‘Dreamscapes’ of artist Perfecto Mercado celebrated in book, exhibit
QUEZON CITY— “It is time,” says art historian and museum curator Gari R. Apolonio on the publication of his book Dreamscapes: The Art of Perfecto Mercado.
The landmark book celebrates the “artistic achievements of a relatively unknown but relentless artist whose talent and body of work deserves exposure and recognition.”
The 151-page coffee table book on the late Kapampangan artist Perfecto Sablan Mercado, edited by Armando B. Burgos, former professor at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts (UPCFA), will be launched on August 25 at the Gateway Gallery, the art museum of Araneta Center.
The book launch coincides with the opening of a retrospective exhibit of Mercado’s “dream-making” that spanned 40 years.
Apolonio, a UPCFA alumnus, began working on the book in 2008 when Arnold Mercado, the eldest son of the Tarlac-born Perfecto Mercado, commissioned him “to provide a truthful and accurate documentation” of the life of Mercado and his “intriguing and breathtaking collection of work” that the public hardly saw when his father was still alive.
The growing admiration for Mercado in the art circle came to a halt due to a fatal stroke on March 30, 2011.
It was in the first decade of the twenty-first century that Mercado, born on August 4, 1950, produced his masterpieces, which Apolonio labeled as “Dreamscapes” or works depicting “new representations of landscapes, mindscapes or otherworldly vistas that are strangely familiar and deeply spiritual.”
This series of artworks is rich in colors, camouflages human figures, and connects the viewers to the “experience of the spiritual, the dream-like, and the magical.”
“Borne out of Mercado’s vivid spiritual dreams, the series that exhibits a mature style, deep intent, and technical mastery had a short run due to his passing,” said Apolonio.
He said many people have wondered how impressive his succeeding works could have been if Mercado were alive today.
Mercado did not see to fruition a landmark achievement in his career—his first solo exhibit at a major Philippine museum.
His son Arnold opened the Dreamscapes of Perfecto Mercado exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila in September 2011 with prolific art historian Professor Santiago Albano Pilar as guest of honor.
Pilar then lauded Apolonio for his effort to bring to the public consciousness “underrated and under the radar artists who have immense talent” as it was also his advocacy.
“Art history should serve the needs of unknown yet talented artists like Mercado, who did not finish high school and had no formal studies in art,” said Pilar.
Sustained only by his passion for his art, Mercado was already 25 years old when he switched from painting movie billboards to fine art painting in 1975.
He was on his way to reaching his artistic summit when he passed on, but “his loved ones have made sure his art will be forever remembered through this book,” artist and art critic Cid Reyes wrote in the book’s foreword.
“As the reader turns each page, Apolonio serves as a curator and exhibition guide, enlightening, imparting analysis and drawing conclusions,” Reyes wrote.
“Upon reaching the end of the book, one realizes that, in fact, Apolonio has been a dutiful and sympathetic steward of the artistic legacy of Perfecto Mercado.”
While the book aims to inspire artists to strive for excellence and have unwavering commitment to art, Dreamscapes is also a testament to the struggles and triumphs of Mercado whose artistry was nurtured by a deep faith in God and devotion to family.
The book is published by Arnold Mercado through AT Mercado Publishing with photographs taken by book designer Denes Dasco and additional images by award-winning photographer Ruston P. Banal, both UPCFA alumni.
Apolonio says that Mercado is a dream-inspired artist who painted what he dreamt, much like the weavers of the T’boli community who made weaving patterns out of their dreams.
He says that Mercado’s “innovative and fresh idiom” in his works is valuable for its “distinct style, technical excellence and value-laden intent.”
Lyrical and enigmatic, Mercado’s Dreamscapes represent the apogee of his art, says Apolonio.
“His large-scale Dreamscapes such as The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and Third Heaven are “breathtaking and hypnotic with their fine renderings of visual and actual textures, cleverly camouflaged faces and human forms, vividly soft colors and panoramic vistas.”
It is not surprising that Mercado caught the attention of other artists at the group shows he joined, including leading portrait artist Caloy Gabuco who admired the intensity of his brilliant colors and the minimal compositions of his landscapes.
For noted artist and art educator Buds Convocar, past president of the Art Association of the Philippines and the Saturday Group of Artists, Mercado is “a reflection of what a true Artist should be: passionate in his art, persistent in his vocation; an Artist who aims for perfection.”
Grandier Bella, UPCFA professor and a leading portraitist whose SiningSaysay painting is on permanent exhibit at the Gateway Gallery, is drawn to Mercado’s “strong, forceful focus on vibrant colors.”
“His use of the primary colors speaks of his passion for nature and life,” says Bella. “Some of his works, where he juxtaposes facial features with the surrounding composition, symbolizes his concern for the environment and our responsibility as stewards of nature.”
Support for regional artists
Apolonio says that Mercado’s works are some of the best accomplishments of a Filipino regional artist.
Mercado represents the unknown and unrecognized regional artists, many of whom are still struggling but who have much to offer.
“They reflect the authenticity of non-Manila art as they give color, flavor and richness to the creative landscape of the country,” says Apolonio.
“Like the book and exhibit on Mercado, the life and works of regional artists who are not as widely known as their Manila-based contemporaries must serve as impetus for documentation by art historians,” says Apolonio.
The retrospective exhibit, which presents a concisely comprehensive chronicle of Mercado’s artistic journey, also serves as the “actual equivalent” of the book, allowing the viewer to have a first-hand experience of his artworks, his major styles and its “colors, textures, and nuances.”
The exhibit will also feature Mercado’s old photographs, art paraphernalia, and a video material for a holistic perspective of his life and his art.
Professor Lucilo Sagayno of the University of San Carlos Department of Fine Arts says Mercado’s art is worth-seeing for they “could bring in certain realization on the part of the viewer who wants to probe the social values and messages of his unique paintings.”
Apolonio says that Mercado’s dream-making may have abruptly ended, but through the book and his body of work, extensions of his dreams and vision, his memory will be kept alive by their “sheer power and magic” and the support of his family, followers, and friends.
Gateway Gallery, located at the 5F, Gateway Tower, Araneta Center, is open from Monday to Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Call 588-4000 local 8300, email [email protected] or visit its social media sites GatewayGalleryPH on Facebook, gateway_gallery on Twitter and gateway.gallery on Instagram. Gateway Gallery is managed by the J. Amado Araneta Foundation.