Arnold Arre's Mythical World
by Susan A. De Guzman
April 24, 2000 -

Out of this world.

If there's a description that best pictures the art of 28-year-old Arnold Arre, it is this. For his first exhibit, opening on April 25 at the Crucible Gallery titled "Mythos," Arre has culled images from Philippine folklore and popular culture and cast them in places that could only have been conjured by a fertile mind.

"Ride to Mandaluyong" is perhaps the prime example of Arre's fanciful imagination. In this airbrush and watercolor on paper, he has created a riverside scene in the shadow of huge tribesmen figures carved out of a mountain. In the foreground is a most curious sight -- a boat manned (make that half-manned) by a manananggal, and ferrying two people straight out of a Jose Rizal novel.

Onshore, an assortment of oddball characters can be found -- backpack-carrying and fully-clothed horses standing on their hind legs, a merman apparently haggling for some produce with a pair of trader-elves, a seemingly safari-bound woman in salakot and black thigh-high boots.

"It's my idea of what Mandaluyong could have been centuries ago. It's a place where man and all sorts of creatures co-exist peacefully," Arre explains.

He again depicts this kind of harmonious relationship in "Kapre," where the famed hideous character of Filipino mythology carries two children on back -- all of them watching a giant visage in the distance. "We've always known the kapre as vicious and out to do harm, but I wondered what it would be like if it was domesticated," Arre says.

Arre's other fantasy artworks for "Mythos" also breathe life to the diwata (fairy), sirena (mermaids), tikbalang (half-man, half-horse) and similar enchanted creatures.

"Darna 2000" is Arre's own take on the well-known comics heroine who sports an updated red-and-black costume. In this modern world that Arre has thought up, Darna's nemesis Valentina is running for an elective post as reflected in a propaganda material posted on a building.

Since Arre also likes to chronicle the times through his paintings, he has works like "Manananggal with Red Hair" and "Two Cherubs". The latter shows a pair of angels busy talking on their cellphones. In the first piece, his winged creature sports colored hair, tank top, cargo pants, and thick-soled rubber shoes -- popular must-haves among today's teens.

If his work looks familiar, it's because Arre has already made a name for himself in the comic book world. One of the young founder-artists of the Alamat comics line, he has created such titles as "Age of the Valkyries," about women action heroes, and "Batch '72," about Martial Law babies subjected to a secret experiment that has left them with superpowers. But Arre's most popular series is the four-part "Mythology Class," a story set in modern-day UP Diliman (Arre's alma mater) about a group of young engkanto-busters.

An admitted storyteller, the fine arts graduate enjoys sharing a narrative through the comics format because of its very visual nature. This is why he joined like-minded artists in establishing Alamat in 1994. But even if they have already secured throngs of loyal followers, says Arre, comics production is still proving to be a difficult enterprise locally.

"The comic books are really vanity projects. If you have a story that you want to produce in comics form, you have to raise the money yourself because we don't have funding. One issue can cost P30,000 for 500 copies. I'm thankful because my parents have been very supportive," says Arre.

He also generates income through what he calls his "cash cows" -- making caricatures of guests at birthday parties and doing storyboards for various ad agencies. Even while still a fine arts student at UP, Arre had been doing freelance projects for the agencies.

Oddly enough, Arre chose to make his "Mythology Class" black and white instead of the usual colorful images associated with comics. "There's a certain magic in black and white. It has more character, and you're able to create a particular mood and effect. The renditions of light and shadow is better," he notes.

"Mythos" is a dream come true for Arre, who has always wanted to hold an exhibit of his fantasy art. "Some would ask if it's art or not. Some would dismiss it as commercial art. But I don't care if they say those things -- this is what I want to do. I like telling stories people would enjoy," Arre smiles.

Arre researched on his supernatural subjects by reading the studies of sociologists F. Landa Jocano and Maximo Ramos. He then supplemented this with his "what-if" musings. Arre lets his mind wander to come up with his other-worldy scenarios. To get into this mood, he usually wallows in music (classical, jazz, techno) or takes an aimless ride from his home in Cainta to Intramuros and back.

While his contemporaries are already using computers extensively for their art, he chooses to do his the old-fashioned way - "de kamay." He cites French fantasy artist Moebius and Japanese anime as major influences.

This year, Arre intends to make a sequel for "Mythology Class," which fans of the series have long been clamoring for. He also hopes to have a follow-up installment for his fantasy art. But of course, he will have to hurdle that first test via "Mythos."

"I feel it's something that people have not seen before and would maybe appreciate. The reaction I want to get is for them to go 'Wow!' I want them to forget everything and be transported to another world through that frame," Arre concludes.

"Mythos" will run until May 14 at the Crucible Gallery, SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City. All works are airbrush and watercolor on paper, with a uniform size of 22" x 29".