[The Young Artists Discovery Program was conceptualized by Bobi Valenzuela in 1996 to create a launching pad for young and upcoming artists by providing them with curatorial guidance and a one-man exhibition to present their work. In 1999 a second program was launched to seek out exceptional young artists in Manila. The project culminated in a group show, Panimaula, held at the Ayala Museum Gallery III, featuring the works of the 19 participating artists.
Last April 12 - 13, a Young Artists Discovery Program Workshop was held in Bacolod City with the aim of tapping and guiding young artists in Negros Occidental. The event was sponsored by the Metrobank Foundation in the occasion of its 2000 Young Painters Annual Competition and facilitated by the Black Artists of Asia.]
Negros received attention in the 1980's as a starving land with the unfortunate fall of the sugar industry, and the monicker "batang Negros" evoked images of deprivation and malnutrition. Ironically, it is such conditions of suffering that spurred artists Nunelucio Alvarado, Charlie Co, Norerto Roldan and Dennis Ascalon to depict them, boldly, in their works. For this they have achieved acclaim, not only in the Philippine contemporary art scene. Negros has touched base with the rest of Asia-Pacific art with the works of these artists, and surely the land of burnt sugar is no longer at the margins of contemporary art.
Definitely, the young artists that we have encountered in the workshop are not the "batang Negros" of the 80's. They possess enough resources to carry out their art projects, and they are surely not deprived of support of senior artists.
Their task is enormous - to at least follow up on the achievements of the Alvarado et. al, and also to establish their niche in Negros as a cultural community. There were 33 participants from Silay, Talisay, Sagay, Bacolod and Escalante and all of them have the same question: "How can our works be noticed"?
Somehow, just telling them to make their works "strong" won't drive the point home.
The prospects of Negros young artists remain bright due to the strong impression created by the pioneering efforts of the four artists, Alvarado, Co, Ascalon and Roldan. The participants were however reminded that the four artists received acclaim because they grounded themselves with their experiences at their home island. Most of the participants showed works and studies that had very little reference to their personal experiences of their environment. Diagnostic of young artists works, the drawing they submitted were about outlandish fantasies, a far beyond world that vaguely resembled their personal spaces. The point was made again and again: one need not look beyond home. The artist does not invent reality; only he is so aware of it that another face, which is not the banal, looks at him and he cannot help but recreate that impression.
To further boost their knowledge of contemporary art, a slide show that surveyed some of the best works of artists in the past twenty years was held. They were made to realize that their future careers will not spring from a vacuum. There were existing discourses in Philippine art that made it strong and significant, and once young artists knew this , they cannot venture into a profession of "painting flowers and butterflies". Art from Negros could not be true or authentic without the pang of conscience.
Valenzuela shared a personal insight on how the artworks of young artists develop in three stages. The first stage is marked by crudity and tentativeness, often springing from a state of indecisiveness and a strong desire to search for one's own manner or style. The second stage sees the artist looking for models, and more often than not, his works reflect the style of his idol. The third and final stage comes when the artist discovers his own style as a direct result of discovering himself as a person. Unless the artist finds his ground, his art cannot find stability. They were cautioned not to linger under the shadow of another. By copying or imitating, the artists will lose his spontaneity and originality and become a cheap carbon copy of another.
The three Negrense artists capped the workshop with their insights and observations on the Asia-Pacific art scene - the imminent and more significant arena of contemporary artistic activity - an art scene that goes beyond Negros and certainly beyond Manila. The irony here is: by making art for one's home, the artist participates in that larger space of Asia-Pacific, and he defines it more clearly, than those who write about it in abstract treatises.