Fil-Am Rommel Rico Paints for Children with HIV

BY: Throy Catan

The prevailing pandemic brought about by the volatile COVID-19 virus has not totally stifled the God-given gift of artists of all persuasions both here and abroad. Some have remained steadfast in their desire to express themselves through their respective works of art.

This speaks of eliminating barriers to creativity in captivity where the persistence of these artists is looked upon as a divine pursuit and a heroic act where there works are geared for a most noble cause and specific sense of advocacy .

We are referencing here Fil-Am visual artist Rommel Rico of New York City, his host country, who returned to the country early March 2020 to hold a one-man painting exhibit of some of his creations carted yet straight from the Big Apple.

Early on and as backgrounder, Rommel Rico has held a one-man exhibit of his oeuvres at Pfizer Headquarters lobby, 42nd St. at New York, around which you find some of the world’s biggest and renowned art museums and galleries. His exhibit earned for him glowing reviews from the snooty art critics of the city including several art aficionados from as far as Europe, Italy and South America.

They hailed his brush works for its characteristic Mediterranean allure, reflecting the beauty and haunting appeal of his diverse subjects caught from the memory recall of his fascination with the tropical luminosity of the fabled landscape and the vibrancy of the people back in his home country – Philippines.

One aficionado pointed out the riveting charm and narrative of women in most of his ebullient portraits in acrylic on canvas as his trope of sort. This is most evident in his lush and lyrical renderings of his figurative abstractions of the bucolic women of the past from his country of origin; as well as the touted world-class beauty of the modern Filipina that has come to be associated with winning one too many crowns and scepters in prestigious international beauty pageants.

Said observer further argued painter Rommel Rico spoke volumes of lightheartedness and fecundity in expressing himself with delicate tinctures of insouciance in his use of predominating radiant colors, whether his style is modernist, postmodernist, or pop.

One can only guess his style is a synthesis or an intermixture of a largely disciplined self-taught artist informed by the Oriental “brillo” in most of his works. Probably, this can gleaned from his impressionable and absorbent beginnings in which his playfield were the crystal clear seawaters, sun-kissed coastal, and the unspoiled countryside of his fabled sunny island — Sibuyan of Masbate Province.

Parenthetical, Sibuyan Island has earned the categorical distinction as “the Galápagos of Asia” according to some local and international natural scientists, ascribing to the fact the island has remained in isolation from the rest of the world since its formation. That never in its geological history has this island ever been connected with any part of the Philippine archipelago.

In hindsight, the one-man exhibit of Rommel Rico in the country was relatively deemed a move0ver engagement from his previous first solo and successful exhibit in New York. It was supposed to run starting the month of April, 2020, at Gateway Mall, Cubao, Quezon City.

This was invested with the goal to collaborate in a fundraiser project through the arts with Project Red Ribbon Care Management Foundation, Inc., the country’s leading foundation for persons with HIV-AIDS. Unfortunately with the pandemic catching all of us inordinately flatfooted the organizers had to truncate the scheduled exhibit for sometime.

The exhibit would have also occasioned the grand launch of a coffee table book on Rommel authored by George Vail Kabristante of Balintataw Film & Theater Arts, Phil. Center for Int’l. Theater Institute- UNESCO, who to digress has previously authored two books on Lorli Villanueva, the veteran stage and movie actress who moved to New York City like Rommel. Fortuitously, she made a dent there as a socio-civic influencer amongst the Filipino community including the coveted post she held for years until her retirement as Deputy and Dean of Special Education at Touro College.

In recognition of her impact as artist with social commitment both here and abroad, the Manunuri Ng Pelikulang Pilipino bestowed her a Lifetime Achievement Award in a grand ceremony last year. We say at this point, Rommel is headed in parallel direction.

Offhand, the said book of Rommel Rico pending its grand launch contained the reproductions of most of his inspired creations foregrounding his status in a host country as an indented and fragile visual artist of color.

The artist admitted to having passionately juggled between a highly demanding day job at Pfizer Headquarter and his first love painting that he takes to heart and soul on coming home and through much of his free time on weekends at Queens.

In here, he is self-contained and safely ensconced in a spacious conducive room to himself opening up to a wide common hallway on the third floor of a 3-storey apartment shared with other friendly Asian-American occupants.

These co-boarders are mostly of Chinese and Korean descent who are more than indulgent of his paintings which for lack of space he would ingeniously propped them up against the common hallway wall. Highly appreciative, they would even enthuse visitors into buying a painting or two from his collected works.

The ambience of Rommel’s surroundings is blessed much more with ample breathing space overlooking lush greeneries and abundant tall trees at any given season. In this borough inhabited by a number of migrants of color have emanated some iconic artists, the likes of acknowledged painter of his time Tony Bennett famous among others, if you still don’t know, for his immortal song “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” So is the reigning Republican President Donald Trump whose collections include the strange reproduction of Renoir’s famous “La Loge” painting, not to mention his predilection for embedding gold on the doors of his edifices. Think applied arts of wealth for aesthetic appeal more than its pecuniary value.

In any case, the postponed one-man exhibit of Rommel at Gateway Mall brought to bear sadly upon us by the corona virus, however, did not deter the artist in him from reproducing and transposing some of the stirring images from his collections of paintings held at bay by the pandemic in the direction of a fundraising project.

He had done this through the innovative high-end technology of textile art much sought- after in the States where he was able produce and successfully market online limited editions of these works embedded on apparels, accessories from shawls to neckties, bags to laptop sleeves, wall decors to glassware and the like.

For the fundraising project at hand still in partnership with the Red Ribbon Foundation, Rommel has emblazoned several of his prototype eye- catching painterly works on customized quality T-shirts into fashionable and wearable objects of art to behold. The proceeds of the eye-popping shirts are earmarked for the Duyan Project to help in putting up a viable and equitable center for children with HIV who are currently misplaced in clinics and hospitals for adults with the same affliction.

Imbued yet with much more aesthetic and signature appeal, Rommel’s notion of applied arts transposed to virtual fashion designs make for a practical stylish wear for career women on the go or simply for chilling out.

The fundraising initiative is in partnership with like-minded ladies in the business whose deep sense of corporate responsibility mutually extends to as far as advocating quality and affordable lifestyle and health care for all. As their gesture of walking their talk, they took time out to model several layouts of the artist’s creations in a photo shoot.

The gorgeous women with substance who modeled for Rommel’s trendy and painterly T-shirts were Carmie De Leon, VP for sales and marketing of Healthway Medical; Candice Zialcita , founder of Sauce and Source Business Solutions Studio, Inc.; Cathy Brillantes-Turvill, CEO of Nurture Wellness Village; and Joy Subalisid, crowned winner of 2014 Shawn Rhoden International Competition for best body building and fitness athletes.

As pictures speak a thousand words, these ladies were at par in their baptism of fire so to speak modeling the artist’s masterly creations like real runway professionals in their glamorous poses done in the spirit of touching lives of the marginalized sector of society.

For those interested to purchase some items of this limited edition and specially designed T-shirts log on to inquire at: www.virrco.net or email:georgekabristantesky@gmail.com

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