LUISA’S CAFÉ – Norman Oligario used to join friends for a couple of Pale Pilsen here before venturing to his other more dangerous habitues like Lakandula or Magsaysay. He enjoyed his drink but had a hard time keeping it.
That doesn’t show though in his oeuvres with their traces of punk and protest art influences evident in his raw and minimalist approach. The three by four feet portrait of an emaciated Kalinga woman shows the deep concern of Oligario with social and economic disparity, particularly affecting indigenous people.
The earthy tones are almost monochromatic and the black backdrop is reminiscent of punk rock album covers but with a twist of ethnicity. The sparse use of materials in rendering his painting shows the use of ingenuity in protest art where available materials are used or reused like in his earlier pieces almost to the threadbare. He painted rocks, rusted-out doors, and simple cardboards.
But his watershed moment came during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown when his art took on a more serious tone. He spent those times in Kalinga, a province he adopted after accompanying his best friend Deo Baniqued for a book drive and in building a community library in Pasil in 2019.
His painting of a mother and child in “layad di ina” rendered in other than the common cradle pose evokes positivity. The green and blues hues in the landscape and sky stand out from his almost signature black and gray color combinations.
Another three feet by four feet painting of an Igorot lady “Ina” against a black background manifests an almost halo-like aura seen from afar and is reminiscent of a religious portrait but is ironic as Oligario is an iconoclast, a non-conformist, and is anti-authoritarianism. The color scheme of the weave wound around the head of the portrait resembles more of a Rastafarian, owing to the fact that reggae music played an influence on Oligario’s psyche.
But much of his inspiration came from his time with breakdancing and punk lifestyle. And his stint with student activism and theater in early adult life. Tragically, the drink did him in. He asked for assistance from a long-time friend Kigao Rosimo (the curator of Normanticizing Oligario) to bring him to the hospital after falling from the stairs of the house of a friend in Pacdal in April. He died a few days later with his kids beside him.
Just when he started to show his genius, he passed on, leaving a body of work that is full of potential. Proceeds of the sale of his paintings will go to his children. – Text and Photos by JJ Landingin