At first glance, the images appear to be similar to typical traditional stories mirrored in Filipino art. They are about peasant life against a rural background.
Before Rodel Tapaya discovered a visual language that allows him to depict mythical characters, animals, trees and flowers through strong geometrical patterning that illustrates his carefully painted details and texture, his aesthetic thrived within the ins and outs of the lives of the masses.
A first look at Tapaya’s early work and one is already struck by the colors he uses, the hint of an odd perspective, a line, suggesting a dreamlike, even surreal quality, the pensive mood of his characters in their settings. There is already a touch of the hybrid. The setting is presumably the Philippine countryside, yet the lanceolate trees seem like they were picked out from the Italianate backdrops of Fra Angelico.
His use of flat, earthy yet, exhilarating colors and patterning as well as his stimulating details such as the gimlet-eyed features of the farmers already added a surreal, even sinister touch to the gritty everyday situations he depicts.
We also see the wryness of Tapaya’s humor. It is clear that Tapaya is fascinated by the complexity of the fantastic situations he shows us. He packs many implied, speculative stories into one painting, merging the simple and the storybook like into unusual images that suggest myriad patterns of deceptively simple, everyday life. Center to Tapaya’s work is his concentration on colors. The rich potential of colors to evoke a scene and bring characters to life is a clear strength in his art.