While I was actively reaching out to promote a recent exhibition of my own, I made the happy discovery of another Filipino American artist based in Houston, TX. Matt Manalo (no relation) is a young painter whose work quietly expresses memories and emotions inspired by the Philippines and his time growing up there. He came to Texas as a teenager and has adjusted easily to life in the U.S. He is associated with a group called the Filipino Artist Directory that was founded by artist Janna Añonuevo Langholz in Dallas, TX.
I am thrilled to feature Matt and his work on TSV as a committed young artist, father and art organizer who is energized with the endeavor to advocate and connect other Filipino American artists. To see more of his work go to www.mattmanalo.com
IM: Can you remember when you decided you wanted to become an artist and what informed that decision?
MM: Since I was young, my parents always supported my creativity by buying me art supplies and having me join art contests. I have always been interested in art but it wasn’t until 2005 that I decided to make art my career. Before that, I was going to college for Computer Engineering. I had interest in it but I did not see myself working in that field for the rest of my life. I always told myself that I can be 90-years old and still be holding a paint brush.
You moved to the U.S. with your family as a teenager. Can you describe what it was like growing up in Houston, TX from a Filipino standpoint?
The Philippines, Manila in particular, has a very westernized mindset. With that said, I did not experience a monumental culture shock when I moved here. Being Filipino in Houston made me more conscious about my identity since I was and still am being mistaken for being Hispanic. It made me weary since my nationality was automatically judged based from my looks. It doesn’t affect me as much but even in a diverse city, discrimination and racial profiling still occur frequently. I also see that Filipino communities here are spread out based on different regions. I believe that it’s my mission to bring communities together. It inspired me even more after meeting Kidlat Tahimik and having a conversation about it.
Kidlat Tahimik is a Filipino film maker, who received international recognition for his first film Perfumed Nightmare (Mababangong Bangungot). He is considered as the Father of Philippine Independent Cinema. He visited Houston recently and I was able to chat with him about our current society and the feeling of displacement being a Filipino in the US. You can read more about Tahimik on his Wikipedia page: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kidlat_Tahimik
I think it’s great you feel it’s a mission of yours to unite the various Filipino art communities together. Can you explain what is the mission behind the Fil-Am Artist Directory and what are some of the activities or programs they do?
The Fil-Am Artist’s Directory is a project started by Janna Añonuevo Langholz, who is a Fil-Am artist currently residing and making work in Dallas, Texas. She interviewed Isabel Cuenca, another Filipino artist in Houston, and I about our show titled Bahay at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center in Dallas. That is how we connected and she asked if I wanted to be a part of the project. We’re currently doing studio visits and interviews with artists that reside in Texas, write-ups of Filipino-related art events, and networking. We recently got affiliated with another group in the San Francisco/Bay Area called Epekto Art Projects. Aside from that, I have been connecting with other artists in the Philippines about doing an art exchange program.
What kind of work were you making in the Philippines and how has the work changed from then to what you’re doing now in the U.S.? And what are some of the reasons (if there are any) for the change?
When I was still in the Philippines, I was doing a lot of drawings. It was mostly related to comic books ––DC, Marvel, Vertigo, and a Funny Komiks. My work took a huge turn after that. I still incorporate some comicbook-related imagery when I do collage work and I still read them. My work, ever since the shift, serves as a journal for me ––conversations that I have with myself about memories and experiences. I felt making abstract paintings helped me make those conversations more fluid and unrehearsed. I don’t ever plan anything when I paint. Things just happen.
Where did you study? What kind of art program was it? I love the interest in comic books when you were in the Philippines. How do you see the abstract works being more fluid in regards to narrative?
I was originally taking Computer Engineering at Don Bosco Technical College until I moved here. I then pursued my Bachelors of Fine Art in Painting and a minor in Art History at the University of Houston.
My interest in comic books was something that came naturally growing up because of what was available on TV. It was more appealing to me as well since I grew up going to an all-boys Catholic school and all we talked about were super heroes. I always drew cartoon characters that my classmates requested from me.
I see working in abstraction as a more fluid approach because I usually do not plan anything when I work. It was more about my current feeling or mood rather than trying to render anything representational.
Your work is very monochromatic. What is the inspiration behind this palette choice?
The reason behind the palette choice is because I see my paintings as different forms of myself. Color represents the purity of life, of culture. Most of them are ‘white-washed’ or completely voided out from a piece. In history, we can also witness countless ‘white-washing’ of narratives for it to ‘fit’ into today’s society. Also, because I am talking about narratives, memories and conversations with my work, I borrowed the timelessness of a black and white photograph on silver gelatin print compared to a color photograph where it fades with time.
I really like the use of text in your work. How would you describe the function of text in your work?
I include text on my work when there’s a specific topic I want to narrate. For example, my piece titled Spratly has the words ‘Made in the Philippines’ cut out. The Spratly islands has been a long-running issue between China and the Philippines on whose territory it’s on. The piece crumbles through time. The text slowly deteriorates to a point where it’s completely unreadable.
There are a lot of subtle yet definite shapes — signifiers — in your work that are often repeated or blown up. What are these shapes and and their meaning if there is any? Are these conscious decisions or intuitive?
Most of my work are made intuitively. The shapes happen by either expression or accident and most of the time both. Mistakes are an important part of my studio practice.
Can you describe what a day in your studio would be?
A typical day at the studio would be checking emails, writing proposals, reading the current news on art and other topics, and looking at different works by other artists. I would usually lay out a couple of stretchers or panels and start making a mess on them collectively. There are times where I would play music and times where I prefer it to be completely silent. Sometimes a day is spent going through a collection of things that I have which are mostly composed of handwritten lists, letters, photographs, etc. from different people.
Is your studio at home or do you have a separate space outside the home?
I make my work at home. One of the rooms is converted into a studio space and it is split between my wife and I. She also makes things and sometimes we work at the same time.
What future exhibitions do you have planned?
I don’t have anything planned yet for next year. I’m writing proposals and expanding my network at the moment.
What are some things we can expect from the Filipino American Artist Directory?
One of the goals is to bring communities among other cities or countries together. So there will be more conversations about collaborations, events, and just awareness among the Filipino art community.