For artist Dominic Rubio, the Vespa, Italy’s iconic scooter, goes beyond being a mode of transport: It is the chariot of the refined, the favored vehicle of a gentleman who manifests an embodiment of the Renaissance.
The joy of voyage and bonds formed is a recurring theme in “Dominic Rubio: Life is A Journey,” a 20th-anniversary art exhibition of Galerie Joaquin in collaboration with Vespa Mall of Asia. The 52-year-old artist’s creative focus evolved gradually in his mind, his story taking shape from his appreciation of vintage vehicles on the road. His deep interest in the Vespa pushed him to proudly integrate a uniquely designed imagery in his art.
For decades since it was produced commercially in Italy in 1946 (its distribution started in the Philippines in 2012), the Vespa (Italian for “wasp”) has endured as a brand that inspires special stories in people worldwide. Its one-of-a-kind trademark is an interpretation of modern values: independence, joy, success.
The core principle of Rubio’s artworks is the portrayal of a classic design firmly grounded in the adventures of a journey—expressing nostalgia and the sentiments of the local community. His works present the site-specific layer of a rural backdrop with a contemporary twist, appealing to diverse audiences, and visually capturing and conveying memorable experiences of mobility and freedom.
Elongated necks, circular heads, and a backdrop of Spanish colonial Philippines are the signature elements of Rubio’s creations. Although expropriating from our colorful and historical past, his works are relevant even in contemporary society. Where the Filipiniana meets the barong and the camisa de chino, he establishes the Filipino identity and allows us to see the pageantry of olden days in vigorous details and hues.
Each painting in which his figures tower alongside Hispanic colonial architecture expounds on the Filipino way of life. Each artwork, whether on canvas or in sculpted brass, teems with details in harmonious coalescence. Rubio not only brings forth images from yesteryears but also induces a retrospective grasp of national identity and positive values, which may now be on the edge of obliteration.
In “Life is A Journey,” the characters are in Rubio’s signature garb, which immediately fuels the spirit of Pinoy pride. Fascinated by the subject matter, he creates a vein of nostalgia by evoking a fervent period when people rode two-wheelers in formal garments sans crash helmets, and with emphasis, magnetically, on the Vespa—now as then the authoritative symbol of liberty and carefree independence.
Rubio hails from Paete, a town in Laguna where woodcarving is an established tradition. His beginnings took him to a multinational advertising agency after graduating with a degree in commercial arts from the University of Santo Tomas’ College of Fine Arts. At the time, his paintings were of landscapes and orchids, blooming where the tropical sun rises and sets.
Upon the advice of fellow artists, Rubio explored ethnic communities as his subjects. In the Caraga region, he learned about the Mandaya and T’boli tribes in an artistic and life-meaning pursuit. He also lived with the Badjao and B’laan people in the southern part of Mindanao.
He brought his experiences to the canvas, depicting the ethnic Filipina—child, woman, wife, mother—in their everyday lifestyle. He found truth and potency in such subjects, but in time he realized that he needed to move forward, and decided to return to Manila.
Inspired by a book by the distinguished fashion designer Pitoy Moreno, Rubio came to explore Filipiniana subjects for a major show at Galerie Joaquin in 2003, featuring the Filipino woman clad in the opulence and grandeur of the native dress. His works of figures with elongated necks enrobed in time-honored garments and Filipino costumes easily resonated with his viewers.
Each may now be seen from different points of view. But one trait stands out: the pertinacity of a nation and its values. Challenged by colonization then and with the constant chase for modernization today, the Filipino through Rubio’s art stands unyielding, with pride in his culture and heritage.
“Dominic Rubio: Life is A Journey” is presented at the Vespa Mall of Asia, SP 110–111 South Parking Building, Marina Way, Pasay City. There is a private viewing on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 2 p.m.; the artist’s reception follows at 4 p.m. For inquiries, contact (0926)7227925 or (0917)6436282.