Notes on Tristram Miravalles and Caloy Gernale's "Black Gate"

Just tell the tricycle driver, “Manong, sa Arayat St. po, du’n sa apartment na may itim na gate, katapat ng puno ng balete,” and without any trace of uncertainty on his crude face, the driver takes you to the place. It is impossible to get lost as the description of how to make it to Project Space Pilipinas (PSP) is as striking as the current national situation. And among the apartment units, it is the only one that has a black gate guarded by the mystical balete tree.

What is the meaning of the color black?

Similar to the balete tree, the color black is usually associated with mystery and fear of the unknown. People tend to correlate the color black with their unexplained and/or imaginary experiences that typically take place during the night. Filipinos have the idealist notion that creatures travel from the underworld to the world where we live through passageways such as the balete tree or anything dark or black. The color black also connotes death and the evil. This is why black is the color preferred by people who grieve for the loss of a beloved.

Idealist beliefs are constructed and the color black is utilized to establish such beliefs. Meanwhile, opposite the balete tree, behind the black gate, materialist ideas are formed through the paintings of two of probably the most underappreciated artists in the archipelago today—Tristram Miravalles and Carlo “Caloy” Gernale. Their ideas do not come from the unknown or unexplained. Their ideas are rather derived from personal and collective experiences, socio-political occurrences and recent history. Both artists utilize art to achieve a particular goal—to study society. One artist uses art to communicate his personal encounters; the other artist uses art to examine the collective encounters.

Dog spelled backwards is God.

Tristram Miravalles uses the already loaded image of the dog as the central theme of his works. According to him, “Ang aso ay parang tao rin, hindi ba? Halos wala namang pinagkaiba ang aso sa tao.” This is true in many ways.

As if the canvas was an open journal, Tristram retells his very unfortunate encounter with the people who vowed to “serve and protect.” For an illegal deed he did not commit, he was detained for ten days by forces of District Anti-illegal Drugs (DAID). For an artist like Tristram, his experiences inside this shithole inevitably become a rich source of insights.

In some of Tristram’s works, the image of the dog is used as a symbol of misused power and abused authority. In his other pieces, the dog’s figure is used to represent Tristram himself, like a self-portrait.

Tristram’s works exude the kind of angst that is as lethal as the rabies that causes acute inflammation of the brain. His works will remind the viewer of a familiar juvenile anguish provoked by the putrid elements of the bureaucratic system.

To better understand what Tristram’s rhetoric means, this is where the author of this paper finally says, “Let his paintings do the barking.”

Caloy Gernale, on the other hand, employs the idea of “god” or “messiah,” using the “messiah complex,” which refers to “the irrational desire of a human being to take care of others, practically disregarding the other person’s willingness to be helped out or be taken care of,” as springboard for the meaning that he wants to convey through his paintings. Incorporating the contemporary image of the messiah (e.g. the game show host who is adored and believed by the masses, or the transnational fairytale blondie whose kiss is believed to relieve the socio-economic misery of the victimized nation, or the “yellow baby” who promises to be our savior) becomes a clever way to describe the recurring socio-political situation of semi-feudal, neocolonial Philippines.

Caloy’s paintings remind the viewer of how we were deceived by the “benevolent forces” which colonized us for 40 years and patiently trained local puppets to secure their influence on Philippine economy, politics, and culture. These “benevolent forces” say they wanted to help us because we, according to McKinley, “were unfit for self-government.” This is what they wanted us to believe so they could justify their feat.

Caloy attempts to put an exclamation point to the burning question, “Do the Filipinos have collective messianic complex?” Do we really believe that our salvation relies on the institutions established by the ruling elite? If so, how did we come up with such a notion? Is this idea innate to us or is it actually a product of the material condition of the Filipino nation? Is this belief an offspring of the banging forces and relations of production?

Through his paintings, Caloy agitates the viewer’s tendencies to be complacent. Caloy encourages the viewer to understand society from their point of view, make informed opinions and hopefully transform these opinions into organized actions.

Let the god in Caloy’s paintings guide your eyes to find the answers. The completeness of meaning does not solely rely on the painter. Meaning is completed when the viewer has significant response to the images or symbols which he/she tries to make sense of.

Do not knock. Just enter.

The artists-in-residence did not leave the gates locked. Knocking will be unnecessary. You would just have to enter and brace yourself to the thought-provoking works of Tristram Miravalles and Caloy Gernale.

Tristram’s dog would be barking at you. And Caloy’s god will be there too.