LOOK: Artist Who Witnessed Taal Eruption Creates Striking Painting Series

IMAGE Michael Sagaran

Michael Sagaran was at work at Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay City when plumes of smoke started spewing out of Taal Volcano on January 12. The hotel is situated right on the ridge and has a direct view of the volcano and so he witnessed firsthand the most recent eruption of one of the country’s most active volcanoes. 

As with many other businesses in the popular leisure city, Taal Vista Hotel was forced to close down for a few weeks until the situation normalized. But it wasn’t long before Taal Vista had to suspend operations again when the enhanced community quarantine was imposed throughout Luzon because of the threat of COVID-19.

Forced to stay indoors because of the lockdown, Sagaran picked up his paintbrush again and started painting. The marketing and communications professional has been painting since college, but, save for the occasional times after he relocated to Tagaytay and started working for Taal Vista Hotel, he says he hasn’t really been serious about his art. Until now.

“After the announcement of the ECQ, the self-isolation of the lockdown gave me more quiet and alone time, which helped provide clarity to my creative process,” he says. "Good thing I was able to stock up on paints, canvases and brushes that I bought as souvenirs every time I travel.”

It didn’t take him long to find inspiration when it came time to figure out what he wanted to paint.

Photograph taken January 21, 2020, alert level 4. Painting finished April 3, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 18” x 12”

Photo by Michael Sagaran.

Photograph taken January 20, 2020, alert level 4. During this time, ash plumes from the volcano reached 500 to 1,000 meters high and you can smell strong sulfur in the air reaching Tagaytay City. The whole volcano and nearby cities in Batangas were covered with ash. Painting finished March 26. Acrylic on canvas, 12” x 14”

Photo by Michael Sagaran.
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“I wanted to document the historical Taal Volcano eruption (this year)—from the day it started last January 12 up to its 60th day, or just a few days before the volcano’s alert level was downgraded to level 1.”

Sagaran, who is also an amateur photographer, says he based his paintings on the the original photos he captured of the volcano almost on a daily basis since the eruption.

“I also want future generations to witness the life-changing natural phenomenon and promote art at the same time,” he says. “Paintings are more lasting than printed photographs and more poetic than digital photographs.”

Sagaran says the highlight of his Taal Volcano collection is an image of the eruption itself, which he waited for almost two hours to capture. The photograph has since gone viral and has been featured globally on news and social media, including here on Esquire Philippines.

Photograph taken January 12, 2020. Painting started April 18, still unifinished. Target completion April 30, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 42” x 36”

Photo by Michael Sagaran.

Photograph taken January 28, 2020, alert level 3. Painting finished March 30, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 18” x 12”

Photo by Michael Sagaran.

Photograph taken January 29, 2020, alert level 3. Whole volcano is still covered in ash while occaisonal rainshowers helped clear ash out of nearby cities and towns in Batangas. Painting finished April 17, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 42” x 36”

Photo by Michael Sagaran.

“I wish to make the viewers of my paintings appreciate the beauty and power of nature through the poetry of art,” he says.

Because the lockdown has forced many of the staff and crew of Taal Vista Hotel to work from home, Sagaran says he has more time to paint now. He paints for around two to three hours, often during late at night or early morning when it gets quieter.

“Since the collection is intended to last for decades, even for centuries, I’m using high quality acrylic paints on canvas,” he says. “After finishing, for extra paint protection, each painting is varnish-sealed. Acrylic paint is more durable and the original colors tend to last for centuries.”

For people stuck at home during the lockdown, Sagaran advises passing the time doing anything that makes their heart smile.

“Each of us has a chance to make this trying time work in our favor,” he says. “And just like the Taal Volcano eruption, we will overcome this ongoing pandemic and it, too, shall pass.”

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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