Raffy Napay
Carina Santos (The Philippine Star) - February 17, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – As the artist of one of Art Fair Philippines’ special exhibits this year, Raffy Napay has turned to the subject of family, weaving ideas of connection and “endless blessings” into the tradition of old-style portraiture, using a medium that he serendipitously found as a painter: thread. After graduating with a Fine Arts degree in Advertising in 2009, Napay went on to mount two solo exhibits using paint, the medium he preferred at the time, and something that he carried with him from his college days.

For the next few years, he stayed with a handful of other artists at a studio in Marikina, only to move back to his parents’ place in Caloocan. Due to the small space and lack of ventilation, he experienced respiratory difficulty with paint and decided to experiment. He turned to his mother — a seamstress who had been working on rags at the time — to help him express himself instead with thread and fabric.

In 2013, he held his third solo show at West Gallery, displaying his new style, which gained him an Award of Excellence at the Philippine Art Awards in 2012 and which he would come to be known for soon after.

Thread replaced paint, his lines sewn by a machine and woven by hand, the physicality of his medium standing in place of pigment and ink. The result is often simple but breathtaking pieces that explore depth and complexity in a different way than just miming light. Napay’s drawings are full of detail, yet simple, and “flat,” armed with a physical depth that resembles a terrain. Throughout the years, Napay has also played with scale, often eliciting wonder from his audience with the physical grandness of his creations.

For his AFP special exhibit, “Unbroken,” Napay creates a tableau of the typical family portrait starring figures meant to be his parents at the center, branching out into the extendeds. He also situates a seat in the middle, one from his own home, as a representation of a “safe place.” Beyond the standing silhouettes, there is a tree — a symbol of endless blessings — and through its roots, they are all interconnected.

At 7 ft. by 20 ft., "Unbroken" is certainly, unsurprisingly massive. It was made to be experienced as though it engulfs you and makes you a part of itself. In the foreground, you can catch the suggestion of rain, and beyond that, an unwavering, permanent wilderness, a wildness that is reflected, too, in the visible knots and overlapping threads behind-the-scenes, a necessary mess to create the story one means to make.                                             

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