If it is true that memory does, indeed, feed imagination, then it isn’t so much a meal as banquet that feeds the imagination of renowned Filipino artist Phyllis Zaballero.
Guests partook of an ample helping of her recent works at an exhibit called “Charmed by China” at the Mandarin Oriental Manila to usher in the new lunar year.
Zaballero left the Philippines at age six and spent over a decade in Europe and America before earning a degree in Economics at the University of the Philippines (UP). She then entered the UP College of Fine Arts a few years later, as a freshman once again—and graduated magna cum laude in Painting. More travels ensued thereafter.
She is a true citizen of the world. Zaballero’s paintings echo places she has visited; from Provence to the Isle of Capri to New England. They invite viewers to join her musings of an idyllic life. Her latest collection is no different.
Each piece tells a story about visiting China, nibbling on dumplings, and gathering Chinese artifacts. The collection, which was executed in acrylic and pencil on paper, is evidence of her penchant for still life, tablescapes, landscapes, and facades.
The facades of houses and altars are seen in a string of paintings Zaballero produced after a visit to Macao. Some pieces were selected for the 2007 group exhibit “Macao Magic,” presented by the Macao Government Tourist Office.
One of the earlier paintings in the collection is called “Rua da Felicidade I” (Happiness Street), an amusing depiction of a typical two-story shop house along the street it was named after. For those who have been to the street, the window in this painting is easily recognizable. But what is more engaging are details of the mundane portrayed in the scene. An open door festooned with clotheslines, a glimpse of a chair, a makeshift shrine, and a broomstick atop a canopy leaning on a second story window.
Color may be Zaballero’s strongest suit but she is also brilliant at characterization. The individual objects in “Rua da Felicidade I” and the other facades are not just decorative. Through them, the artist hints at the daily lives of the people within. Such details are reminiscent of her signature Windows series but, this time, open doors take center stage.
Zaballero’s still life and tablescape pieces, on the other hand, showcase Chinese artifacts and objects she and her late husband, being packrats, collected through the years. They are also full of what she refers to as “the ultimate in comfort food: the mami, siopao, siomai, lumpia, and pancit of happy days.”
The food, she said, “our inherited taste buds have savored and yearned for,” was introduced to her by her cosmopolitan father. He would bring her to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and every Chinatown in the US—from New York to San Francisco—to feast on dumplings and noodles.
For “DIM-SUM,” one of three tablescapes in the exhibit, the artist prepared a round table laden with food and objects, such as plants and ceramics. A chair and a room divider, which are intricately designed, are in the background.
Despite the exuberant colors and adornments, her work does not overwhelm. On the contrary, the viewer is led to examine each detail. One may even be surprised to find odd crumbs here and there, as if someone had just stood up from the table.
Zaballero’s tablescapes do not involve people, but she suggests their presence. “Still life should not be still,” says the artist. It should stir the emotions with wistful memories of people who left the scene just when the artist was about to capture it.
print ed: 05/08