Ricky Ambagan on His Last Hour of Summer

BY JAY BAUTISTA |

To deeply appreciate Isang Ikot is to contextualize what Ricky V. Ambagan did at the last hour of summer. Armed with his trusted digital camera, he took the last bus trip to Baguio in time for him to capture the first impressions of daybreak at Burnham Park. In all its available light and movement, after a succession of images, just when the sun was too harsh, he rode the next bus home.

Only the artist in Ambagan can become emphatically obsessed with the reflections of ephemeral light, as it moves on surfaces with the fluidity of water. The need to capture various moments in ever-changing, mingling of colors drove up to its saturated hues, it had to be at the sunny summer capital. He had to make the trip, to revisit the man-made lake named after Baguio’s master planner.

Hilera


Light Moves in Strange Ways

It was said that when Claude Monet found the perfect radiance in Giverny, the supposed founder of Impressionism never left this village on the right bank of the river Seine. He would eventually built his house and garden to accommodate the radiance around it. Similarly, being immersed in the urban setting, Ambagan had to steal the efflorescence of Baguio and offer it in a formal gallery setting/set-up.

One may not notice though, Ambagan’s distorted style is not mere transient impressions. Even his titles have a pun-intended informality such as Pamamanhikan which frames a boat in front of similar like-minded rafts, like a man proposing commitment to a woman and her older gentry. The fleeting effects of sunlight at different times in Hilera and Paghahanda glow that only the sunlight of Burnham Park can provide.


Paghihintay


Consider Maagang Pagdating and Silong, where the boats and even the trees are incidental, a mere part of what Ambagan attempts to be his full-blown pictorial possibilities. Combining all the split and splat of different colors produces a rich mist. As evidence, this craving was too intense that only he could dabble at such a scene on a temporal time upon returning to his studio to paint them.

Ambagan has painted the purity of sensations as in Paghihintay which plays red and blue in used opaque colors. You can almost jump at the offered seat. A closer study of his paintings will show that colors were often used straight from the tube or mixed on the canvas. He also scumbled colors in Tanaw and Lambingan using thin, broken layers of paint that allows the lower layers of color to shine through.

After two solo shows that depict the useless deluge of the maddening crowd of the city, Ambagan has opted to this eerie-like solitude, and as he says this time he lusted the hour before congestion seeps in, which is coincidentally that magic hour that photographers marvel about. As much as he wanted to embrace life’s harsh and raw realities last time around, he let’s go now, or more like a pause, a sort of crossroad to the decisions and creative directions he is about to embark.


Follower of the Sun

In this third solo exhibition, literally Ambagan continuous to seek his own light. In a totally new fashion, in an approach that isn’t highly polished nor graphic, and their subjects were neither classical nor historical, he has completely rejected the absolute value in a realist painterly style commonly associated with a Southern province. Like a true maverick, his is even a more dramatic departure from representational convention and even the painters from the alma mater that has bred and influenced him.

Ambagan has always favored momentary action regardless of people and tension, not only in the fleeting lights of a landscape, but in the day-to-day lives of the people. However as he belies absolute truths he defies himself, these 11 pieces are more relaxed compositions, where the boundary between subject and background often resembling a point-and-shoot snapshot with a soft-box light, are gracefully flashed by chance and spontaneity.

Maagang Pagdating


Looking at them side-by-side one has seen the Burnham Park of yore literally full circle. Although the images showed signs of strain and weariness having been there for more than half a century already, for Ambagan, the sheer confidence of his brushstrokes shows how familiar is he with this place and having gone here many times, however his familiarity is not one that breeds contempt. We suspect he is not yet done with Baguio altogether. This time around there are no browns or earth colors, not even local tone nor shadows even in his canvas. Only the blueness of the sky mirrors of the surface or the green of nature on water giving it a sense of freshness and abundance.

Tanaw


One might ask, what’s an old master heart clinging in his young adult body? It could be his need for freedom and meaning moves him too quickly. And now that the rains have arrived, one wonders what he will do or where he would go next.

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