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The Enigmatic Appeal Of RM De Leon’s Art

Ramon “RM” de Leon is perhaps the art world’s biggest not-so-kept secret. Despite the pronounced confidence and sophistication of his abstracts, the inherent appeal of his takes on pop art, he is not as talked-about as one would imagine his real fans, as worldly and cultivated as he is, speak of him in private over cocktails in art openings. 

But perhaps therein lies part of the allure of De Leon, who rose to prominence in the 1990s with his abstracts that evoke a decidedly graphic effect. (Of course his most known work is the squiggly depictions of giraffes in that iconic 90s bar named after the same animal, but that’s another story). At 58, De Leon remains a fascination shared only by certain members of the cognoscenti. 

His latest exhibition can only enhance this image. 

Ongoing at Archivo Gallery until the 22ndof August is a show called “Sex (unbridled: works on paper-- from the vaults).” It is composed of old works, some of it previously shown in a long gone gay hangout in Quezon City called Butterfly. While there are a number of black and white compositions from the 1990s to the late 2000s, some abstracted and some clearly conjuring images of nature, it is the group of homoerotic images starring burly men that draws immediate attention. Partly because of the nature of their poses, and partly because of how they seemed to have been quickly, casually and confidently drawn. Finally, one can’t help but note the heavy, intimidating presence of the men De Leon brings to life.      

“I speak my voice,” De Leon, who finished his art studies at the College of Fine Arts in UP, says about his work. “It’s very personal that if you notice, they’re all big men.” The conventional standard of attractiveness doesn’t appeal to the artist. “Hindi kailangang maganda, V-shaped body, mga nag-gygym…walang pretense.”

These are not clearly artworks for the faint of heart. Or for collectors with conservative tastes. 

De Leon’s motivation was never to please, anyway. His works has always been about ideas. A point of view. He was never a champion of the pretty. “They’re not meant to be pretty-pretty,” he continues. “Pretty falls flat like a magazine,”—which is what he often tells his students. 

“Stay away from the pretty, the trends, the new,” he says sagely, wearing his favorite ensemble of a button-down shirt and black cigarette pants. His words are always characterized with that devil-may-care attitude his images embody, and the sure-footedness his strokes convey, be it in works past or present. “Be simple without being simplistic. Classic and elegant…artwork should always be elegant…however ugly you intend it to be, it has to be elegantly ugly.” 




Sex (unbridled: works on paper-- from the vaults) is ongoing up to August 22 at the Archivo Gallery, La Fuerza Compound, Makati City, Philippines.