By Giselle P. KasilagForty years as a professional artist has not made Carlo Magno complacent with his craft. Rather, the passing years have made him more experimental if not downright disruptive of his own technique.Attesting to this incessant experimentation is Percipience, his current exhibition at Galerie Joaquin in One Bonifacio High Street Mall. About two dozen paintings and sculptures are witness to his incredible journey to abstractionism.“It’s like seeing something from a memory, doing something different, exploring, experimenting on ideas from before, from years ago,” explained Mr. Magno on the theme of the show. “I always experiment. I like developing something every time, so it keeps on changing. It’s an endless quest for me – even the styles and the compositions. But the colors from the past are still there.”Each piece exhibits layers of techniques – the soft brushstrokes, aggressive textures, bold charcoal, and overlays of acrylic – that invite the viewers to see his life on art but while encouraging them to imagine beyond the confines of the canvas.“It’s just memories,” he asserted. “Even the flow of the lines, I used to paint old churches like that. The strokes are similar, these are a close-up of the texture of the walls which, I see figures in that also, like seeing figures in clouds. In these walls, you can also see figures like a woman or a running figure. It’s accidental, actually, but of course, it’s open to interpretation because I want the viewer to have another point of view on what I see.”But Mr. Magno has a past. Once upon a time, he was well-ensconced in the world of hyperrealism. He painted the churches and old houses of Vigan in great detail – belaboring every brick and stressing over the grains of wood. He painted the Love Bus and people going about their everyday lives. For 20 years – half of his career – his artistic output consisted of evocative images of reality that a network of collectors had come to appreciate and expect.“I got really drained” he admitted. “I felt like I was in a box. I can’t move. I can’t explore. I cannot experiment. I was just there doing these kinds of stuff. It felt like I wanted to explode, to do something I really want.”He found support where he least expected it. His manager Manuel Duldulao, who was instrumental in building his career as a hyperrealist artist, sent him many books and materials after he confessed a desire to shift to abstraction.He immersed himself in this new world, armed with a solid foundation in painting techniques. He understood the rules and, drawing from the experience of artists before him, learned how to break free and transform his art.His wife, Susanne, asked only one question: Are you sure?“So nung ready na, sabi ko (So when he was ready, I said), let’s launch you now as an abstract artist,” she said. “We formally launched him but he was starting from scratch talaga kasi nga (really because) it’s a 180° turn from hyperrealism to biglang (suddenly) abstract kaya may mga (that’s why there were) negative write-ups.”Mr. Magno recalled one in particular.“May nag-criticize sa akin after that,” he said. “Isang buong page! Hindi ako makatulog! Parang gusto mong magsalita pero hindi ka makapagsalita. Hindi naman ako marunong magsulat, hindi ako makabawi. Sabi ko, yung time na lang ang magsasabi (Someone criticized me after that. One whole page! I couldn’t sleep! I wanted to speak up but I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t know how to write, I couldn’t respond. I told myself only time will tell).”“Nung inumpisahan ko yun, dapat ipagpatuloy ko na,” he continued. “Na dishearten ako pero sandalling-sandali. Ang sakit! Ganito pa ang sinabi dun: Pag abstractionist ka, hindi ka na pwede mag realist. Pag realist ka, hindi ka pwede mag abstractionist. Sabi ko, eh sorry hindi ko alam yung rule na yun (When I started it, I felt I should continue it. I was disheartened but only for a short while. It was painful! This is what was said: When you’re an abstractionist, you can’t be a realist. When you’re a realist, you can’t be an abstractionist. I said, sorry but I didn’t know that rule)!”He was grateful that his collectors stayed with him. They didn’t simply buy his art but accompanied him throughout his artistic journey. And it’s been a rollercoaster-ride of a journey.While painting abstract art, he also explored sculptures.It was a time when there was no foundry in the Philippines that could cast the pieces that he wanted. There was one but he was not happy with the result. Many tries yielded one bronze piece that was so heavy that it became a family joke. He said that he would give it to anyone who could carry it with one hand. To this day, the piece is still in their possession. Eventually, he discovered cold casting and has since produced pieces worthy of his name.While he has completely turned his back on hyperrealism, many themes of his past life still find their way to his new one. And after 20 years as an abstract artist, he has learned to embrace the past and use it for his new work.Indeed, this fearlessness to walk a new path has become a signature of Mr. Magno’s art. But the fearlessness is tempered with a thirst to learn instead of just jumping onto a trend. All of his artworks begin the old-fashioned way. He sketches. He creates studies. He puts everything on paper to develop his ideas before breaking out a canvas. It is a method that suited him as a hyperrealist that he has continued with as an abstractionist.He has pushed back on the criticism that abstractionists simply slather on paint with reckless abandon. His works show the disciple of a trained painter with the courage of an artist. There is a process but there is freedom as well.“I have to read books, look at the paintings that I really like,” he reiterated. “I really meditate on it — what’s best for me, what’s suited for me, what feels good, really.”Carlo Magno’s Percipience is on view from May 4-13 at Galerie Joaquin BGC, Upper Ground Floor of One Bonifacio High Street Mall, Taguig.