Creative Clamor: 2022 MADE Grand Awardee Melvin John Pollero on his winning piece, Ninuno

2022 MADE Grand Awardee under the Oil/Acrylic on Canvas category Melvin John Pollero calls for change in the natural and societal landscape in Ninuno

Introduction and Interview Gabrielle de la Cruz
Images Metrobank Art & Design Excellence and Melvin John Pollero


“I’ve been wanting to join MADE ever since I was a student. I always viewed it as a prestigious competition that puts a spotlight on and provides opportunities for aspiring young artists.” shares 2022 Metrobank Art & Design Excellence (MADE) Grand Awardee under the Oil/Acrylic on Canvas category, Melvin John Pollero. “However, I was discouraged because I never even made it as a semi-finalist in student art competitions. Moving forward, I became content with participating in group gallery shows and juggling freelance jobs. It is only now that I am starting to build a family and my wife encouraged me to join MADE that I did, and winning a Grand Award now reaffirmed that I chose the right path and inspired me to keep on creating,” he adds.

Pollero’s winning work is Ninuno, a painting of a giant skeleton engulfed in greenery. The piece itself is an expression of the artist’s humanity, with it representing minority groups and what vast contributions they have in preserving natural resources that people have abused over time. 

Below is our interview with Pollero where he fleshes out the concept of his work, his techniques as a painter, and what competitions such as MADE mean for Filipino artists.

Kanto-Melvin John Pollero-Ninuno
Ninuno by Melvin John Pollero

Congratulations, Melvin! Your MADE journey is inspiring. How long have you been painting? Have you dabbled in other mediums?

I have been painting for 13 years now. My undergrad thesis is actually about materiality, where I used chalk on polyester cloth. Aside from acrylic, I am currently making use of collected objects such as bus and lotto tickets as mediums of artistic expression. 

Can you tell us more about your concept for Ninuno?

Most of my pieces are centered on various problems experienced by social sectors such as laborers, farmers, women, and indigenous people. For Ninuno, greenery dominates the entire painting to showcase all my learnings about the environment over the years and to remind everyone that the Philippines still holds rich natural resources. 

I used the skeleton as the focal point of the painting. Instead of illustrating each of the minority groups, I figured that this would make a good symbolism. The vines placed atop the skeleton are intended to depict how our ancestors rest upon and dwell with nature, reminiscent of the story I’ve learned about how natives are buried in their own land with the belief that they will be one with the earth. 

The different scenes surrounding the skeleton are demonstrations of man’s abusive behavior towards the environment. Examples of this are the dark and muddy areas where people, trucks, and ships rest. I also placed various animals to show the lingering effects of human actions on flora and fauna. Lastly, I painted blue small dots all over the piece to symbolize the spirits of our ancestors who now watch over the environment. 

Pollero working on Ninuno

How long did it take you to finish the painting? What were some of the techniques and mechanisms you used? 

I completed Ninuno within a span of 3 months. My initial step was performing the first coat for the skeleton, background, and textures by layering dry brush hues. I painted the trees one by one by stippling until the entire canvas was filled with green. The acrylic colors that I used are: cerulean blue, phthalo blue, neon blue, light green, opaque primary yellow, opaque deep yellow, neon pink, opaque cadmium red, burnt sienna, and titanium white. 

For the composition, I used dominance for the skeleton and scale and variety for the small details. I based all the images from all the visuals I researched on the internet along with my own sketches. Both Google Earth and works of magic realists also played huge influences in all the perspectives that I used. 

Were there any adjustments that you had to make along the way? Was it a straight route to the finish line or did you reconsider or fuss over certain details of the work?

There were plenty of adjustments. I originally planned on using landscape orientation but switched to portrait after realizing that I needed to make use of scale and dominance. My first idea was to paint shouting characters of national minorities, but I resorted to a skeleton given all my considerations in terms of representation. 

One aspect lead to another so instead of focusing on one issue, the painting became an amalgam of social and natural clamor. It was a literal addition and subtraction of images during production. I would say that like many artworks, Ninuno went through various forms of evolution in terms of theme and content.

You mentioned the colors you used in completing Ninuno; Do you usually make use of bright colors and attractive visuals to deliver your messages?

One of my main intentions in Ninuno is to showcase the beauty of each of the trees in the painting, given that my main goal is to engage and promote discourse about the relationship between humanity and nature. The brightness and dark intensities of the colors used were also intended to highlight the focal point, which is the skeleton. 

This is honestly a development of my artmaking process because I usually have many images that I would like to utilize and display in my works. I would say that my approach depends on the message that I would like to impart and vice-versa, which is why the forms of my artworks vary.  

What are your thoughts on the state of the minority groups in our country? What is the explicit message you want to impart with your juxtaposition of minority groups and our relationship with nature?

I personally worry about the current state of our minority groups. Aside from the continuous abuse of our natural surroundings, plenty of natives and indigenous people have also been forcibly asked to leave their ancestral lands. Some of them even resorted to begging for help within our cities and their culture and traditions are in danger of being forgotten. 

The union of minority groups with nature is important because they are among the primary stewards of our surroundings such as forests, mineral lands, and sanctuaries of endangered species. 

Every time we welcome interests that oppose the dedication and desire of minority groups to take care of our natural resources, we add new loads to the piles of problems that future generations may suffer. We must take on the responsibility to join minorities in developing, supporting, and continuously watching over our native land. Our culture, traditions, identity, the balance of nature, and even the achievement of climate and social justice also rest upon this. 

Your body of work demonstrates your strong resolve with regard to environmental and social concerns. Why do you adhere to such subjects and what other themes and issues do you wish for your art to bring to the fore?

Like most people, I began as an observer and slowly responded to my environment, the nation, and historical and national discussions through art. When I was young, I strived to discover my identity and later on realized that my role is to create art that tackles life itself. I further learned how important the role of art is in changing the societal landscape when I became part of the organization AlaySining, a cultural national democratic mass organization based in the University of the Philippines. 

I have learned and continue to discover how to empathize with the subjects of my artworks, such as those that I have mentioned and portrayed in Ninuno. This is a value that I carry in my practice. 

For now, I wish to continue the themes that I have started. I plan to explore and deepen my understanding of these themes and discover more through them. So far, some of the subjects that appear in my research are pre-history, labor, and independence.

After winning MADE, how do you see your work contributing to the greater whole of Philippine art? What do you wish to bring or share to the table?

Competitions such as MADE open doors and opportunities for artists who wish to discover their path and walk through it. My personal experience with MADE came with many learnings. From following their social media posts, seminars, and forums, to eventually submitting entries and having interviews such as this, MADE provided me and all the other artists to share our advocacies and what we can offer to the world. 

I created Ninuno to tell the story of our country and to recognize the efforts of those who fight for better days ahead. Apart from being an artist, I am also a father to my children, so this is my protest for their future. My objective in creating all these paintings is to contribute art that seeks and provides alternative solutions. My focus is to continue to create more art. There are still many things that I would like to discover and understand. Wherever my practice leads me, I will seek to contribute what I can to the Philippine art industry. •

Gabrielle de la Cruz started writing about architecture and design in 2019. She previously wrote for BluPrint magazine and was trained under the leadership of then editor-in-chief Judith Torres and previous creative director Patrick Kasingsing. Read more of her work here and follow her on Instagram @gabbie.delacruz.

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