FinaLEE • Romeo Lee

Mar 3 to Apr 1, 2016 • Upstairs Gallery

Who doesn’t know of Romeo Lee? The eccentric artist has had a cult following since his student days at the University of the Philippines, having gained notoriety as a pioneer of the Pinoy punk scene in the early 1980s and later as one of the more fascinating characters in the mountaineering and underground art circles. Today, he’s also recognized among music enthusiasts for his enviable collection of vintage audio gear, diligently sourced from his vast network of second-hand goods suppliers, which dovetails neatly with his reputation as the ukay-ukay king. To those who like watching electrifying musical acts, few can top Romeo’s showmanship as the frontman of the Brown Briefs, especially when he launches into their signature cover tune, “Wild Thing.”

While he’s been an artist for nearly 30 years, he’s never considered himself part of the mainstream but more of an outsider, due in part to his refusal to paint anything other than what he feels like. That’s slowly changing, though, as people have become more appreciative of his work (characterized by unusual colors, layers of dripping, swirling paint, and ghoulish imagery) helped in part by his growing skill in navigating social media, his friendship with a certain matinee idol, and the high praise from foreign publications whenever he holds shows abroad, either as a solo artist or as part of Manuel Ocampo’s group of artist friends, the so-called Bastards. “O, front page pa ‘yan, ha!” he says with a smile, pointing to a French daily that covered a recent solo show, just one of several magazine and newspaper articles about him lying around his hopelessly shambolic bedroom.

He adopts a serious tone when reflecting on his career, dropping for once his irascible, quirky persona. The “old” artists, Romeo says — painfully accepting that he no longer is among the young ones –“have art in their blood,” having mastered their craft never with the intention to become millionaires, but only to bare their souls on stretched canvas for the viewer to see. “The young artists are lucky that they can now make a career out of it. Before, during the time of Roberto Chabet in U.P., no one was getting rich. We just held exhibits for the heck of it. If a holiday was coming up? Let’s hold an exhibit! Marcel Duchamp’s birthday? Let’s have a show! Ganun lang. It was fun. That’s it.”

Pierre A. Calasanz
Town & Country
February 2016 issue