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For Pasig muralist, it's still about soul, not just 'shares'.

Most of his major works are larger than life and convey grand themes. But dwarfed by his own creations, Pasig City-based artist Derrick Macutay remains very much grounded and tied to his humble roots.

When not painting or busy in the office, the 45-year-old Macutay could be just another guy trying his luck with a fishing rod in the Pasig River, waiting for some tilapia, catfish or kanduli to take his bait.

But every undersized fish caught is released immediately. 'So they'll have time to grow. I tell them to come back to me later-but with more companions,' he said in jest. He once caught a turtle, but it quickly regained its freedom as well.

With such a folkish way of taking it easy, Macutay can easily blend in among the common tao that usually populate his canvases, especially the murals that now adorn private residences, churches, school hallways and hospitals, as well as venues abroad.

Macutay's recent pieces include a 6 x 10-foot mural installed at Wellington Museum on July 17 in line with the 50th anniversary of the country's diplomatic relations with New Zealand. Unveiled by Ambassador Jesus Domingo, the work is titled ' Ties That Come A Long Way' and depicts the bilateral ties as two women exchanging traditional Kiwi greetings.

In Hawaii, his 2006 piece titled 'We Have Come A Long Way' was presented at Filcom Center in Waipahu, Honololu. The 8 1/2 x 12-foot acrylic painting celebrates a century of Filipino migration to Hawaii (1906 to 2006).

More Macutay murals have found their place in hospitals, like St. Luke's Medical Center in Bonifacio Global City, and San Lazaro Hospital.

For the Pasig Cathedral, he did a three-panel mural depicting the city and church's history. Each panel measured about 9 x 15 feet. For Pasig Catholic College, he paid homage to his high school alma mater through a 9 x 22-foot neo-realist mural to mark PCC's centennial in 2013.

His 'Dayang Kalangitan' can be seen at the Pasig Museum, while former Sen. Ed Angara has Macutay's 'Last Stand in Baler' in his collection.

More murals bear his signature at Adamson University and University of St. La Salle in Bacolod. He also did commemorative coins for Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, as well as stamps for the 70th anniversary of the Leyte Gulf Landing in 2014 and the sesquicentennial of Andres Bonifacio's birth in 2013. An art competition held by the Philippine Air Force gave him the juror's prize in 2010.

Botong's disciple

And just last week, his 'Exploded View,' a 5 x 6-foot work in acrylic made it as regional finalist in the Philippine Art Awards, considered the most highly anticipated art competition in the country.

His portfolio can go on and on-and retrace a passion that started in his boyhood and cultivated in school, especially when he made it as a fine arts major in the University of Sto. Tomas. In UST, he found a mentor in Salvador Juban, a protege and assistant of the late Carlos 'Botong' Francisco, a National Artist and a titan in modern Philippine art.

Macutay had also explored surrealist and sci-fi imagery-he once had a series exploring artificial intelligence-but fellow artists always recognize the flowing strokes and rustic sensibility of a 'Botong' in most of his paintings.

There is the farmer in a salakot, fishermen on their boats, barrio folk in a bayanihan tableau, and, of course, his Pasig River.

Macutay previously worked in Malacanang's communications office, where his tasks included preparing social media infographics for the Office of the President under the Benigno Aquino administration.

Nowadays, the usually nocturnal creator can again devote longer hours to commissioned projects at his home studio in Barangay Kalawaan, where a Bonifacio portrait and an inverted image of his daughter Allysa Mae keep him company. 'I can just paint and paint here every day.'

If there is any piece of advice he can give to young, aspiring artists, it is for them not to confuse artistic merit with popularity, especially on social media.

'These days, we can easily fall for 'likes' and 'shares' (on Facebook),' Macutay said. 'It goes for both established and upcoming artists. Some of them feel their work is already that good, but in reality hilaw pa (it's still raw) and lacking substance or soul. Worse, they feel offended when you make an honest comment.'

Whenever he needed a break and fresh ideas, he goes fishing along the banks of the Pasig River, even venturing outside the city. Or sometimes, an unhurried ride on his bike or just a long walk is enough to have a 'communication with God.'

'Cramming actually works for me; I paint fast but it's conceptualizing ideas that takes longer,' he said.

But Macutay knows, like in the case of many professional artists, that glorious applause in the galleries doesn't always fill up the pocket. 'As an artist, your role is not to sell but to communicate, to touch lives. Money should be the least of our concern.'

He has accepted many projects pro bono, knowing that 'all the good things you do eventually return in one form or another, maybe not now and not even for you, but for your children.'

A hospital once extended benefits to his family as part of an 'exchange deal' for the paintings he did for it.

But often, it's all about the psychic rewards. They come, for example, in the form of a child staring silently for minutes and studying every face or fold of garment in the mural Macutay did for a church, a masterpiece done for the enjoyment of parishioners mostly from the slums.

'It means a lot to me when my work speaks to their soul.'
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Aug 28, 2016
Words:1093
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