By Gabbi Reyes
For centuries, artists have captured the beauty of wildlife and the natural world. Their power to see things in a different light takes viewers on a journey of emotions. The artist has the ability to document, uplift, compel–– and sometimes even repel! In this issue, we sit down with one of the club’s resident artists who has brought joy, creativity, and nature appreciation to both children and adults.
Robert Alviola Alejandro hails from Quezon City and has been an artist all his life. For the older “kids” reading this, you probably know him as “Kuya Robert”, the much loved host of the show Art Is Kool from the early 2000s. Even with the TV show over, Robert continues to inspire children to create art. Apart from his personal initiatives and projects, he is active during WBCP events. You can see him during Children’s Hour, where he hosts art sessions teaching kids to draw birds. Because of the pandemic, these activities are now held online.
G: What inspired you to become a visual storyteller?
Robert: I have always been an artist. The earliest memory I have of drawing is when I was sick, I had to stay in bed and I would draw on the wall.
G: What is your favorite subject-matter for art and why?
Robert: My favorite subject is “things Filipino”. I guess this is my favorite because at my very core, this is who I truly am (even if I fumble speaking Filipino). I love Divisoria, Cubao, Recto, Quiapo, Baclaran, jeeps, and markets. I miss these so much.
G: How would you describe your art?
Robert: I’m not sure – I don’t think much about my art (I just create) but people tell me that my art is “masaya.”
Birds and Bravery
He started birdwatching after his sister Tina, one of WBCP’s founding members, invited him and his father to an event. “We were hooked,” he mentions. Though he cannot recall the year he joined the club, the wonderful memories of him birding with his sisters and father remain.
G: What is your spark bird?
Robert: I believe it was a Coppersmith Barbet. I couldn’t believe my eyes (and ears). I felt God went crazy and came up with the species!
G: What is your favorite birding spot?
Robert: It was the small garden outside the restaurant “Van Gogh is Bipolar”. It was an oasis of sorts in the middle of Maginhawa. There would be resident sunbirds visiting every morning.
G: To you, what is the most rewarding thing about birdwatching?
Robert: The surprise of finding, seeing, hearing an absolute treasure (birds) around you. It is astounding how beautiful birds are. How beautiful our planet is.
G: What do you think is the most important thing we can learn from the birds?
Robert: So much to learn. We have to let go of our baggage to be able to take flight. I watch birds eating and picking on fruit and not to over eat or take more than you need. I learn about being fierce as the Pied Fantail watches over her nest. The more you watch, the more you learn.
G: What is your favorite birdwatching memory?
Robert: Long time ago, I was an on-cam reporter for a news magazine called “the Probe Team”. One of the few times I was a producer / reporter / camera person was when I was doing a story about birdwatching in the Philippines. I (and my sister? I forget) was shooting in the incredibly thick talahib in the fields where Mall of Asia is now. I was trying to shoot the nest of the Black Crowned Heron. While trying to manage to get the shot, I felt and heard a very large creature approaching. It didn’t feel or sound like just a human being. My companion and I quickly scrambled out of there.
That one birding experience may have had Robert scrambling away, but there’s a thing or two we can learn from him about bravery. In 2016, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. But not even that would stop him from having a positive outlook on life.
G: You’ve overcome some big challenges in life. What keeps you going?
Robert: Have I overcome big challenges? They are only big if you think so. What keeps me going? I am very stubborn and I really enjoy what I do (art). The moment I feel I can, I create, I draw. It makes me very sad when I am not able to draw, design or create. So I guess my art does keep me going.
G: We follow your amazing healing journey on Facebook and it is inspiring! With so many people struggling and in pain right now, what healing or encouraging words can you share?
Robert: I’m very glad you find it inspiring! My two cents – do be gentle with yourself and take all the time you need to care for YOU. Light exercise, sunlight, delicious nutritious food, long slow baths, lots of love and laughter and yes – bird watching!
We agree with you one hundred percent, Robert!
The Artist and A Vision
Robert also promotes awareness of Philippine wildlife through some of the pieces he illustrates for their family’s business, Papemelroti. As I write this profile, Robert is also preparing for his latest exhibition where some of the works feature endemic birds.
G: Where do you think birdwatching and the creation of art converge?
Robert: Part of my exhibition are a few artworks of Philippine endemic birds. I personally love to draw my experiences in life. Ever since I was very young, I would draw/paint while traveling. Birdwatching is an incredibly wonderful experience that involves some of the most beautiful creatures ever. It is wonderful to document that in art.
I guess other points where birdwatching and art meet is in how they are able to uplift people and communicate an important message. Isn’t it amazing how much they have in common?
G: How can we use art to support the protection of nature and wild
Robert: As we artists create art that portrays nature, I guess this can show others the value of it. Sometimes I give art classes to kids––I think 80% of our subjects are from nature––Philippine endemic animals, botanicals, etc.. I’m sure the children will have a better appreciation of nature after drawing a Palawan porcupine!
G: What is your dream for the creative and birding community?
Robert: I believe my dream is a reality with WBCP. I feel that WBCP is made up of the kindest, encouraging, most wonderful human beings, eager to share the passion and wonders of birding. This is no joke and should not be taken lightly. A kind and caring community does not come easy. It is nurtured and worked on by a collective. We are blessed to have that in WBCP. Some of my fondest memories in WBCP was hosting (activities) at bird festivals out of town. I would host with Anna (Anna Maria Gonzales) and we would rock a coliseum full of school children. We actually convinced kids that birdwatching was and is as cool as the hottest rock band. I will never ever forget. I even fell off the stage once.