Cover "Of Hearts and Blooms", 26 x 44 inches, acrylic on canvas

Carlos Rocha, more popularly known in the art scene simply as 'Carlos', has been expressing his memories, imagined sceneries, and emotions in Fauvist-styled paintings and sculptures with bold, vibrant colours since the early 2000s. Now, he is also venturing into crypto art

Carlos Rocha, known to his peers and family as Charlie and in the art world by his unassuming signature Carlos, grew up in a world surrounded by art and architecture. Perhaps the biggest figure he was looking up to as a child would be his father, Julio Victor Rocha, a modernist architect and artist who had mounted exhibitions with Filipino modernist masters like Vicente Manansala and Victorio Edades. 

"He was good friends with them, but in the end, he practised his architectural profession more," says Rocha. "He was very modernist, in both his taste in art and in his architectural designs, so that surely rubbed off on me," he shares with Tatler.

Being born at a time when modernism disrupted the Philippine art scene and was considered cutting-edge and with profound dominance, their house would be decorated with collections of his father. "There were even stacked works at odd corners! I can only imagine how sacrilegious that would be perceived today," Rocha shares.

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"It's fascinating that my father and his artist-friends created art as a profession—but more so that they departed from the realism of the previous decades and painted them the way they saw or felt it," he remarks. "While their paintings had stronger colours or varied shapes than what the eye would see, it was exactly as it was, if not more so, than what realism could depict. That was extraordinary. There was so much life in their colour palettes and strokes that were very much not the 'accepted' way of making art, but it was astounding. It was alive."

Rocha recalls being enamoured with art while growing up, but in the latter and most part of his life, he pursued a career in business. "However, when you are an artist, you have a creative drive you're born with," he digresses. "I made sculptures and gave them to my fellow executive friends as gifts. Then, my wife started to sell them at her gallery on Pasay Road, Galeria Mia, in the Eighties."

When he was contemplating retirement, Rocha came to a point where he considered going full-time into art.  "I think this is true for every artist: you cannot escape that inner urge to create. You have to express yourself creatively, and you can't suppress it; it's exactly what happened to me," the artist says.

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Rocha admits that has always been drawn to bold, vivid colours, and it boils down to the insurmountable joy the colours give him when his canvasses are filled with them, but it was only later that he discovered how it follows Fauvism like the art of Henri Matisse and the like. "Fauvism style fits my personality to a T in the sense that I like seeing joy and happiness bursting out of the paintings. It gave my style a name I could finally pin to when I discovered it. It was as though I were speaking a language I didn't know where from, and then I finally landed on an island where everyone speaks it," he shares.

When Rocha creates paintings, he attempts his best to make emotions burst out of them, and according to him, it is not a subdued goal. "It is my hope that the joy and happiness reach out to grab the viewer and move them in a powerful way," he says. Although he gets inspiration from existing design philosophies that follow his, he would always stumble upon a colour, a stroke, or a medium completely new that furthers his design philosophy.

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Manansala and Edades are heavyweight Filipino artists that Rocha idolises because "they were ahead of their time and very bold with their style." For him, "they painted scenes as they felt them to be true" because it is the essence that was captured by the artists in their works. This he finds as a driving force in his process as an artist. "My paintings don't follow the rules of proportion or colour theory; they are always breaking the rules, and I prefer it that way," says the maverick artist.

Henri Matisse, the French visual artist famously known for his distinct Fauvism-styled masterpieces, is another figure influential to Rocha. "He strove to create art 'devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter', and that was something that stuck with me and identify with deeply." Indeed in observing Rocha's works, even the most serene-looking scenery that must have been inspired by a painful experience would still spark joy and love. "There is nothing disturbing about making art with heavy subjects, but if I were to stay true to my own creative mind, subjects that are serene and joyous—with some symbolism thrown in—are the goal, with bold colour and application being the trajectory towards that point," he explains.

Every exhibition for Rocha is special, but perhaps the most memorable one for him was his first solo show with paintings at Power Plant Mall. "I was so nervous, anxious, and worried that people wouldn't like my art, but it sold within minutes, and people loved it," he remembers. "When I started paintings, I painted scenes always with bold colours and unruly proportions. As I started discovering my style, I started painting stories. In my opinion, my work became more striking when I started imbuing stories in the paintings; depicting relationships, adding symbols about life and nature that perpetuate that story."

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What fuels your creativity?

"It’s hard to explain, but I think every artist will understand: it’s just inside me. I can’t escape or suppress it. It’s as though it’s what I am born to do and it’s like breathing to me. So it’s like having fuel reserves that I’m just burning. We all have gifts, and this is a gift God gave me to do, and I just simply do the best I can with it."

If you would associate emotions, meanings, or states of mind with each colour that you use, what are they?

"Specific emotions are usually connoted in specific colours, but as I’ve allowed myself some freedom in painting, I find that one doesn’t have to follow colour theory to convey them. Some will associate red with anger, for example, but in my case, I’ve found that it conveys happiness more so. I think an unbridled handle on colours shows vulnerability, and people resonate with that burst of emotion. For me, the bursts hopefully convey happiness, joy, romance, and gratefulness."

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Do you use memories as inspiration for your pieces or they are just products of your imagination?

"Every canvas is a mixture of memory and imagination. I paint for people to enjoy the painting; I don’t paint for myself. I paint for other people, to impart joy and happiness to them. I’m not interested to prove that I’m a good painter—it gets tricky when one goes that route—but what I ask myself every time is, Is the viewer going to enjoy it? Will they relish looking at the painting? Will it make them stop and slow down, and appreciate their life more?"

Your art evokes happy emotions. And though they are of bold colours and harsh strokes, they don't seem brash or angry. Why did you choose this approach, and have you ever had "darker" works? What propels you to make "happy" art?

"I’ve never had dark or melancholy works. I want to contribute to the happiness of my audience’s lives. I think life is complicated, and certainly not idyllic. But I hope that my works serve as a reminder that in life, there are wonderful, beautiful things to savour and relish if one looks closely enough."

Crypto/NFT art is a completely new thing in the art scene today. How did you come across it at first and what convinced you to try minting your works in this? How does it help you achieve your artistic philosophy?

"At first, the idea was amusing and entertaining, just another way to further the physical boundaries of my art, which I was keen to do.

But after a while, and understanding it more, I really see that it’s the future. I see how it will be just as commonplace as having a painting on the wall. The idea that paintings will have another aspect to them—it’s what’s attractive to me and, all in all, a positive trajectory to pursue."

Author's note: Rocha marked his 40th anniversary as the artist Carlos by having an exhibition presented by Galeria Paloma at Power Plant Mall, in partnership with Samsung The Frame, to showcase and auction the NFT versions of some of his works, for the benefit of Mano Amiga. Crypto artist and motion designer Isaiah Cacnio helped him achieve his vision for his works.

Read also: What is NFT and Why is it Revolutionising the Filipino Digital Art Community?

What does art mean to you?

"Everything. It’s hard to explain, but I think every artist feels the same. It’s the air the artists breathe, and it’s so ingrained in our DNA that it’s hard to separate other aspects of our lives from it. There are those who separate their professions from their personal lives; I don’t think that can be possible with artists; at least, that’s how it feels like with me. It has always been in my life since I was born–surrounded by it, creating it; I am sure I will never retire from making it.

I feel very grateful that my art resonates with my collectors as much as it does with me. While I mentioned that I paint for other people, it has to come authentically from my own heart and soul, and so it’s fulfilling to know that others appreciate the work I do."


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