Cover Story: NASSER LUBAY, Contemporary artist from PH to the world
June 02, 2019
It has been almost 10 years since the Senate passed a resolution congratulating and commending Filipino artist Nasser Lubay for winning second in the Celeste Prize 2009 art competition held at the Alte AEG Fabrik in Berlin, Germany on September 26 that year.
Only 27 then, Lubay’s work titled “Rebirth” was an abstract painting in watercolor measuring 43 inches by 55 inches.
“Within the painting, there lies the agony of a man whose life has been at war for his very existence. Though conflicts are growing with immense fear he has to purge a new life form and seek a better world with dreams. Rebirth for a new life, world and dreams,” the description of the work read.
Fresh from his win, the artist from Candelaria, Quezon then participated in the Become Kuala Lumpur Design Week in Malaysia and the Junto Al Pasig exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The following year he joined the 2nd Animamix Biennial at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, Taiwan. On his return to the Philippines, he was chosen as one of Jollibee’s Young Ambassadors, cited for his achievement in the arts. In 2011, he became part of the Ondarte International Artist Residency in Akumal, Mexico.
Most memorable among his solo shows was in 2016 at Arte Pintura Gallery in Mandaluyong titled “Nursery of Curiosities,” which showed a rich sense of color and dense imagination. At the opening of the exhibit, an original composition – “Nursery of Curiosities—The Theme” – by award-winning composer Jesse Lucas was also unveiled.
He has since joined various group exhibitions, including the Florence Biennale 2017 in Italy. His latest participation was at the Monomyth Art Fair Philippines 2019 in February and Art In The Park 2019 in March.
Lubay, who studied Mechanical Engineering and Multimedia Arts and Science at the Mapua Institute of Technology (now Mapua University) in Intramuros, Manila, is a self-taught multi-media artist creating masterpieces with bright colors that evoke mysticism which the viewer may interpret according to his perception.
Also the co-founder of arts-and-performance company Artist Playground and the creative services manager of the entertainment firm Talent Factory Inc., Lubay’s involvement in the arts is beyond canvas and it shows in his works as a visual poet.
“We all have these little stories that have powerful meanings. Through these, I try to capture and embrace the feelings and ideas so that I can share the experience to everyone. In most cases, it heals me and I hope it does the same with everyone else,” he said then of his first solo show.
Describing his art, Lubay said he is inclined to paint his perpetually evolving encounters and reimagined moments, frustrations and exaggerations that he tries to compress and expand in his reflexively conjured images.
“My art is a new semi-abstraction created through psychedelic processes, but as I explore my skills and sensibilities, I am interested in the melding of traditional aesthetics and contemporary visual outcomes. I allow my mind to wander freely and unceasingly, even to get lost in the moment, flux of imagination and small epiphanies until they produce visual marks that yield their own resonance and sense of meaning,” he explained.
Cosmic germination, micro universe
Asked why he is into the theme of cosmic germination with hints of fear and horror, Lubay relayed to The Sunday Times Magazine his ability to expand his grammatical fluency to a purely figurative world.
“I am an artist. I paint to express the positive side of life so people will always be inspired to reach their goals too,” he said.
His work “Brave,” a huge painting measuring seven feet by nine feet was assessed by Town & Country Magazine as one of the most valuable works at Art Fair Philippines 2019 fetching a price of P2.6 million. Using vibrant colors, he put in texts and his own thoughts onto the canvas and eventually painted over it. Almost a mural, Lubay said the piece, which took him a year to finish, is more appropriate to be displayed in a large space such as museum than in a private home.
His present work, still wet during the pictorial for this cover story is yet untitled. It is a combination of obscure creatures in a micro universe, like planktons and microorganisms that bloom into flowers, bright-colored snakes and leaves with microscopic eyes, and the light blue-colored patterns representing people as depicted in the old Hotmail Messenger, plus dimensional and geometrical figures as influenced by his engineering background.
“I go back to a speical moment when I paint a certain piece, to immortalize it. Also I always tackle rebirth as ongoing process, like it doesn’t matter how many times you make mistakes, you can always start all over again and keep learning until you reach the right end,” he told The Sunday Times Magazine.
He said that his inspiration for his very first formal painting in 2009, the same piece he submitted for the Celeste Prize, was in fact how they were as students at Mapua – that when they got drunk then vomitted afterwards, they became like their new selves again back into soberness. “So it’s a continuous rebirth,” he said.
From passion to vocation
Lubay’s mother, an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) then, saw her son’s artistic potential early on as he colored all the books around the house and drew figures on their walls with crayons. He received his first art implement gift of a watercolor set in tubes and brushes from his mom when he was in first grade. Later he was gifted with an oil paint set. From there he nurtured his talent, and his teachers entered him in art contests where he usually won.
