First is the art. Wyndelle Remonde’s works are catchy. Comic. Contemporary.
They would have to be, to be exhibited alongside other urban and edgy works in the annual Moniker Art Fair, which took place in New York in May 2018; and the Coaster Show at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in LA in mid-2017.
Then the appreciation intensifies with knowledge of how, from province and poverty, they came to be. The number one metanarrative of Remonde’s art actually and graphically recurs in his works, consisting of the head of the carabao, as in kayod-kalabaw; and an anatomical heart, puso.
These are very local icons presented to the world by the struggling artist, in jarring self-imagery within the world of his art.
A life of struggle
“I started using the symbol when I went back to school for a bachelor’s degree, for my thesis. I was a working student, supporting myself and my family. It was a very difficult time,” he says.
“There was Papa and my two younger siblings. Mama had died. My father was a casual government employee, until he got laid off. He became a tricycle driver. Mama, when she was alive, sold food at the school.”
Remonde earned money designing and selling shirts, doing commissioned work, joining art and design contests, penetrating Cebu’s pop-underground scene where his bizarre comic style found an audience.
All the while, he struggled to develop his works to become truly an art form and to be appreciated as such. “My style is a product of blood and tears. I came up with it after several years of working it out. That is why now, I do not compromise my style.”
The years began with a child in Argao town, Cebu, finding escape from life’s difficulties in cartoons, which he would himself draw with skills he derived from a self-taught father. His father’s realistic and pragmatic style must have left the young Wyndelle with the notion that his art was not as serious. It must have been a proud moment for him to be recognized in high school for his talent for cartooning, which found an outlet in the editorial page of the school paper.
Yet, while still in UP Cebu for a certificate course in Fine Arts Major in Painting, cartooning took a back seat, as UP gave him the opportunity to explore mediums and other styles. And of course, nobody in Painting school did cartoons, and he did not do cartoons in UP until he earned his certificate. But when he set out for the outside world, the opportunities offered by companies—graphic, animation, book illustration, and design—called for comics.
Five years of this in Cebu City finally enabled him to support a bachelor’s degree education, and he went back to UP all set on comics as the way to go. True to its character, UP gave him the freedom to pursue this style in his Fine Arts course Major in Studio Arts. And thus, Remonde’s art, new to the art world but one he always had from the beginning, was enriched, distinguished at the onset by a sense of social awareness typical of a life of struggle.
With UP’s academic freedom and a deeper knowledge of the world, he found the courage to stand by the interest he had had since childhood.
The cradle of his art
“In UP, I was free and encouraged to express what we felt and had in mind, in art or otherwise; and that freedom I still carry to this day,” Remonde says. Until now, he is free to regard issues with the humor and irony of a satirist, rendering many of his works counter-cultural. The works are rife with similarly bizarre, surreal, cartoonish imagery of the contemporary as viewed from his strange inner world, which does not necessarily alienate the masses, with whom he has identified with through the years.
“Yes, sir, Cebu is really on my mind when making art. Since I am from Cebu province, I want to take off from here and I want to contribute in developing the local art scene, which is smaller compared to Manila,” Remonde, who has also been exhibited in Manila galleries, says.
“At the same time, I hope the world outside Cebu gets to see what we have going on here despite the smaller circle and fewer venues. We need to break out of these limitations so that we would not feel our art has nowhere else to go. Many have already succumbed to the limitations and stopped,” he adds.
Thus another struggle of the artist, located far from the center, has been to break into the center.
“I am lucky to be stubborn, and because I haven’t stopped, I have been noticed by Manila art circles and other galleries.”
And so, the journey continues. The carabao plods and the heart beats—for his family, his fellow Cebu youth artists, and his art.