Saturday 25 August 2018

Rommel Tingzon and Gordon Snyder: A Filipino-Canadian Story of Arts Patronage

In the recent The Works Art & Design Festival, a young Filipino painter from Palawan, Rommel Tingzon, had his own exhibition entitled Portraits of the Philippines, at the Manulife Place, up until the end of August. There is no doubt that Rommel is talented but he is also undeniably fortunate to have an advocate for his talent and work, in the person of Gordon Snyder, Canadian artist and curator.

Gordon, who lives part time in Palawan, met Rommel in 2017 and was stunned to find 200 recent paintings rolled up in a small room, distinguishing Rommel as the most prolific painter in the area, and marking him as a true artist who really just wants to draw and paint. From then on, Gordon worked on having Rommel featured at The Works Festival, and for financially setting him up for post-secondary studies at the Far Eastern University (FEU) Institute for Architecture and Fine Arts this year.

Rommel's exhibit at The Works, according to Amber Rooke, Executive Artistic Director, is significant in terms of "cultural exchange as well as in the invitation and inclusion in The Works Festival of the substantial Filipino community in Edmonton." It is also the first time that an artist from the Philippines has had a solo exhibition at The Works. It also marked Rommel's first ever exhibition! It was well-received and garnered a lot of media attention. The local art critic cited one of Rommel's works as being his favourite of all the works in the 2018 festival.
When I met Rommel during The Works, he had that bewildered look with him - perhaps due to jet lag, or the surrealness of travelling to, and having an exhibit in, Canada. He is soft spoken, introverted but deeply reflective. Painting for him is a means of expression and a safe zone, where he is the most comfortable and secure. Even with no formal art training, his artworks are striking, bold and impressive. Rommel signs his works with a mirror image of his signature, to convey to the viewer that the work is a reflection of himself.

Excited as I was about Rommel's discovery and journey, I was more deeply touched by Gordon Snyder's unselfish support to the young artist. In the same way the Medici family was to Michelangelo and Queen Elizabeth was to Shakespeare, arts patrons enable artists to pursue whatever they want in style, subject, concept, and medium. The chance of a benefactor appearing, especially in rural Philippines, is unlikely, and in addition, with a triple whammy gift of education, exhibit, and travel.
As an art student, Gordon was mentored by Illingworth Kerr, an artist who studied with the Canada Group of Seven and became the Head of the Alberta College of Art. Gordon explains, "He was someone who saw more talent within me than I saw in myself and helped bring it out of me." This is the same belief that propels his support for Rommel. "In my mind, I see Rommel gaining that same confidence in himself - that someone so believes in him (and not only his talent) that he can learn and grow and perhaps someday work with me. I want him to have time to mature, study art history, improve his English skills and prepare himself for a career in the arts. I want to encourage his independence and recognize the uniqueness of his personal journey. Many years are spent building networks and nurturing relationships. Getting him an exhibition at The Works and taking him to Canada, and sending him to FEU shows him dreams can come true if you work hard and are true to yourself. When the time is right, I'd like to find a good gallery in Manila to represent him. Right now, I don't want money to be his main concern. If I can write about him and promote his work, I would enjoy that. Ultimately, it is the quality of his work that is what is important."

I have written features of Filipino artists working within the Canadian setting - of overcoming hurdles and of maximizing the opportunities in the adoptive country. This is my first story of a budding Filipino artist in the Philippines, provided unsolicited support by a Canadian artist, bringing him exposure in Canada and at the same time providing a pathway to artistic success and economic stability. This is a true and unique Filipino-Canadian arts dynamic, and an inspiring story on arts patronage. Gordon's support, however, is not an unlimited free pass - "I do have limited funds and hope he will work hard and get some scholarships." But it is a far-reaching one that hopefully will be picked up, or supplemented, by other arts patrons as well. Because there is no doubt that Filipino artists are immensely talented. And wherever they are, in any discipline, in whatever form, we must support our artists. Because investment in the artist, is a cultural and social investment.

Rommel Tingzon's exhibit will be up at Manulife Place in downtown Edmonton until end of August. For inquiries or interest on his works, email

* This article was published in the August 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.