The sculptures of Riel Hilario come from a recovery of ties to a tradition of wood carving while, at the same time, they depart from that very heritage. The artist was born in Vigan, Ilocus Sur and at 18 years old he trained in santo-making under Jose Lazo in San Vicente (also in Ilocus Sur) – a place correlated to an exclusive circle of wood carvers in the Ilocus region.
It is intriguing to recognize that his commitment to wood as the medium in which his practice will rivet on consistently started out in 2001. Riel’s initial interest anchored on the medium and techniques of a local tradition of woodcarving. However, in resisting the aura of the exotic attributed to this practice, Riel conjured his own mythology in the twofold labor of memory as the artist returns to childhood and heritage. The polychromed figures are almost saturnine, despite the lack of facial expressions and complete anatomy, and are existing out of time and spatial definition. They border on a vibe of the celestial (perhaps in the constellation cluster-like vesture and presence of elements pertaining to flight), combined with a feeling that they can be ushers in a nocturnal tour.
This sense of anachronism in Riel’s works is a product of certain gaps he explores in his sculptural process. While the folk-like material of wood and direct carving practice is present in his oeuvre all the while impressing the works in a wash of antiquity, there is a distance from the actual making of a rebulto. It is in this distance that the artist works between the dualities of the vernacular and the colonial, and the translation of forms between the rebulto maker and contemporary art. Even the religious dimension which is characteristic of a santo is observed to provide the tension that would stamp the works in Riel’s discursive originality. Patrick Flores describes Hilario subjecting these images to multiple coding and that “these plural significations enable him to create a critical position in relation to it and reflexively strike a stance in its light.”