Arts & Culture

Daniel Coquilla: When things are looking up, go forward!

Everywhere in the country, there is a corner swarming with people who live, play, and die in the streets, literally and otherwise.

Another view of city life opens in Heads Up!, Daniel Coquilla’s 32nd solo exhibit, at Kaida Contemporary that runs until 8 May 2024.

Money Cake 2024. Photo by R.C. Ladrido

For Coquilla, the streets of Metro Manila with a population of 13 million plus, offer a vibrant space to document visually what’s going on, what’s in, and what’s out.

A constant imagery in Coquilla’s artmaking is the presence of a crowd that bringis him a sense of comfort and familiarity. Growing up, he describes himself as “laking palengke,” so he has gotten used to people milling around, as his family owned a dry goods store located in a wet market.

His street scenes have included a carinderia crawl, playing mahjong, tricycle drivers, street dancing, food vendors, street food (balut, isaw, lugaw, sisig, hopia, siomai), and crowds present everywhere.

Kartun Siomai, 2024. Photo by R.C. Ladrido

Heads up!

Presenting 10 paintings in acrylic and oil done this year, Coquilla’s imprimatur continues in scenes of everyday life, with characters who always look upwards.

Adding a new twist to his style in this exhibit, he has extended the top view to a vertical panorama (with a little help from a camera), as seen in four paintings: Basilika, Vert Pano Dyip, Vert Pano Portrait, and Vert Pano Xing.

Basilika, 2024. Photo by R.C.Ladrido

Not for the fainthearted, the annual Feast of the Nazarene in Quiapo sees the faithful once again jostling aggressively with each other to glimpse or even touch the Nazareno. In Basilika, you can see the massive crowd both outside and inside of the church. Can you spot the elusive Nazareno?

Through a vertical panoramic view, the jeepney’s chrome ceiling reflects the passengers. Vert Pano Dyip is an ode to the overcrowded jeepney with its toxic fumes and disintegrating metal parts, willed by the powers-that-be to disappear sooner than later. What price modernity?

Vert Pano Dyip. Photo by R.C. Ladrido

Eating and street food is always present in Coquilla’s works, with Kartun Siomai and Money Cake for those with strong stomachs.

A self-portrait (Vert Pano Portrait) of the artist working in a cramped space of an apartment, Coquilla endures heat and humidity chasing his Muse before it evaporates into the long night.

With thick and vigorous brushstrokes of muddied colors in brown, black, yellow, green, and red, Coquilla’s canvas is full of images that tell a story. The characters that populate his dense canvas express their glee or horror through their expressive eyes and mouths.

Working and raising a family of four daughters who have studied in UP, Coquilla paints after his regular work. Doing what he loves most brings him a moment of reflection. He looks upwards to the infinite sky above, with grace and gratitude.

Vert Pano Portrait, 2024. Photo by R.C. Ladrido

Dansoy, the artist

Dansoy Coquilla (b. 1970, Panabo City, Davao del Norte): His nickname is from a Visayan folksong “Dandansoy,” a song of affection for a guy named Dandansoy.

He has always loved to draw as a child, especially comic characters and dreamed of becoming a comic illustrator. Trying his luck in Manila, he attended a comics workshop in Manila in 1989 where he met Fred Liongoren (b.1944) who offered him a job as an assistant in Liongoren Art Gallery, and a place to stay.

Liongoren became his mentor; working in the gallery, Coquilla got to know the art of Danny Dalena, Onib Olmedo, Antonio Austria, Norma Belleza, and Liongoren himself.

Eventually, Coquilla enrolled at the UP College of Fine Arts. Despite being a recipient of UP’s socialized tuition program, his perennial lack of money to buy food and art materials was always a problem. He dropped out of school and found work with an audiovisual group in one of UP’s research institutes. Later, he moved to UP Film Institute where he currently works as a technician.

Coquilla at work. Photo from his FB page


In an art class in 1992, Roberto Chabet asked them to submit 100 painting studies for a class exhibit. Coquilla submitted a sketch of a vendor, Mang Larry selling isaw, and looking upwards. One of Coquilla’s go-to-food in UP, isaw is made of chicken intestines, grilled, and colored achuete orange.

Chabet selected that sketch of Mang Larry looking up. Hence on, Coquilla’s characters always look upwards.

The cooking show Wok with Yan also inspired Coquilla’s top view perspective where camera shots would be from the top of the wok, giving the tv audience a top view look at everything going on.

Coquilla is a recipient of several awards: grand prize at the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) annual painting competition, 1996; Juror’s Choice in the 4th Philip Morris ASEAN Art Awards, 1997; UP Gawad Tsanselor para sa Sining Biswal, 1997; and Thirteen Artists Award, Cultural Center of the Philippines, 2006.