Drawn: On Artist Marcial Pontillas

By Marleena Litton

A THRONG OF PEOPLE filling a canvas to the edges—such is the trademark of a Marcial Pontillas artwork. His paintings are eye-catching and spark something that is certainly amusing, of which only a Filipino, like himself (perhaps), could sense. There seems to be an in-joke being revealed somewhere, and it is usually found in the kapwa Pinoy looking in. Certainly, Marcial Pontillas isn’t making this all up. His works serve as documentaries. And when one gets transfixed looking for the somewhat-elusive details, the viewer may find one’s self in a portal of seemingly exalted urban lemmings in fuzzy mayhem, or a community, a flock gathered by a certain belief. Yes, it is very much close to home. And one may try to look for faces while asking: Am I here? Or say: I know this!

In the Name of the Father ©Marcial Pontillas 2012IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER • 5ft x 8ft / Oil on canvas © Marcial Pontillas 2012

Panahon ng Kalayaan ©Marcial Pontillas 1998PANAHON NG KALAYAAN © Marcial Pontillas 1998

Palabas Nanaman ©Marcial Pontillas 1996PALABAS NANAMAN  © Marcial Pontillas 1996

But Marcial Pontillas is not only bent on portraying the Philippine culture. The congested city and crowd he depicted with exaggeration in the 90s also shows how an artist is keen to sense the flow and consequences of events and elements well-observed. To colleagues and supporters, Marcial’s talent and skills are evident; a reserved man he is, too. It seems to be that one artwork is actually a novel inside him, waiting to be expressed in sharp colors. What’s entertaining is that, the story he keeps telling is about us—our historical exodus captured in a frame that creeps outwards. A bystander, a commuter, driver, peddler, devotee, the Manilenyo, the tourist, and the “bagong salta” share a common reality in these scenes.

In all of Marcial’s works, where does one truly find himself?

It is true that Pontillas paints these images with an obsessiveness verging on vengeance, but doing so has become salutary for the artist. The gesture is by turns cathartic and aesthetic. — Cid Reyes, Art Critic

Nazareno © Marcial Pontillas 1999NAZARENO © Marcial Pontillas 1996

Pop Culture (Trapik) © Marcial Pontillas 2004POP CULTURE (TRAPIK) © Marcial Pontillas 2004

Art critic, Cid Reyes, in his article Crowd Drawer: The Art of Marcial Pontillas, writes: “There is an unmistakable sense of placeness in the works of Marcial Pontillas, an image sustained through the years of his youth. The crowd scene has become his trademark, an image of self-proclamation, as well as a blistening indictment of the city of his affection. With the hideous sprawl of an almost derelict metropolis, Metro Manila is a nightmare. It is true that Pontillas paints these images with an obsessiveness verging on vengeance, but doing so has become salutary for the artist. The gesture is by turns cathartic and aesthetic. Not only does he express his intense observation of the city, but in the process he has also reaped a string of awards.”

Marcial’s sea of humanity definitely made waves. And upon the crest of his success, more stories unfold. They may come as simple reminders or contemplation on where or what our beliefs will bring us—or take us to. Among the rare moments I’ve spoken to Marcial, a simple statement he gave: “I wish I can return to my province and settle there,” he said. The artist now resides in Guam and continues to produce art. Another ripple now reverberates for Marcial, from afar, and within an expanding source. One of his recent work, NK Nuclear Core High Explosive, may be viewed at his online gallery.

I wish to act as an objective observer — from a viewpoint completely outside of ourselves and outside our planet. — Marcial Pontillas


Marcial describes his artpiece, NK Nuclear Core High Explosive as: “a conceptual post-modern approach based on historical war stories.” In NK Nuclear Core High Explosive, a burger is the artist’s visual metaphor for the social ills attributed to a history of war and violence. And the battle at Hamburger Hill is an event the artist rallies for us not to forget. Beyond this concept however is the artist zooming farther out from the usual and familiar theme of collectivity perceived in his artworks. Marcial Pontillas states his personal process in his recent project: “In this painting I wish to act as an objective observer—from a viewpoint completely outside of ourselves, and outside our planet.

With this painting I want to approach the subject of war from the viewpoint of an alien race observing human beings anthropologically. As if they are watching over us, waiting for something interesting to happen. The line drawing is a diagram of a nuclear bomb. In the core of the bomb I’ve replaced the plutonium with a hamburger. It symbolizes the tragedy of the North Korean famine wherein people were left to starve while the government prioritized the advancement of their nuclear program.”

From the crowded places to battlefields, Marcial is consistently driven to advocate for a humanistic society—a stage where we cease to become unconscious devotees or victims of a synthetic device for domination. The value of a Marcial Pontillas artwork is really much more than what catches the eye, for the entirety of what his spirit may further immortalize is yet to come. Still, he leaves it to us to look for ourselves within—or outside, the brimming borders of mimesis. And that is what I like best about his works. It is a vision quest he silently keeps like the rest of us who nurtures it in our dreams. I desire to see tranquility before he closes the curtain, someday.

Translations —
1) Panahon ng Kalayaan: A Time of Freedom   2) Palabas na Naman: Replay


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