Whenever people think of Manila, the first things that come to mind are usually the traffic, flooding, pollution, and crowds. But some artists have a gift for finding beauty in all that chaos, and among them is 32-year-old freelance writer and artist Marius Funtilar, known online as Marius Black.
His Manila Ukiyo-e—urban scenes drawn in the style of Japanese woodblock prints—have been steadily garnering more and more attention on Reddit. His prints depict ordinary Filipinos going about their everyday lives, and are usually accompanied by backstories. Rather than forcing a single interpretation of his art, his stories humanize the characters and provide context, making for a pretty enjoyable read.
“I think when you look at my artwork, some may see them [as] having a negative or depressing message. But I actually find them inspiring,” Black says. “A lot of people see it as negative when they see poor people living on the streets, selling snacks, or peddling their wares just to get by. But I see them as inspiring because even though the people I see and paint [experience] hardships in life, they still move forward and strive to survive.”
“That's what I want people to get in my works: that no matter what deluge of misfortune life throws at us, there's always a way to get by. Like with the people I paint, if they can get past it, surely those of us who think they have big problems or that think they lack resources to move on, can find a way not only to survive but also to be able to enjoy life at the same time,” Black adds.
Black has always been fascinated with Japanese art, and he first got the idea for Manila Ukiyo-e when he and his wife were preparing for an art market in Bonifacio Global City. Since they were pressed for time, they couldn’t paint on canvas as they usually did.
“I had to think of a way that I could make an artwork fast and easy, but [in a way that] was still considered good art. I knew I had to make it simple and affordable enough for anyone who would pass by our booth at the art market,” Black explains.
He then remembered the work of Jed Henry—an illustrator who paints characters from video games in the style of ukiyo-e. He eventually collaborated with ukiyo-e woodblock carver and printer David Bull to have his work printed using real woodblocks, turning them into modern ukiyo-e.
Since Black didn’t know how to carve woodblocks, he improvised by drawing the outline of an artwork, scanning it, and printing it on watercolor paper. He then painted each print by hand. To differentiate his art from that of Jed Henry and David Bull, he based it on pictures he took while walking around the city.
“I love to take long walks and when I do, I always take candid pictures of random people on the streets. Mostly people who are sitting in an interesting way or doing something that interests me like riding a bike or wearing colorful clothes, even sleeping people,” Black explains. "As an artist, I can easily see good composition and drama. So I try to capture that with my digital camera. Soon, I was able to draw inspiration from the pictures I've taken of the people of Manila.”
His work is similar to that of 17th to 19th-century ukiyo-e artists in the sense that it features the same simplicity of lines, patterns, and color combinations. But the biggest similarity his prints have with traditional ukiyo-e is their depiction of daily life.
Black recalls the words Asai Ryoi, a Japanese writer and Buddhist priest, once wrote in his novel Ukiyo Monogatari: "living only for the moment, savoring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the maple leaves, singing songs, drinking sake, and diverting oneself just in floating, unconcerned by the prospect of imminent poverty, buoyant and carefree, like a gourd carried along with the river current: this is what we call ukiyo."
“In my own works, I try to depict the triumphs, hardships, happiness, fuck-ups, perseverance and simply the daily lives of our fellow Filipinos. Hence [I] call them, Manila Ukiyo-e,” Black says.
Marius Black is a freelance writer, artist, and graphic designer. He and his wife Guadix produce independent comics and manga at their tandem group Kuro Saku, and they exhibit their paintings at various galleries as well. To see more of Black’s ukiyo-e, check out Manila Ukiyo-E.