Gabriel Barredo: ‘An incomparable artist’
When the dust finally clears to give Filipinos a rear view of the virtual art renaissance that’s happening in the country, Gabriel “Gabby” Barredo will be among the names of the brilliant artists credited with producing the most outstanding body of works in this exceptional period.
It’s a tremendous loss for our country that, at age 62, Barredo passed on in his sleep last Jan. 6. But what an immense legacy for our country that he once walked in our midst, and that he left works of art that will timelessly captivate both local and international audiences.The Philippines is currently experiencing an unprecedented flowering of visual arts. At no other period in our history has there been such frenetic activity in the art scene. No other era has seen so many artists, galleries, art fairs, auction houses, and private museums enlivening the country’s culture and arts landscape.Even from an array of outstanding works, one can easily distinguish the exceptional quality of Barredo’s art. His works are always crowd-drawers, because they are products of an imagination of immensely mesmerizing creativity. His major works are mixed media installations that combine drawings, sculptures, transformed discarded objects, and also incorporate light, sound and movement, because the artwork is run by a motorized apparatus. Barredo is acknowledged by his peers as the pioneer of kinetic art in our country.
He has excellent drawings and stand-alone sculptures, but the brilliance of Barredo is most noticeable in his assemblage of various physical objects like toys, old photographs,
religious items, skulls, car and appliance parts, bullet shells, old dental chairs, steel wires and glass containers, because he turns these things into thrilling multisensory masterpieces.
Oftentimes, the visual symphony of Barredo’s creations border on the macabre in their impact, but like classic suspense or horror movies, you cannot escape giving praise to the brilliant mind behind the work of art.
One of the Barredo pieces that I have consists of almost a hundred moving hands assembled in the form of a cross, with bullet parts attached to steel springs that produce a cacophony of sounds. I installed the art piece on my living room wall, and whenever I turn it on to entertain guests, their toddlers would instinctively hide under the chairs. Gradually, however, the kids would peek at the artwork, and then they would emerge from hiding to look more closely at the noisily moving artwork in open-mouthed amazement.
Barredo was like a kid in a toy store, ecstatic with delight, whenever he rummaged through junk shops and secondhand stores, searching for discarded objects that he would then transform into outrageous embodiments of his wild dreams. He made “treasures out of trash,” and his works are “intriguing, grotesque, breathtaking and beautiful” all at the same time, as an art critic put it.
One may get the impression, upon encountering such works, that the artist behind them was flamboyant and self-important. But Barredo was the complete opposite. He was a reclusive man, even refusing to attend his own art exhibit openings at times.
My last conversation with Barredo was when he called me to express his appreciation for an article I wrote about the human rights situation in our country. His heart was in the right place when it came to lamentable issues that afflict his countrymen.
When news circulated that he had died, superlative words came profusely from friends and colleagues, describing him as an “incomparable artist,” a “genius,” and “an artist who pushed the limits of what art and its magical experiences can be.”
I hope that, someday, Barredo will get recognized as one of our country’s national artists, because he exemplifies the best of the Filipino race and he produced art gems that are now part of our cultural jewels.
The renowned singer Lea Salonga made a fitting homage to her cousin, Gabriel Barredo: “He was one of a kind. But beyond that, he was a good human. Good artist and good human don’t always go hand in hand, but in him they did.”
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