What is it like to capture something on canvas? To shape an idea into sculpture? More than the brush strokes, more than creating an installation piece by piece, what it takes is time. Because time is what’s needed to find a voice, to see what can be done with any kind of medium.
And even for award-winning artist Charlie Co, it’s taken years to find the language.
“You know in the art world we are always inspired by the masters. But with us, us artists we seek our own language and own images and it takes years to see what you want.” “So it took me forty, fifty years of my life doing that.”
Part of it is likely because a creative path never goes in a straight line. There’s no point A, no point B. At least, not in the regular sense. There’s always just a vast number of ideas that may or may not make it to the canvas.
“To see a blank canvas and see an image,” Co shares, “it takes years for you to see things.”
Filipino contemporary visual artist, Charlie Co. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism
Charlie Co’s work is at times disturbing and somber, using expressionism and surrealism. But no matter what form it takes, it creates a sense of being there. His images build a visceral connection that draw you into them. This is partly because his work is derived from social realities: things that exist, amplified through art. But it’s also because his mastery of visual craft allows him to tell a story the way he imagines it should be told.
“I’m a storyteller, just like many artists, we’re all storytellers.” He explains. ‘When I did my first painting, I said ‘I want this, I know this, I just want this.’ But I know it’s gonna be a long journey, but I was very focused on what I do.
With the environment around him as the inspiration—political situations, personal expressions, and the landscape—these details eventually merge into a world. Only, it’s a world the way he sees it.
And Co’s world is one that has been across the globe. His work has been displayed in Australia, Singapore, China, Brazil, and Japan. It has also earned him multiple awards, including the Thirteen Artists Award from the Cultural Center of the Philippines—the country’s oldest government award.
Orange Project at Bacolod’s Art District. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism
But while Co has created a world of his own, he also recognizes that other people like him have done the same. This has led to him to reach out to other creatives, and he would later become the co-founder of the Orange Gallery in Bacolod City’s Art District—a space made for artists and curators. Co is also one of the leading personalities behind Viva ExCon, a biennial art convention that has been around for over 30 years.
But what does it take to bring artists together? Is it a shared vision? The promise of discovering like-minded people? Perhaps. But mostly, it’s coffee.
“You need a table, you need coffee, gather the artists and talk about it. Try to do things.”
And things have been happening at the Art District. Co and the other artists have been busy creating, planning for the next thing. Talking about how they want to bring the art community forward.
The Art District located at the heart of Bacolod, Negros Occidental. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism
“I want Art District to be a center where you can have coffee,“ he says. “When you want to be creative you can just go there and do your writing, or your painting, or you get inspired by the space.”
But Co’s vision isn’t just about creating a community for artists to get their creativity going, it’s also about supporting each other. During the worst of the pandemic, with most of the country under lockdown, the art community was struggling to survive. Co and the other figures in the art industry rallied together, forming the Art Heals movement.
This movement raised money by selling off artwork, and the funds were used to supply artists with groceries. They’d also reached out to help frontliners as well, recognizing that the art community doesn’t stand alone, but stands with the rest of the world. In this way, art did heal the community. Still, Co is looking to do more than that.
He mentions that there are plans to expand the reach of the Art District, that it could one day support the artists. Not just by inspiring them to pursue their craft, but also by helping them earn by sharing what they know. In turn, this would make it sustainable for them.
“Early next year we could have this…school for all ages and it’s also giving livelihood to artists who want to teach,” he continues “But again, it’s quite a little bit abstract right now but from here, you go to Art District, you’ll see what I’m saying, what I’m talking about.”
Charlie Co, with his team of local artists, putting together an art installation. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.
But abstract or not, these plans are keeping the art community moving in Bacolod. The culture is thriving, now even more alive with artists like Charlie Co pushing for things to happen in the scene. And just like his work, the Art District in Bacolod creates a visceral connection that draws you to it. But you don’t need to be an art connoisseur to appreciate the experience. All that’s needed is an open mind and a plane ticket.
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