In his paintings Rodel Tapaya grants viewers access to a universe moulded from multiple worlds of myth and fantasy, the modern-day and his imagination. His whimsical pictures appropriate traditional folklore to open dialogue about contemporary issues. His paintings draw on Filipino myths to tell new tales, recalling the narrative style of painters such as Hieronymus Bosch and Le Douanier Rousseau.
Further to this, Rodel Tapaya’s strong interest in Creationist themes stems from his religious upbringing in the Philippines, a nation that was colonized by the Spanish and their Catholicism for more than three centuries. Executed with remarkable technical prowess, his paintings explore the tension between perception and experience, the blending of the past into the present and bending reality into fantasy.
Since earning the prestigious Asia-Pacific Breweries Foundation Signature Art Prize in 2011, Rodel Tapaya has garnered international acclaim and is now recognized as one of the leading artists of the Southeast Asian region.
Using sumptuous colours, meticulous technique and his rich imagination, Rodel Tapaya conjures up a mythological world and contains it within The Giant Watermelon. The artist paints with a red so vivid, the crescent-shaped slice of watermelon seems more alive than the painting’s main female figure. The wedge of bright life dominates the picture and sharply contrasts the dark, overgrown foliage from which it has been plucked. With a bull's head hooked around her navel and a cloak of flowers and vines from her surrounds, the eerie phantom-like female merges with her backdrop of shadowy, magical flora and fauna. In a tropical appropriation of the Garden of Eden, the figure looks tentatively to the side, opens her mouth to take a bite from the large slice of watermelon. The artist recreates the biblical moment of Eve’s original sin, "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes […] she took of its fruit and ate.” (Gen 3:6)
Painted in 2013, Mountain Fantasies exemplifies Rodel Tapaya’s move towards a more surrealist style. In this later work, the artist displays a more audacious use of Latin American magical realism and in doing so, aligns himself even more so with Filipino mural tradition. The epic canvas is abundant with mythical creatures and creates a narrative that is both capricious and relevant to global social issues. Set upon a backdrop of idyllic green pastures and geometric shapes the viewer is transfixed at first sight. On the right, the face of a half-stag, half-female creature looks out onto the scene. A man climbs upwards into the landscape, while a forest vista appears like an image from the beast’s dream. A flight of birds emerges out from a larger bird’s mouth. At the centre, an amalgam of machines sets the whole canvas into motion. From this machine a web of white lines is discharged, connecting disparate images together. Rocks fall and smoke rises while nymph-like creatures hover above a barren, mine-stripped landscape. Hanging upside-down the bare branches of a tree connect the tangle of images below and serves to enhance Tapaya’s depiction of modern-day environmental disorder and destruction. The result is an apparition that is both nightmarish and hypnotic.