By Hannah Jo Uy
Portrait by Pinggot Zulueta
Van Tuico doesn’t shy away from city life. In fact, for the versatile artist, urban chaos is a welcome sight. He doesn’t long for faraway places and romantic idyll. Instead he finds beauty in the overlooked and disregarded components that make up the world we live in today. With a truly creative eye, he unleashes the potential of these everyday objects through his witty three-dimensional artworks. Indeed his latest exhibit, “Under Construction,” recently showcased at the Vinyl on Vinyl Gallery, embodies the unique perspective that distinguishes him from other artists.
Van Tuico’s early exposure to the art scene was when a friend working as an assistant for Cesar Legaspi introduced him to the master’s works. He remembers these early days with fondness, describing the feeling of privilege that he had in being able to visit Legaspi’s studio. Coupled with the invitations from friends for the art exhibitions at galleries across the city, Tuico says that this “opened his eyes to the world of art.” But the turning point didn’t happen until 2004, when in the midst of pursuing his medical degree, he began painting instead. He credits the late exposure, however, as greater motivation. At that point, he said, he was wiser and his perspective has broadened to have a deeper appreciation of art.
Painfully shy, Van Tuico shared that his foray into art was driven by his desire to express himself and honor the uniqueness of his internal dialogue: “For me, creating art full time is a step of faith. I am a person who is sorely lacking in communication skills and have difficulty in expressing thoughts. Most of the time [I’m] quiet, I don’t really mingle with people and, sometimes as a result, [I am] misunderstood. Art made a way for me to express myself. It made a way for me to talk in a different form…and have fun and learn in the process.”
In “Under Construction,” his platform of expression has taken on bolder forms to encapsulate the spirit of urban chaos. “The show is about observation of things around us,” Tuico narrates. “How development takes place under our noses. It is how materials are scattered, ruined, and somehow exposed.”
Tuico breathes life into roads, walls, doors, sidewalks, skyscrapers, and construction sites, making these stark and otherwise cold materials into striking commentaries on the prevailing issues of the modern world. From his keen observations during walks and drives, he was taken by the endless development projects that seem to be popping up around the city. He would observe the city’s landscape engulfed in endless projects and the increasingly congested skyline and chronicle these architectural and economic undertakings.
“We are a developing country,” he says. “It’s nice to see progress. The pieces in the show are somehow meant to take you back, bringing you to familiar places or probably places you have never been to. It’s about how things are connected, and also how things fall apart. Most important, it’s about how we interact with things around us.”
For the show, Tuico showcases his distinct ability to manipulate concrete, cement, and steel. The collection serves as a significant departure from his early creations, which featured mostly oils and acrylics. The move to incorporate these rough subject matters came naturally, as he began to incorporate gravel and other found objects before graduating to cement and steel. “There’s always a fascination with cement as a medium,” he says. “Maybe because of the color, rigidity, longevity, and toughness.”
Marking the first time Tuico is unveiling an installation piece, the space that he occupies showcases bolder ideas he aims to bring to life. This new dimension was largely driven by his welcoming attitude to utilising unexpected materials coupled by endless hours on research.
“I spend so much time on research, which is important to me,” he says. “I’m always on the look-out for interesting material in hardware stores, junk shops, and abandoned places. But now, I let the material find me. Once you’re in the jungle (or the junk shop), your senses become more sensitive.”
Tuico uses his time gathering materials and refining his aesthetic concepts as a means of reflection, soaking in these elements and their textures, whether they are walls, rocks, stones, or discarded wood. “I admire how they are exposed, ruined, weathered, eroded, worn, and torn—the imperfections,” he says. “They remind me of the intricacies of life and how we are tested through time. It develops character. Also, getting materials we usually don’t even bother with, it’s nice to bring them back to life or take notice of them. I’m always on the side of the underdog.”
At the heart of the matter, Tuico uses these materials as a metaphor and as an important reminder that we, as humans, are always in a state of constant evolution. Tuico sums up his creative philosophy by what he calls the three Rs: React, Relax, and Reflect. “My aim in making art,” he says, “is to heal, calm, soothe, and reflect on life itself.”
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