In a room on the topmost floor of a house in Laguna, gruesome sculptures and unfinished paintings covered in bright red lines fill the space. This studio belongs to Doktor Karayom, the artist best known for his works brimming with gore and entrails. If you’ve encountered his work before, these are probably the first characteristics that will make an impression upon you. But while these are what draw the curious viewer to his art initially, it’s the messages encapsulated within each of his works that keep people captivated and awaiting his next creation.
Russel Trinidad entered the art world as a graffiti artist on the streets of Manila while studying fine arts at the Technological University of the Philippines. Some of his earlier inspirations included Mark Salvatus, Egg Fiasco, Alien, Pilipinas Street Plan, and Dex Fernandez, the artist behind Garapata and with whom Karayom would later apprentice. As a graffiti artist, he describes his past work as being completely different from what we’re familiar with now, having used more colors and making more traditionally eye-catching images to beautify eyesores. “Dati nagdudoodle-doodle lang ako, hindi ko pa alam kung paano magkwento.”
It was during his time as a graphic designer for a company in Makati that Karayom discovered his fascination with the color red. While bored at the office one day, he decided to doodle using the supplies there, finding a red ballpen in the process. It was from there that he decided to experiment using the color and see where he could take it, finding deeper meaning in it as he went along.
“Nung nakita ko siya, na-in love ako sa kulay niya,” Karayom shares. “Parang unang beses mo na magkacrush. Parang ganun yung pakiramdam ko, na hindi mo pwede siyang hindi makita. Pula is love, passion, and anger.”
But red isn’t just limited to being Karayom’s favorite color. Art is often understood as an extension of the artist’s inner workings and turmoils, but for Karayom, his art is equally a physical extension of himself as well.
“Sa imagination ko, nag ii-stem siya mula sa ugat ko. Tapos doon dumadaloy ang dugo. Pakiramdam ko ay wala akong ballpen, pero yung kamay ko yung lumilikha ng lines. Tinuturing ko ang lahat ng artwork ko bilang parte ng katawan ko.“
In the way that Karayom describes his artistic process and even just from looking at his body of works, it’s evident how much horror movies didn’t just influence his art, but his life and mindset, too.
“Parang, nung high school ako, hindi ako kaagad nakapag enroll. Nagtatanong ako kung ano na ang mangyayari sa buhay ko,” he explains. “Habang nangyayari yun, nanonood ako ng mga horror movies. Parang imbis na magalit ako sa paligid parang lahat ng frustrations at galit sa paligid ko napunta sa mga DVD na 55-in-1 na horror. Hindi ko alam na naaabsorb ko na pala ang elements na meron doon sa horror, hanggang sa natutunan ko kung paano ilabas sa mga artwork ko, unang-una sa pag drawing ng mga dugo-dugo, or mga lamanloob, hanggang sa naging 2D at 3D, tapos napaghalo ko na.”
Karayom’s works are gruesome in nature, heavily inspired by films like Cannibal Holocaust, the Saw Franchise, and Asian horror and folktales. However, Karayom doesn’t see these films as scary or disgusting. Rather, he sees how they can tackle mundane problems we encounter every day and purge emotions like anger, frustration, and sadness through storytelling. Beneath the grisly visuals, this aspect in horror is something that Karayom took to heart, incorporating and exploring it in his own works.
While drawing and painting are his roots in art, sculpting is another extension of Karayom, both emotionally and physically. “Sa sculptures, parang ako yung nanganganak,” he says. “Iba pa ang labor nun–iba pala ang disiplina niya.” But his most recent sculpture, rather than being a commentary on society on the larger scale as his previous works have done, shows just how cathartic his art is for him, and just how much of himself can be found in his work.
Debuting at Alt Philippines last February, Puting Binhi, Pulang Lupa is one of Karayom’s most personal works. The strikingly white sculpture with three heads and human eyes is a literal reflection of Karayom himself and helped him in overcoming a bout of depression.
“Kinast ko yung sarili ko. Yung piyesa kasi na ito, medyo frustrated ako na ewan nung ginagawa ko siya. Tipong, hindi mo alam kung bakit ka malungkot. Siguro ilang weeks akong nagkakaganoon–na parang, okay naman ang paligid, pero hindi ko alam kung bakit ako malungkot. After, niyakap ko yung artwork ko, at sinabi ko, ‘Sige na, tanggalin mo na yung bigat, kasi hindi ako sanay na ganito yung pakiramdam ko.’ Ganun pala talaga, na tatama sa iyo ang ganitong mga pakiramdam. Hindi ako makagawa ng maayos pero ginagawa ko siya. After niyakap ko siya, kinausap ko talaga ang sarili ko.”
The moniker, Doktor Karayom, isn’t just a reflection of an affinity for horror and the human anatomy, but also serves as an alter ego to Russel Trinidad. “Sobrang mahiyain na ewan si Russel. Normal,” Karayom says. “Kaya ko kinreate si Karayom. Kung nag doktor mode ako, napakatapang ko at ng isipan ko.”
“Pakiramdam ko kapag may alter ego ka, doon mo mailalabas ang tunay na ikaw.”
Karayom’s most recent venture also involves a new alter ego: Grade 3, a collective of children from another universe that create comics, an ode to Karayom’s inner child from the 90s and a look into the realities faced by children today.
On his future, Karayom looks forward to possibilities and challenges opened for him to explore, like bringing his work to a wider audience abroad. “Paano ako makikipagstorytelling sa kanila? Paano magdadaldal ng ibang lahi? Paano ako magkukuwento galing sa atin?”
He also wishes to one day open an artists colony as a means to thank those that have supported him and to support other up-and-coming artists. “Pakiramdam ko dati kasi, wala akong lugar o maliit lang lugar ko. Gusto kong gumawa ng lugar na susuportahan ang ibang mga gustong gumawa,” Karayom shares. “Bayad lang sila ng kung ano ang gusto nilang ibayad. Iba ang pakiramdam na marami kayo sa isang lugar–nagbabatuhan kayo ng ideas at energy. Kasi kung mag-isa ka lang, wala kang ginagawa. Pero kung may mga kasama ka, gagalaw at gagalaw ka. May tulungan. Artist’s haven.”
Karayom also continues to be grateful and humbled by the amount of recognition and support his art has received.
“Kung sino ako sa umpisa, ganun pa rin ako. Pakiramdam ko nga minsan parang salimpusa ako. Hindi siya nag sisink-in sa akin. Nakaktuwang may nakatulong sa iyo, at nakakatuwang may matulungan ka rin gamit yung art mo. Hanapin mo lang kung ano sa tingin mong magpapasaya sa iyo, kasi hindi ka mapapagod kung mahal mo talaga yun.”
Photos by Pat Kay Laudencia