Sonny Tolentino’s Iloilo City

By: Martin Genodepa

AMIDST the surplus of unabashed display of angst and overabundance of surrealistic images on canvas, Sonny Tolentino’s first solo exhibition of landscapes at Mamusa Art Café is somehow a refreshing divergence. “I Don’t think I’m Going Away Anymore: Iloilo City, In Oil and Poetry” is quite a long title for an art exhibition but because Tolentino, a self-taught artist, did not exactly disappoint in his first solo outing as a painter, the matter of the title becomes a non-issue as viewers are immediately ushered into what the show of paintings is about without resorting to intellectual subterfuge.

Landscapes and cityscapes are often looked down as not very contemporary subjects for the contemporary artist. But an artist is always obligated to be truthful to himself above all. Here lies the charm and perhaps the uniqueness of Tolentino’s impressionistic works. They are all about Iloilo City which is on the threshold of becoming a dense urban jungle.

The singularity of his subject allows Tolentino to harness its possibilities as well as circumvent its limitations. Maurice Utrillo comes to mind when viewing this exhibition. Utrillo painted Montmartre, his city of birth. While Tolentino, in one poem, admits to being rural-bred, his attachments to Iloilo City is purely sentimental and romantic just like his paintings.

The artist whose poetry is impelled by nostalgia, harnesses the same for his paintings to allow them a narrow escape from commercialism of the so-called Mabini art. Unlike commercial art, Tolentino’s paintings have the foreboding and gloom that can only spring from a sensitive heart. Tolentino’s paintings betray angst without a scream preferring to suffer in silence as it were.

The big question is: How long can nostalgia or any other inspiration or motivation sustain art production without slipping into inanity and the prosaic? All beginning artist motivated by self-expression always digs deep into his or her core – hugot is the current popular local term for it – and  Tolentino is no exception.

What will become of Tolentino’s art after he has exhausted landscapes and cityscapes as platforms for his personal and psychic torment is something all art enthusiasts should patiently wait for.

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