Arnold Arre at the Crucible Gallery : Filipino Fantasia
by Dexter C. Osorio
May 1, 2000 - The Manila Times

What if...a comic book illustrator produced works that were good enough to be put on exhibit?

What if... a legitimate art gallery took the chance on an unexplored genre?

And what if...sales of the erstwhile comic book artist's works reached six figures on opening night alone?

Arnold Arre, like the rest of us who aren't accountants, has always been fond of asking "what if" questions ever since he was a kid. Now look at what it got him -- a one-man exhibit entitled MYTHOS at the Crucible gallery (4th level, SM Megamall Bldg A), where 15 of his "what if" paintings are currently making waves.

Arre has been drawing since age three, and finished with a degree in Visual Communication at the UP College of Fine Arts in 1994. He then worked in several ad agencies before co-founding Alamat Comics, where he now has four comic book credits to his name, including The Mythology Class, their current bestseller.

Although none of Arre's paintings will ever be mistaken for a Malang or Amorsolo, there was still something about them that made Crucible Gallery co-owner Sari Ortega pause when he came across The Mythology Class while browsing in Comic Quest.

"I saw that the covers were painting quality," Ortega said. "And when I found out that all of it was original -- that none of the images were computer generated...I realized that this was real art."

With Ortega's realization came Arnold Arre's big break, and the rest, as the ysay, is (fantasy art) history -- a first for the artist, the gallery, and the genre.

Artsy Fantasy

Fantasy art developed as an offshoot of fantasy literature (fire-breathing dragons on the cover reassured buyers that the book is not about calculus). It was made to complement fantasy writing and fantasy gaming, and came to be found on the covers of fantasy novels, within the pages of Heavy metal Magazine, and as adjunets in TSR's Dungeons and Dragons role playing games, to name a few.

Since fantasy art deals with make-believe subjects, it naturally veer toward realistic and supra-realistic rendering, since the whole point is to make fantastic characters believable.

Japanese animators, for their part, have popularized a distinct rendering style that lies somewhere between out-and-out realism and Saturday morning cartoons -- it is characterized by idealized proportions, charming characterization and a painstaking attention to detail.

Although the genre's following has traditionally been literate adolescents and prepubescent schoolchildren, the development of fantasy writing and the emergence of top-caliber artists consequently attracted a more mature and discerning audience. (Comics are now called graphic novels, and rightly so - plot, characterization, and storylines have ceased to become juvenile, while the art has transcended the soullessness of pencil-ink-and-color illustrations).

The recent emergence of artists like Bisley, Moebius, and Elmore (not to mention hordes of Japanese masters like Yukito Kishiro and masamune Shirow) has further helped popularize fantasy art and bring it closer to mainstream acceptance.

Hip-hop manananggals and texting cherubs

Arre's vision of Filipino mythology is far from the usual textbook illustrations of menacing monsters and shadowy ogres. it shows engkantos playing piko, tikbalangs waiting for a ride, higantes strolling in a field, and supernatural beings glibly interacting with mortals in everyday situations.

"I try to find the fantastic out of the mundane," he said. "We have a colorful culture and a rich mythology, and I use it together with real names and real places."

His works are also suffused with a childlike playfulness - closer examination of Two Cherubs, for example, shows that one of the nubile angels is busy sending text messages on a cellular phone.

And although he claims to be traditionalist in the sense that he eschews computer generated images, his mythical creatures always seem to have a touch of the contemporary - his Manananggal with Red Hair, for example, is clad in loose baggy pants (which offer a peek of her French-cut underwear), a white tank top, and senakers.

Arre uses airbrushed watercolors, and usually takes anywhere from 2-5 days to finish a canvas. "I dont think I can achieve what I want to do using any other medium. I use the airbrush because it's very technical and it's what I'm comfortable with."

And so, after having evoked our childish delight (ooh!), breathless admiration (ahh!) ad stupendous adulation (cool!), what has Arnold Arre in store for an encore?

"I want to be known as a chronicler of our times...I want to go into depicting technology next."

With his unending "what if's" and seemingly tireless sense of play, who knows, Arnold Arre might just pull it off after all.