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Rombutan

Text by Freniel Austria
Interview by Budong
Photos by Allen Esteban

One thing about Cubao is the air will always be sultry even when dusk has completely fallen. It is approaching 7:00 pm, when a prominent creative joins us at a little hole-in-the-wall kitchen bar. His warm smile only makes the hot weather agreeable. He swears his alias “Rombutan” doesn’t mean much, just a portmanteau of his name and the prickly fruit. But rambutan may be his befitting metaphor, behind his poignant artwork is an effervescent person with colorful stories to tell. It is the first time we meet him, but our conversation and the laughters in between feel like a reunion that has been long time coming.

Why the pseudonym “rombutan”? Because just like the fruit rambutan, even though I have this rough ugly exterior, I’m all sweet and soft inside. Just kidding! To be honest, it’s just a random play on words, Rom and rambutan.

How and when did you start creating art? According to my mom, I started drawing at around 2 years old. Nauna pa daw akong magdrawing kesa magsalita. But as far as I can remember, it all started when I was in elementary, Grade 3. It was intramurals back then, the representative for the drawing competition didn’t show up so the organization advisor needed to pick someone else as a representative. I was walking along the corridor when Ma’am Theresa, org advisor, called me. I was selected because I was fortunate enough to be walking around the vicinity. That’s how it all started. I won the on-the-spot drawing competition and from then on, I became the representative for any drawing competition.

Who are the local artists you look up to? In trad art, there’s Bob Feleo, Benji Cabangis, Nestor Vinluan, Rey Conception, and many more! I just couldn’t get enough of their artworks. They’re my professors during my stay in the College of Fine Arts. They inspired me to continue doing art. In digital art, I get my inspiration from The Rob Cham! His digital drawings are the reason why I started trying digital art. His color palate and how he draw amazes me. I’m forever a fan!

What’s your childhood dream? I grew up dreaming of becoming an architect, unfortunately hindi ako pinagbigyan ng tadhana. I wanted to study Architecture but my mom wanted me to take Fine Arts, and because they’re the ones paying for my tuition, I just had to agree. I don’t regret taking fine arts though.

When you're not doing art, what do you do? Wallowing in my puddle of existential crisis or just work. I have a full time job that takes most of my time so drawing is just a plus point on the side.

Describe your art style in three words. DRAMATIC. Sad. Intricate.

How did you develop your art style? What influenced your art? It took me years of practice before finally getting comfortable with a certain drawing technique/style. Linear drawing and flat solid colors with dramatic lighting effect. Rob Cham and James Jean are my inspirations that greatly influenced my drawing technique.

Aside from digital art, you also do trad art? What medium do you like to work with and why? I studied Fine Arts and majored in painting in college so I’m more familiar with traditional art than digital art. I love using oil paint because it takes time to dry so there’s always room for retouching. The last time I tried painting was 4 years ago. Painting takes so much time and it’s kind of messy, so for convenience, I focused on digital art.

Why the profusion of floral elements? I grew up being exposed to floral elements, from the flowers around our lot where I used to play alone up to the flower fondant business that sustained our family. I also grew fond of the different forms and colors of flowers, I guess I just fell in love. 

Where does your “hugot lines” come from? From my own experiences. I wanted to challenge myself by illustrating my emotions or how to illustrate and capture the essence of a word or a sentence. It’s just amazing how we can create so many interpretations from just a single word accompanied by an illustration.

What does your art want to say? That there’s a way to free yourself from all the things that’s happening around us. That every once in a while, it’s okay to escape into the world where we’re the ones in control. Live, breathe, and be free through art. Use art as a coping mechanism.

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“Live, breathe, and be free through art. Use art as a coping mechanism.”

In your opinion, what makes an art trend in social media? For an artwork to trend, I guess it’s all about the people being able to connect to it. If it’s socially relevant and people can see its worth and importance. There’s so many angles to look at too, sometimes it’s also about how people can interact with the artwork.

What’s the most memorable response you got from an artwork? It was 2016, someone messaged me regarding an artwork. He told me he resonated with it and it was able to help him get through his lowest point. Tapos may anak na daw siya, and he invited me na pumunta sa Christening. Naiyak ako! Nakakatouch. To be able to help someone through art is just amazing.

Share with us your three favorite personal artworks, and the stories behind each one.

Fig. 1: This was the first ever rombutan artwork I shared on my personal account. I made this artwork as a message for someone.

Fig. 2: I drew this one when I was having a major existential crisis. I just couldn’t figure out the real me. Every time I talk to different people, I seem to always adjust my personality just so I could fit in with them. It’s a struggle and I’m always trying to please everyone even if it’s no longer convenient for me. It was a disaster! So I came up with this illustration to try and capture that emotion.

Fig. 3: I was in a really bad mental state back then when I drew this. Every time I see this artwork, it reminds me of that moment. I drew this as a farewell. This is a strong reminder for me that it will always get better. To never give up and never go back to that dark space.

Have you done commission works? If yes, which one are you most proud of? If no, why so? Yes, every once in a while, but just for friends. If I don’t personally know the person, I don’t draw for them. It makes me feel weird when I don’t know the person personally. My artworks are very personal and I pour my soul onto it so that’s why I don’t sell my artworks.

What is your dream project/collab? My dream project would be to be able to compile and create my own book of artworks. I promised myself that once I reach 500 digital artworks, I’ll publish my own book. As for the collab, I’ve been making collaborations with my friends. I create visual interpretations from their poems/songs/spoken word pieces.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? It was from my professor, Sir Bob Feleo, he told me to never give up on art because giving up on art is the same as giving up on myself.

What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring artists? Be your best supporter and also the worst critic. Make art for yourself and don’t depend on others’ validation towards your artwork. If you are your own supporter and worst critic at the same time, you will learn how to love every single artwork that you will create

Will you ever stop doing art? Stopping is the same as committing suicide because I breathe through art.

"Be your best supporter and also the worst critic. Make art for yourself and don’t depend on others’ validation towards your artwork."

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