By Dexter R. Matilla

Artist Max Balatbat used to sell old batteries to junk shops just so he would have the money to buy the materials he needed to paint. 

It’s something he not only wanted to do but felt the need to do.

Max Balatbat

To understand why, one only needs to look into Max’s childhood in Caloocan, a time when he was exposed to society’s not so beautiful realities—or so some would say. 

Young Max grew up beside a brothel where he encountered the most colorful of characters but none more so than the one the neighborhood calls “the queen.”

“Amalia,” at 65 years of age, was still plying her trade when she left Max a very important lesson in survival. 

“Buhay sa amin ay mahalaga, katawan ang sagot para ibenta,” writes Max on one wall of his ongoing exhibit at Art Verite in Serendra at Bonifacio Global City. “Kung ang pinggan nila ay walang laman… hindi magdadalawang isip magbenta ng laman.”

There may be those in society who look down on these women but Max chose to see the good in their hearts and understand the circumstances that led them on that path.

So it is no surprise that in his latest show, “Puta sa Ikatlong Abenida,” Max finally reveals the faces of these women who he fondly describes as “mga babaeng bayaran sa lansangan, mga naging bida sa aking kaisipan.”

Though not the typical definition of beauty society would have you believe, Max leaves it up to the viewer’s imagination to see the truthfulness in his works.

This collection is the latest in his more than a decade-long overarching narrative on prostitution. Two of the larger works are dedicated to Amalia and a representation of the female genitalia.

At his core, Max is more than just an artist—he is a storyteller in the truest sense. Owing to his curiosity even as a child, he admits to being a talker, a rare trait in most artists. He vividly remembers the moments that clearly led to his perspective in life and in art and this show is a clear indication of that. The need to paint comes from his desire to pull back the curtains and reveal how society works.

In creating his pieces, Max manipulates paint by cooking it until it solidifies. He then cuts it into the shapes and the sizes he needs before adding it onto his canvas that is also made of paint. The adhesive he uses? You guessed it, paint. 

Max enjoys a good laugh, recalling the early years of his life as an artist

The process is understandably very taxing and would take weeks but Balatbat is already used to it. He says he continues to develop his craft because he wants to contribute something different to art.

But of course Max, a Fine Arts graduate at the University of the East Caloocan, already made a huge contribution to Philippine art when he won the “2nd Award” in Painting at the 2009 Florence Biennale International Award “Lorenzo il Magnifico.” He would also go on to win the grand prize at the 2009 GSIS Art Awards and the Philip Morris Philippine Art Awards “Jurors’ Choce Award of Merit.”

“Puta sa Ikatlong Abenida” is on display at Art Verite, 2nd floor Serendra, Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.

Source: Manila Bulletin (