It is common for Filipinos to love iconography. This is why many of our visual artists are passionate about sculptures, paintings, pictures that show our devotion to God. Aris Bagtas is one of them— his artworks are staples of Philippine churches, and even Pope Francis has one of his paintings.
Aris grew up in Obando, Bulacan. The son of Ernesto and Imelda Bagtas knew ever since that he would become a visual artist. He drew everywhere — “Sa papel, sa pintuan, sa pader, as lupa,” he tells My Pope Philippines — and everything he could see. (Read: This Batangueña Artist Paints Dreamlike Images of Pinoy Mythology)
Unlike others who were discouraged to pursue the arts, Aris got all the support he needed. His first inspiration was his uncle who is also an artist. In high school, he was more convinced of becoming a painter. “Ang sabi ko noon, gusto kong maging pintor,” Aris says.
As expected, Aris studied Fine Arts at the University of the East. Years later, he became a teacher in the same university. “Bilang batang guro, inambag ko ang mga natutunan ko at kakaibang kaalaman ko sa mga naging estudyante ko,” he says.
As a painter, Aris is influenced by two identities: being a Filipino and being a Catholic. He loves European iconography, and he also celebrates Filipino culture. Both are seen in what he describes as “neo-folkloric iconography.”
“Sa gawa ko makikitang ang kasuotan ay puno ng mga simbolismo ng dagat, isda, at bulaklak na alay sa patrong santo natin,” he says. “Minsan, mga halamang gamot o kulturang Pinoy tulad ng laro, gawain, o pamumuhay ang aking nilalagay sa paligid ng mga religious icons.”
Aris owes his success as an artist to the Catholic church. He took painting seriously because a priest in his hometown of Obando commissioned him. (Read: Wow, Bulacan’s Obando Church Is Now a National Shrine!)
“Nagsimula akong gumawa ng painting dahil sa paring naniniwala sa akin nung ako ay estudyante pa sa UE Fine Arts. Si Fr. Marcelo Sanchez ang nagpaguhit ng mga obra sa parokya ni San Pascual,” Aris joyfully narrates.
Through Fr. Sanchez, Aris’s artworks were showcased during the famous Obando Festival. He was also introduced to numerous priests and parishes from all over the Philippines. “Nang tumagal, pinatawag na ako ng mga pari tulad nila Fr. Egai de Jesus, Fr. Memeng Salonga, Monseñor Pablo Legaspi, at Bishop Bart Santos,” he says.
Eventually, words about Aris’s neo-folkloric iconography reached Virgilio Cuizon, an art critic. The latter connected him to St. Kamillus Church in Essen, Germany, where he was commissioned for an artwork.
Later on, Aris achieved his dream of having his artwork in the Vatican Museum. The Bishop of Luzon gifted one of his paintings to Pope Francis. (Read: A Look Into the Pope’s Most Favorite Painting)
Making an Impact
Today, Aris’s works are displayed in numerous churches across the Philippines. His paintings are found at the Manila Cathedral, Malolos Cathedral, National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Holy Trinity Church of Malolos, Mt. Carmel Museum, Obando Church Museum, Divine Mercy Church of Mindoro, among others.
While already a successful artist, Aris says he is still evolving and continuing to experiment with new techniques. (Read: Meet Natalia Tsarkova, the Pope’s Official Painter)
“May mga four tones metalic effect akong ipinakikita sa mga bawat likha kong obra upang maiba ako at mapa-wow ang mga collector ko. Minsan tatawag sila sa akin at sasabihing, ‘Aris, ang ganda din sa gabi ng gawa mo. May ibang anyo ng kolor kaming nakikita pa,’” he says.
Such feedback inspires this Filipino artist to improve more. He says he is happy to be part of people’s lives, and he considers himself lucky that his artworks will be in Catholic churches for a long time.
“Ang mga obra ko’y magiging malaking history sa mga simbahan na nilapatan ko ng obra sa kisame, altar, at ibang bahagi ng simbahan dito sa Pilipinas at abroad,” says Aris.
Now, Aris’s artistic journey continues with his eldest son Dale, who has followed in his footsteps. Like Aris, Dale also studied at UE and is now a successful visual artist.
“Wala kaming pagsidlan sa tuwa at siya ay sumunod sa yapak ko at isa naring full-time artist. Siya ay grand winner ng 2019 GSIS National Competition at marami pang ibang awards ang nakuha niya mula nang siya ay nag-aaral pa lang,” says Aris.
In the future, Aris plans to continue doing artwork for the Catholic church. He has committed himself to serve the Church through his love for visual arts. (Read: Pinoy Artist Paints Eccentric Images of Life in the Province)
“Ito ang mga inaasam kong gawin bilang pintor: Ang lumikha ng kwento ng ating pinagmulan— ang nakaraan, ang debosyon, at ang pagbabalik ng pananampalataya sa lahat,” he says.
You can find Aris’s works on his Facebook page.