Many of his works show life in early stages, like seeds sprouting and organisms interacting with each other, mainly because of his early observations and experiences as a farm boy in Misamis Oriental until he was in third grade, up until the family moved to Quezon where he finished elementary and high school.
As an artist he said that experiences greatly influence the outcome of one’s work. For him, it was an early fascination with Earth Science, poring on the books and researching about the subject even if not required at school, adding that he was spellbound by the elements. He puzzled his friends, teachers and relatives with his three-dimensional art way back then, asking how he did all that.
Not knowing what he wanted in college, he related that he tried to get into Computer Engineering just so he could own a family computer, but instead he settled for Mechanical Engineering along with his high school friends from Quezon. Not much into academics, he did just enough for him to study and pass, until he realized that his course was not what he wanted. He was already in his fourth year when he decided to shift to Multimedia Arts.
His biggest challenge early on was drawing human figures, especially the face, but quickly learned a technique which he heard somewhere.
“I heard that maybe Leonardo Da Vinci used a mirror when he painted Mona Lisa, and so they say that the famous piece was actually a self-portrait. I tried to do the same — not to do a self-portrait but how to translate the basic form of the human face onto canvas as what I saw in the mirror,” Lubay half-laughed of his anectode.
He related that the combination of his colors doesn’t follow tint theories but he glances at the color chart once in a while to balance the hues, as some part of the painting may be drowned by too much of a certain shade.
His absorption into microverse was validated by the “Ant-Man” Marvel Comics hero, where the shrunk world is presented in a normal paradigm for viewers as the character enters countless “subatomic universes” with cybernetic power to make telepathic communication with other creatures in the realm. As such, many of his works have themes along that line.
Those familiar with Lubay’s works, particularly associates and habitues at Artist Playground, see how he foments the idea of irreversible growth and germination.
“Intently, he underlines such beginnings in the history of life, such as formative stages and the natural process of growing of being and becoming. In this instance, art, like in nature, ripens or demonstrates fruition over necessary periods of time,” they said of their friend.
Some international publications that featured him and his works include Singapore’s Surface Asia Magazine, USA’s Art Tour International Magazine and Netherlands’ 1340 Curated International Art Magazine. He was also cited in the article “Art Trek: Showcase of PH Art in Singapore” in the Department of Foreign Affairs News.
Besides painting, the boyish-looking artist is a web/graphic designer and exhibition director for District Gallery too, charmed by the works of others.
“I have no set of standards when choosing a piece. I go by instinct. I just choose what I feel at the moment what I think is good for the exhibition and concept,” he shared, emphasizing that he goes for modern expressionism.
Of his art, Lubay averred that his reflections in canvas reveal some imaginings and ruminations, triggered by his past and ongoing experiences conflated with reality. He is also interested in creating images that he could not explain, more curious in researching into visual effects revealed by feelings and body movements.
“I crave to learn and share these behavioral concepts to further any moral understanding in doing things that still have no meaning,” he verbalized.
“My art is a puzzle made up of everything around me. I paint to bring about an unlikely world in a poetic way from my heart not only through colorful shapes and figures but also a different dimension within ourselves. Life is full of fascinating things, neither good nor bad, and to understand this wisdom is one of the most beautiful things one can enjoy in this existence. This is what I want to share, this magical vision, to everyone in this part of the universe,” the award-winning contemporary artist in closing told The Sunday Times Magazine.
The Celeste Prize
The Celeste Prize for international art was first given in 2006 by an organization established by former British Broadcasting Company (BBC) second correspondent in Rome, Steven Music.
Having graduated from Bristol University in the United Kingdom with Bachelor of Social Science degree in Politics, Music worked as a journalist in London covering energy affairs for Petroleum Argus as well as collaborating with Reuters and the Financial Times in the 1980s until the ‘90s.
In 2001 until 2006, the former journalist ran Albero Celeste, a contemporary art gallery in Italy, after nearly nine years working as a “runner” with galleries in Europe for contemporary and modern artists.
Seeing the need for a universal platform for contemporary artists to showcase their works, he created the online community Celeste Network in 2007.
Besides the Celeste Prize for international art, the Visible White Photo Prize was established in 2012. The Premio Celeste for Italian artists, meanwhile, was in existence from 2004 to 2014.
The community presently has 75,000 members coming from countries all over the world, visited by 8,000 art lovers every day.
Music continues to organize exhibitions, events and prizes around the world.
The mission of the Network is to help artists show their works around the world to thousands of contemporary arts professionals in an active and stimulating community.
Without economic sponsor, prizes that total 33,000 euros come from entry fees of participants, which immediately redistributed also to pay for programming and administering the network.