Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photos courtesy of Gilbert Miraflor
“Like father like son: Every good tree maketh good fruits,” William Langland once said.
This statement comes to mind after interviewing Gilbert A. Miraflor, a Dabawenyo artist who excels in watercolor painting. He was born and raised in Mati City, Davao Oriental, and married Mary Katherane, with whom he has three children: Seth, Aby, and Ady.
It was his father, Apolonio, who taught him the rudiments of art. “My father would have been famous artists like Luna, Manansala or Kiukok had it not been for his passion for teaching comes in-between,” Miraflor said.
His talent as an artist was displayed when he would build a stage during school’s programs and activities and even those in the barrios. Using only cassava starch and mixing it with color dyes, he would hand-paint a mural with high quality work of art. As a son, he would help his father do this and watched in amazement the unfolding of a masterpiece before his eyes.
With such experience, he was inspired to do the same. “I started my art, or at least my inclination in art, way back in my elementary years,” he admitted. “I had fun drawing and sculpting my own car toys. I remember my parents, who were both public school teachers, had plenty of colored chalks that they would use in teachings and I would go through them all and draw my masterpieces with them.”
His canvas was the plywood panel walls of their old house. “Using the Manansala and Botong Francisco prints on my informal and writing theme booklets, which was then a cliché in those days, I would draw from the lowest of the floor to the top most of the ceiling using a table and stool so that I could reach the top,” he recalled.
Miraflor was in high school when he discovered watercolor painting after being influenced by his teacher (Felipe Digamo, Jr.) in Mati School of Arts and Trade.
After graduating from high school, he pursued his interest by taking up Fine Arts at the Ford Academy of the Arts in Davao City (which has already closed). Although he was unable to finish his course, it did not stop him from chasing his passion.
It was a gamble to make arts as a source of living but it paid off. When he started as a professional artist, his paintings ranged from P5,000 to P35,000. Today, the prices range from P50,000 to P1 million.
Two of his paintings were bought at P250,000 each. “They were sold to one of the country’s biggest corporations,” he said.
He has also done some commissioned works. “When I worked as an artist abroad, I was commissioned to paint a portrait for a prince who happened to be the head of the country’s defense department, who was later crowned king,” he said, referring to His Excellency Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the king of Saudi Arabia. This was in 2012.
Miraflor, now 54, indeed has come a long, long way from Mati City.
“I see myself as a versatile type of an artist,” he pointed out. “This means, I don’t only paint but also sculpt as well. Speaking of painting, although I love to paint with acrylic paints, my favorite medium is watercolor. My subjects and themes in painting are varied as well, but they are simple and easy in content and substance. Such paintings won’t scare off little children or offend a guest in your living room.”
His paintings are procedural rather than conceptual. “Such paintings promote and encourage love and beauty, happiness and joy, and well and godly,” he said. “But I love my brushstrokes bold and decisive or at least that is how my audience see my works: spontaneous and wild yet free.”
Miraflor considered watercolor painting as the most delicate and the hardest medium of all. “(It is) far more difficult to maneuver than oil painting,” he said. “For one, watercolor painting is as archival as oil painting. That is the truth of the matter.”
There are some notions that watercolor paintings don’t last long compared with those of oil paintings. He dispelled such a myth. “In fact, watercolor paintings existed long before the first oil painting came; these watercolor paintings are still as brilliant today as they were first painted,” he said.
The secret is: how these paintings are being taken care of. He explained: “How we take care of valued art works, like protecting them from direct sunlight, whether oil or acrylic or watercolor, matters. After all, all these paintings share the same pigments. The only difference is the kind of binders being used: linseed oil for oil paints and turpentine as thinner, polymer for acrylics with acrylic medium as vehicle, and gum Arabic for watercolor wherein water is used as thinner.”
The second reason, without further explanation, is that “watercolor painting is an exquisite medium!”
It took Miraflor more than two decades to discover his own brand of painting. “I appreciate the realistic kind of painting as much as I love impressionist types but really my paintings are rather suggestive in character,” he said.
He called his paintings “representational abstractionism” which means “abstracts with readily identifiable objects.” He said, “While impressionist style is described by its use of colors, my style is marked by employing wild and spontaneous abstracted brushstrokes.”
When asked how many hours it takes him to paint a piece (“I paint fast and furious!”), he said it depends on the size. For instance, the full sheet watercolor paper – 22 x 30 inches – takes him between one to two hours from start to finish. “It is not the number of hours or days you put in a painting but the quality of time you give,” he said. “I paint in a spur of the moment. My objective in every piece is to try to paint in as limited a stroke as possible. If I could paint it in one single stroke, I would be satisfied. Less is more!”
Miraflor has exhibited some of his paintings in local and international shows. The first international exhibit was when he solely represented the Philippines in an International Watercolor Exposition in Bratislava, Slovakia. He also did some exhibits in Italy, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Hong Kong (online exhibit).
“When I exhibit abroad, I see to it that I showcase our very own Filipino culture,” he stressed. “It is part of my advocacy. But what is important is: I paint to express my soul as an artist; praises and honor and money are simply bonuses. Achieving the objective is for me synonymous to my fulfillment as an artist.”
So far, Miraflor has won 5 top awards in national art competitions, three of which were in watercolor. The awards were: Grand Prize in the National Stamps Competition “Pasko 96” (1996), Grand Prize in First Philippine Watercolor Convention (2017), Second Prize in Third Philippine Watercolor Convention (2019), Grand Prize in 15th GSIS Art Sculpture Competition (2019), and Third Prize in First National Watercolor Competition from Sihag Cebu WaterColor Society (2020).
In terms of arts, the Philippines is still far behind compared with other countries. “That is natural for developing countries to lag behind not only in arts but in almost every aspect as compared to highly-developed and rich countries,” he said. “But I believe we are at par with other countries in every aspect, skill-wise and talent-wise.”