Raffy Napay was born in 1986 in Manila, Philippines. He graduated from Eulogio Amang Rodriguez of Science and Technology (EARIST) in 2009 with a Fine Arts degree. Whilst in school, he started gaining
recognition for his skill.
(Photo right source credit: Rogue Magazine)
Napay originally used oil paints, until he developed an adverse allergy to the medium. Whilst recovering, he explored the potential of other materials, and explored working with the available threads and textiles at home. Growing up with a seamstress mother, Napay was exposed to a wide variety of threads, cotton and fabrics and these materials gave him a strong ground into a different world of creativity.
The artist realized the creative process, was quite similar - from early conceptualization to finishing touches on an artwork. His threaded works demanded just as much time and attention to detail as paintings. Now equipped with a needle for a brush, thread and fabric as his paint, the artist approaches his canvas as he would a painting. His composition stays true whilst playing with shadow and light, in effect transcending any intuitive boundary between painting and creating a tapestry.
He was one of ten finalists in the Philippine Art Awards in the national capital region in 2007, 2009 and 2011. In 2008, he won the Metrobank Art & Design Excellence Award. In 2008, 2012 and 2014, he was awarded the Juror’s Choice Award of Excellence at the Philippine Art Awards on the national level, considered by many as a staggering achievement. Napay’s early works are whole yet intrinsically personal, drawing inspiration from his family, surroundings and experiences.
In 2013, Napay was awarded the prestigious Ateneo Art Award, emerging as winner in the Contemporary Artists category, besting artists from all over the Philippines. The award granted Napay two artist–in-residence programmes at both Liverpool Hope University in the United Kingdom, and at Artesan Gallery + Studio in Singapore. He has held several solo exhibitions since, including a solo presentation of Sacred at Art Stage Singapore with Artesan Gallery in January 2015, and a solo exhibition entitled Sanctuary at the Ateneo Art Gallery in August.
That same year, Napay travelled to participate in the 10th Florence Biennale, as organized by Artesan with ten other artists in 2015 - only to win first prize of the much coveted Il Lorenzo Magnifico art awards. In 2017 and 2019, Artesan also exhibited Raffy Works at the Palazzo Mora during the 57th and 58th Venice Biennale, in collaboration with the European Cultural Centre. In between both events, Napay was awarded as one of the Thirteen Artist Awards in 2018 by the Cultural Centre of The Philippines, one of the top prestigious national art awards.
Wool, cotton, fabric on canvas, twelve panels
Eternal Sanctum was presented at the Palazzo Mora during the 58th Venice Biennale. It consists of twelve large panels that span about seven and half meters high by four and a quarter meters wide. This shift in scale, the marked interest in depth, the exploration of techniques to achieve this aspiration for dimensionality is always an interesting turn in his art.
Napay’s art references the enduring tradition of tapestry; however he does not use a loom nor weave in the traditional sense. He sews and stitches sprawling sceneries and expanse of forms instead. Viewing the works in parts or whole, whether in the active process of making or the stillness of display, we realize the artist has succeeded in condensing both the rudimentary and the complex - an equation to guide his vision and understanding of the creative process that weaves Napay’s works into a fascinating web.
There is surety and calm assurance in Napay’s work rhythm, twining multicoloured threads from numerous spools, mechanically sewing or manually stitching. They signify places we have seen or been to, and in there thrives in them a sliver of the fantastic: impenetrable forests pulsing with life, vibrant with colour, and teeming with sound. The fantastic warrants that these sites may very well be those we imagine or yet to see, yearned for destinations that Napay visualises and realises for us through voluble form and intricate process. They ultimately point to a way of understanding time and space in their embodiment of the ephemeral: the frozen moment, fugitives in time, that which is our very own personal retreat.
The environments Napay creates are structures that allow the simultaneities of hours and the sharing of time disappear through the mechanisms of reverie and reflection – what we might call our very own soul and eternal sanctum.
Fabric, wool, thread and recycled strips of fabric
Nest is central to the triumvirate of massive works that formed part of an installation and exhibition entitled Pugad - organized by the European Cultural Council, at the Palazzo Mora during the 57th Venice Biennale.
The work seemingly spirals towards the centre of our beginning, marking birth as the core of familial bonds and the virtues of humanity. This is epitomized by the artist tying strips of recycled cloth, building a tensile armature to contain density against a long stretch of fabric – suggesting a metaphor where strips of our past form memories that shapes our whole person from the beginning?
Nest is a single young artist’s metaphysical paean against adversity and the human will, after all. He believes in the rhythms and routines of the human soul from birth to growth to maturity that characterize our course of existence: to love, to live, to lust, to learn, to linger and live on.
Fabric, wool, cotton on canvas, quadriptych