The Meaning Behind Borlongan’s – Father’s Whisper (2006)

Oil Painting by Borlongan, Father's Whisper (2006)

In the realm of contemporary art, often the focus is on the uniqueness of the visuals and the medium used by the artist. The simplicity of “Father’s Whisper” by Elmer Borlongan, is therefore an anomaly in modern art.

This painting stops you in your tracks and makes you wonder what’s so special about such an ordinary scene. Certain paintings not only capture our attention but also make us reflect on the complex nature of human relationships. 

Such is the case with Borlongan’s 2006, oil on canvas piece, “Father’s Whisper” – a thought-provoking masterpiece that invites us to contemplate the powerful bond between a father and his son and the significance of the quiet moments of guidance that shape our lives.

Analysis and Meaning of “Father’s Whisper” Painting

Oil Painting by Borlongan, Father's Whisper (2006)
“Father’s Whisper” Painting (2006) by Elmer Borlongan. Fair Use. Via: Center for Art, New Ventures & Sustainable Development (CANVAS)
Quezon City, Philippines

Colors and Composition

The use of a bright color palette is a major stand-out in this piece. The scene is set in a park or the countryside, with a bright blue sky and fresh greenery.

Cool tones gradually melt into the warmer palette of the foreground consisting mainly of browns and yellows. While the boy’s red pants create a sharp contrast against the muted palette, it doesn’t draw too much attention because of its placement. 

The composition of the painting is quite striking. The father forms a cocoon around his son, while he guides him with a subtle gesture. This creates a sense of intimacy and warmth, reinforced by the father’s proximity to his son. Both the subjects have their backs facing the outside world, adding a sense of privacy to the moment.

Meaning of the Father’s Whisper

An enigmatic stillness pervades the scene, as a young boy embraces the trunk of a tree, looking upward. His father stands behind him. While the painting is titled Father’s Whisper it seems as if the man is only gesturing to his child not to make a sound. 

The subdued lighting and hues hint at a serene moment, yet the father’s insinuations add an elusive veil of secrecy and suspense to the ambiance. The painting beckons the observer to contemplate what the father’s delicate fingers on his pursed lips could suggest, and why this seemingly ordinary moment has been chosen as the subject for this piece.

The painting may be interpreted in terms of what can be seen in plain sight. While its not clear what the boy is trying to do, the father’s body language shows that he’s trying to assist the child. 

The man is half crouching to not only get to the level of his child but also to see things from his perspective. Thus, the painting represents a moment of guidance or advice from a father to his son. 

A Different Perspective on Father’s Whisper

One of the most important factors that need to be considered while interpreting this piece is the positioning of the subjects. From left to right there are three subjects in the painting. A child, his father, and the outside world. 

I’d say that the tree could be the fourth subject, symbolizing the innocence of the child that he’s still holding on to. But maybe, that’s a little too farfetched. The fact that the son’s face is turned away from the viewer also suggests that this moment is meant to be private and personal, and not something that is meant to be shared with others.

Father's Whisper painting
Details in “Father’s Whisper” Painting (2006) by Elmer Borlongan. Fair Use. Via: Center for Art, New Ventures & Sustainable Development (CANVAS) Quezon City, Philippines

Considering the initial proposition of three subjects, one can see that the father stands between his son and the world. The man is like a shield, trying to protect his child as he guides him on how to deal with the world, one step at a time.  

The Artist’s Background

Growing up in the inner cities of urban Manila, Borlongan developed a sensitivity to the daily struggles of the working-class Filipino. This emotional connection to his childhood is often reflected in his choice of subjects and themes in his artwork.

After the late 1990s, he practiced his art in solitude in Zambales, a rural province in northwest Manila. As Borlongan relocated from Manila to the provinces, his artwork underwent a noticeable shift. 

His canvases began to depict individuals encountered on roads as pedestrians, travelers, or vendors. He portrays the simple lifestyles of fisherfolk characterized by their religious rituals, entertainment spectacles, work strains, and playful enchantments.

Borlongan’s unique artistic expression is characterized by stylized imagery, featuring hairless heads, exagerated limbs, and large eyes in his distinctive iconography.

He is best known for his figurative impressionistic works, which use a simple figure-background composition. This is done to emphasize the unique qualities and behaviors of his subjects.

Ending Note

“Father’s Whisper” is a powerful painting that captures a moment of intimacy and guidance between a father and his son. Through the use of color, composition, and gesture, Borlongan has created a work of art that is both poignant and thought-provoking.

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