Gabriel Barredo’s artworks, furniture, and shows always have the “theatrical” quality in them. The art form is evident in the work he produces: the stories layered upon each other, the placement of images placed as scenes in front of the viewer, and the integrated spectacle that they ultimately produce.
This theatricality is also palpable in the home the artist has built in southern Manila, a remarkable structure that stands out on an otherwise quiet street in Las Piñas. At first, it is easy enough to describe on paper. It is a two-story caramel-colored house with a facade of three bays in the Corinthian order, capped by a cornice. There is a garage and small front yard.
The portico with his reworked Chinese chairs; and the bas-relief front door with its magnificently detailed panels
But go to the finer details, and one will run short of words. Take for instance the greenery draping the house that almost serves like a stage curtain. From the front, the house is sheltered by a canopy of tall trees, which themselves are necklaced with philodendrons and morning glory. The tropical plants obviously provide a cooling system for the house, and also endow it with its own sense of place.
Barredo’s masterpieces feature a look belonging to the stream of Philippine baroque, employing 21st-century materials, but marked by a distinctly personal signature.
On the facade, one can see a trio of rose windows and a pair of Thai Rajasi lions, sitting on awnings, vigilantly guarding the residence from above street level. They are flanked by two suspended lanterns, which light up the yard. The portico meanwhile has a roof crowned with mysterious seated figures.
Welcoming the guests are two masks with sunburst halos on the steel front gate. This opens to the portico and an eerie-looking front door. The door’s magnificent panels–entirely covered in bas-relief depicting crucifixes, foliage, filigree, and faces–beckon the curious to turn the knob and come in.
What lies behind is a fantastic two-story gallery containing a selection of Barredo’s finished pieces. This serves as an area to display his works. It has been rearranged and redecorated many times, depending on what piece Barredo feels needs to be added or taken away. At the moment one can see refashioned dentist and Chinese chairs, intricate screens, standing lamps, and an imposing crucifix with an assemblage for a backdrop.
Another section of the ground floor living space with a vintage serving cabinet, also reworked by the artist.
But this gallery too is a living space. It is here where Barredo entertains his guests. On the glass dining table with beanstalk legs are sculptures of cats with resin human faces. Hovering above it are two hollow figures suspended in motion, intricately made from fine chicken wire.
Around the table, guests sit on his trademark chairs—whose siblings have graced commercial galleries, auction houses and fine homes. Anyone who sits on them can’t help but feel being somewhere between an imagined empire and wonderland.
Something hard to miss is the grill staircase that snakes it way up to the second floor. Built into it are a pair of mannequin’s arms that stretch out into the air. They welcome you into the main bedroom which carries a change of ambience. The room exudes an eclectic European feel. In the parlor is a writing desk, a refitted chandelier and paintings including one by Jose Legaspi, one of Barredo’s closest friends. On the other side of the room is the bed, flanked by a set of ancient Japanese prints and a designer screen that Barredo had reworked himself.
From the base of the grill staircase you can peek into Barredo’s “thinking room”; and the bedroom featuring Japanese prints and a reworked designer screen
A trip to an artist’s home is incomplete without a peek into his work areas. Barredo’s “thinking room” is a small study on the first floor. Neatly arranged on one wall of his study are Japanese dolls, action figures, and wooden mallets. Around his desk are tubes of acrylic paint, CD cases, an easel, and dental lights.
The small study mirrors the orderliness the artist maintains despite a voluminous inventory of discarded objects he sources from junkyards, antique stores, garage sales, and even friends. He now has two houses full of unwanted stuff, from old bird cages to typewriters to jukeboxes. You name it. “I am a hoarder,” he admits. But this junk is the material from which he creates his gordian pieces.
The anteroom that also serves as a work and TV area; and the guests' restroom
Patience and meticulous detail mark Barredo’s works. One looks closely at them and his hand is quite evident. But more than the intricacy, more than the polished finish, it is the transformation that each one undertakes that proves to be most alluring aspect of the pieces. In Barredo’s workshops, rescued materials not only obtain new form; they are given a new being.
"When I make something, it is a production,” he says. “In my head, every show that I do has got to be better.”
Gabby Barredo himself at one of his two studios built just across his house (behind him is Asphalt, his centerpiece installation for Art Fair Philippines 2013).
Envisioned as the central piece for Art Fair Philippines in 2013, Asphalt is a composite of some 60 kinetic modules made from various materials including car parts, broken dolls from the 1940s, cinema chairs, and X-ray plates. Interlinked with each other, these moving pieces are also intended to project shadows against a sheet of sandblasted plexiglas, multiplying the imagery already at hand.
Asphalt reflects on the current violence experienced by our society today, a violence which Barredo says is not new but it is deeply concerned about. The artwork is a response to the disturbing images he sees today—images of war, slavery, hunger. But what troubles him most is the fact these social horrors seem to repeat over and over. “It is so surreal. I am actually not saying anything new, but this a reality that I want to respond to,” says Barredo.
In her book Image to Meaning, esteemed art critic Alice Guillermo calls Barredo an “Archangel of Assemblage.” Looking at his work for a Hiraya gallery show, she notes how “out of detritus, numerous random and discarded pieces are integrated with artistic insight to form an integral assemblage... with stunning results.”
The same can be said of Asphalt, a piece that is distinctly and unmistakably Barredo’s. It is marked with high drama, technical rigor, and above all a message we are invited to pay heed to.