexuality is further explored as gleaned in the pseudo-umbilical cord in the hand of the doll and the heart of another.

From issues on sex, directly resulting are the religious overtones hibernating in the psychology of the Filipinos. The constant conflicts with taboo concerns as defined by the church remains embedded in our everyday lives. “Krus”, for example, reveals the inner workings of the Filipino mind. Eerie contours expose the image of a crucified man related to the central figure of Christianity within the bloated head of another man. This suggests the perpetual content of a common tao's mind. Every act becomes guided not merely by sincere respect for but a true fear of the cross. “SaMBAHiN_TaDTARiN” is about the marriage of religious fanaticism, localized based on existing cultures prior to the Spanish conquest, and motivated by Western influences. Somewhat straddling along the same line is “INFLuENZiA AmERiKaNA” depicting the Filipino statesman in his true color unmasked and exposing a truly American attachment to secular gain through unabated capitalism. In his head is the puppet master far more powerful than the host while his position in the social strata is forever secured by roots penetrating the deepest crevices of public influences. “INSeRTiON” reminds us of the picturesque portrait of a former dictator and his first lady. Concealed behind their royal fa├žade is an entanglement of serpents portending treachery while a gigantic coat of arms of the United States act as background. This emphasizes the convoluted play of power in the grand scale where the ingenuous is left in limbo. Concluding his discourse on the corruption of our entire society is “RePuBLiKA Cha CHA ChA!” Here, past, present, and future are cleverly represented through peeks at Charter change’s history and its consequence. The leftmost tableau is a hint of past attempts to modify the fundamental law of the land for the benefit of a few. In the middle is the representation of the bourgeoisie with snakes for heads as if telling the story of politicians shifting loyalties whenever convenient to them. The last scene paints a disconcerting possibility of tragedies and suffering.

In this collection he calls TROMA, Mike now explores the use of charcoal on most of his twenty-four by thirty-six-inch works. He regards his craft as a reflection of his continuing search for identity and the replacement of it by other symbols surrounding him. Incidentally, external stimuli demonstrate to him paths he takes to define his self. All these serve as diurnal entries in visual form occasionally removing heads signaling his being lost in his discoveries. This therapy for him remains a gift for others to vicariously experience for it offers them an almost reliable second person point-of-view by finding familiarity in the strange.

Mike Adrao majored in painting at the University of the Philippines, College of Fine Arts in 1998. He had participated in some notable group exhibitions, including “Ang Delatang Pinoy: Yes, the Filipino Can!” at Hiraya Gallery and “Mula Filibustero Hanggang Kay Marimar” at UP Vargas Museum in 1996. He was also among the selected artists for the “Young Artists Discovery Series” of Hiraya Gallery where he mounted "Verses" in 1997. His other group exhibitions include “Crossroads” at the Australian Center in 1998, “Songs of Renewal” at Casa San Miguel in Zambales in 1999, “Recent Works 4” and “Urbanisasyon” at Kulay Diwa Art Galleries in 2003. He also participated in MATAHATI’s second fundraising exhibition “Artriangle” at Soka Gakkai in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2008. Just recently, Mike Adrao finished his artist residency at Project Space Pilipinas’ Neo-Emerging Artist Residency (NEAR Manila). He is currently taking part in two art projects in Korea—a group exhibition in Art Space Plastic titled “Plastic Syndrome,” and “Reflections,” an artist exchange between Korea and the Philippines.

Mike Adrao struggles to discover himself and in the process is exposed to molds shaping the individual. Along the way, confusion sets in resulting in the loss of the definite self but this does not warrant giving in. He strives to find and to know even at the price of facing himself with more uncertainty for seeing is not selective. It does not discern between what one likes or fears. Like his art, the resultant feeling is an inevitable consequence of what is seen and sometimes the bitter sight is the only answer one holds. (Lloyd C. Llaga)