A Tempest By Name: How This Artist Reconciled The Filipino-Chinese Identity In His Colorful Catharsis

Bring on the tempest!

Far from being tumultuous, as it is traditionally defined to be, Tempest is a striking series of saturated sentiments that has kept this Filipino-Chinese artist sane in lockdown.

Related: WOOF! THIS FILIPINO ARTIST IS LETTING THE DOGS OUT IN THE QUEER-POWERED EXHIBIT, GOOD BOYS

Nothing in art is final. As boundless as it springs from inspiration to impressions, there exists a certain finite sense to the art form itself. However, in its visual permanence, it isn’t just the reception and point-of-view that changes from one person to another, but most importantly, the evolution of the artist as well. As with any pursuit of passion, it is a journey that often relents to the sway of the sentiments and systems. This makes it infinitely more interesting to take in as a visceral experience, especially in exercises of creative catharsis.

Dabbling mostly with vector illustrations—a whimsical explosion of pop references rendered on the digital page, Filipino artist Jer Dee has embarked on a journey of introspection over the course of the pandemic. Fun, playful, and always a little queer, his works (and stickers) have decorated the walls of Today x Future, the once-upon-a-time melting pot of the creative, the unique, and the proudly weird. From the eye-popping event collaterals, for which he would often moonlight as a DJ, to his very first art exhibit, Jer Dee has since gone through an insular shift in his distinct style.

A Shift In Subconscious

“For my works, especially in this show, it got more personal than any other artworks that I’ve done recently. Being in isolation for a long time forced me to be more introspective of myself and I’ve faced a lot of challenging things alone which dictated a lot of my later works,” says the Filipino-Chinese artist. “Up until recently, I kept my works light, because I tend to keep my personal musings separate from my work. You’ll see that especially among my works in 2020, where a lot of the art that I did was colorful and fun, but I was dealing with a lot of personal crap alone. There was a disconnect. In the past few months I finally began to process these feelings and pour it onto my work.

Manifestations of his subconscious, some of these feelings he had to deal with were anchored on his Filipino-Chinese family back in his hometown. In Tempest, his first solo art exhibit for 2021, housed in Futur:st, a bar-turned-gallery as a response to the demands of the pandemic, Jer Dee took inspiration from a hodgepodge of Chinese and Filipino ornaments. “The typical things you see in a Filipino-Chinese household,” he laughs. “Very Chinese New Year kumbaga.”

The result is a different kind of subversion, one that is reminiscent of old Chinese paintings on yellowed pages of an encyclopedia or rendered as strokes of captivating blue on glazed white ceramic jars. But in the imagination of Jer Dee, the result was a spirited take on tradition in shocking surrealism and chromatic colors. Where one would assume this big and bold attempt at art would teeter towards the visually vulgar, Tempest unravels like a Ghibli film—warm, charming, and chock full of discoveries with every little detail.

filipino chinese artist

The Filipino-Chinese Connection

While notoriously known for pedantry, honor, and tradition, the Filipino-Chinese experience is unique as it is also fascinating to someone far removed from it. But for someone who is living it, it becomes a deep well of inspiration that becomes an expression of truth, as well as it being an opportunity to reconcile identities.

“I guess the takeaway is to learn how to come to terms and be at peace to whatever circumstance you have, because you can’t face whatever’s in front of you if you can’t make peace with your past,” the artist reveals of the liberating effect of working on Tempest. “My artworks before talaga are very fun and pop, and while I still enjoy making those things, I don’t really connect with it at the moment, especially now that we’re still in lockdown. I kinda felt stagnant with my works also and I wanted to explore something more introspective and vulnerable.”

The exploration proved to be fruitful as he was able to pursue a very precise aspect to the process—creating a custom typeface. “Although it is within my skill set, I didn’t really delve into typeface design up until recently, because it was too technical for me and I felt like I wasn’t ready to make something like that. You had to have a set process in making type, but my workflow as a whole is the opposite and chaotic,” he explains. “I decided to take the challenge and just make my own since kaya naman with a little crash course in typography. It turned out surprisingly well despite the small mistakes, and it fit the vibe of Tempest. So, I’m very happy with that! I’m actually working on the full set and would like to release it sometime this year.”

filipino chinese artist

An Epilogue

Much like many changes we have witnessed in the world as of late, nothing is ever certain. If anything, Tempest proved to be a point of growth for Jer Dee. Taking his love for pop music and video games (Finaly Fantasy 7-10 and Chrono Cross, to be exact), the artist renders this intersection of identities and renders it into art that is among many things an ode to his Filipino-Chinese heritage, a making sense of the present, and an auspicious possibility of the future.

As violent as the word of origin is as defined by the dictionary, there is nothing tumultuous about Jer Dee’s Tempest. The subversion that is signature to his works seamlessly expounds itself to connect histories and what is yet come—as ambiguous as that term is in our current realities. “I feel like I still have a lot of stories to tell with Tempest, so I’m going to continue doing artworks for that project even as the show ends,” the artist says. “I wasn’t ready to pour my personal musings back then, but I feel as ready as ever now.”

In his version of The Tempest, William Shakespeare wrote: “What’s past is prologue.” This serves as a parallel of art across time, because as it stands, there is much more of the Tempest to come. Bring on the epilogue.

Why call it Tempest?

I started drafting the pieces around May, but I started working on the actual pieces right after Ulysses happened. During that period, I had to deal with my increasing panic attacks and nightmares alone—and they got really intense. All of the dreams I had involved rain or drowning, which you would see in a lot of my pieces in this show.

Your work mostly deals with a unique sense of playfulness with a lot of very pop elements. What was the process like to get to this distinct style? 

My works are often influenced by what music I’m listening to which is a lot of pop music and videogame music. I take influence also in a lot of the role playing games that I enjoyed playing when I was young.

What was it like essaying this set? Were there any challenges or breakthroughs in the bringing this series to life?  

It felt therapeutic, tbh. Aside from keeping my works light and fun, I tend to keep my life in the province separate from my life in the metro. I think it’s a common thing esp. for Filipino Chinese families where 1.) You tend to not talk about your feelings and 2. You’re not allowed to be queer. It took me a long time to come to terms with that and I’m honestly still processing it, lol. I don’t understand everything yet, but I feel like it was time to reconnect, because at the end of the day, family is family. It’s complicated.

How did your art evolve (if at all) in the pandemic, and what will we expect to see more of in the year to come?

I feel like my storytelling through my illustrations has improved. Before  I it was very pop and playful. I had a lot of fun doing that, but it didn’t connect with me the longer we were on lockdown and in isolation. I had to look inward and had to unpack a lot of deep seated issues that I didn’t address over the years and tried to process that through drawing, which in turn dictated my illustrations, too. You’ll see it in my recent works lalo na October 2020 onwards. It kept me sane.

No holds barred, what is your dream art project? 

I have a lot actually that I want to accomplish! First is doing art direction for an album cycle of a pop/indie artist, local or international. Second is doing collaborations with local clothing brands, I’d like to see my illustrations on merch someday. Third is doing art direction for a video game. I hope to achieve any one of these in the next few years.

Tempest runs until February 18, 2021 at Futurist, 5602 Guerrero St., Makati City. For more information send them a DM or visit their website, futurist.ph.

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