Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Carlo Tanseco returns to Pac-Man—‘Do I turn left or right?’

'Waka Waka' exhibit triggers a rush of happy nostalgia—dopamine art

Waka Waka: Strawberry Fields - 48 x 36

Carlo Tanseco at work/play

Artist Carlo Tanseco presents yet another series of paintings meant to be a stunning visual journey to nostalgia in his seventh solo exhibit beginning Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, at J Studio Gallery. The show is doubly significant as it is also the gallery’s 10th anniversary offering.

Aptly called Waka Waka, the series features acrylic-on-canvas works depicting Tanseco’s take on the legendary world of the video game Pac-Man, a beloved icon to a generation. In what has become his signature painting style, Tanseco meticulously detailed the all-too-familiar maze and super-imposed hyperrealistic images that are closely linked to the game’s different spell-binding levels and origins.

“Waka Waka: Still Life 2”

Tanseco’s art is noted for its ability to transport the viewer to another world. In Waka Waka, each painting becomes a portal to the past-—the iconic image of the insatiable yellow circle gleefully chomping its way through a maze of ghostly adversaries and vivid rewards. Tanseco’s series invites the viewer to relive the thrill of one’s gaming youth, marked by countless hours chasing after high scores. It revives the lure of the classic arcade (or home console!) game.

Tanseco himself is overcome with nostalgia for his youth while at work on a painting, filled with the joy of abandon and losing track of time exploring different worlds. “I grew up playing and loving this game, its characters, its challenges, elements, and even the back story of this arcade favorite,” he says.

Since he mounted one-man exhibits in recent years, Tanseco has mined Philippine history and pop culture, bringing the viewers to the era of magical realism novels, and even robots, and now the early generation of computer games.

“Waka Waka: Adam and Eve (The First Fruit)”

Creating intricate and elaborate designs with a paintbrush to serve as backdrop is no easy task, especially in today’s copy-paste digital age, but it’s a phase in Tanseco’s painting process that he enjoys. “It has a Zen effect on me,” says the artist who has been known as a perfectionist.

Like his past works, the repetitive pattern in each canvas in this set is as much of an eye-drawer as the finely detailed superimposed images. Tanseco explains, ”The main element of the game is the maze. I have always been drawn to the form of the maze and labyrinth, often drawing them as a kid. I think it’s because of the thrill and sense of adventure they represent, for their structure, and in this case, their graphic nature. I like the idea of the quest that comes with the stories of mazes in historical myths. I also liked that it symbolized that the choices you make, as simple as ‘Do I turn left or right?’ can spell your success or failure. Just like the maze which is life.”

He adds, “Another element of the game that is iconic to me are the fruits that the player, as Pac-Man, must eat for extra points. For me, they were irresistible. I have chosen fruits as one of the main elements to highlight in these works. So, most of my paintings show a re-interpretation of the game’s maze and various fruits as goals.”

The hyper-realistic images depict the parallelism which Tanseco has drawn between the game’s various elements, as in life. Other pieces pay homage to the history of the game’s creation. Tanseco associates the game’s memorable aspects with familiar real-life figures. IYKYK, as they say—lovers of the game would get it at the very least, but even more interestingly, these captivate and prod one into a unique explanation or even spark a debate.

“Waka Waka: Aphrodite”

Just like the sold-out paintings and installations of his past shows, the artworks in Waka Waka don’t stop at being depictions of a pop culture icon; they tap into the very essence of nostalgia.

Scientific research has revealed that seeing an image, especially one that evokes positive emotions, triggers a rush of the happy hormone dopamine—almost a necessity during the time of lockdowns. The need to fill one’s personal spaces with pieces that resonate with one’s emotions, that spark happy recollection, or as trend forecasters put it, “reclaim the jolt of jubilation once felt in possessing so much unabashed freedom,” has become more than a passing phase.

As dopamine fashion and decor have found a captivating niche in the world of art, Tanseco’s paintings have become windows to the past, evoking feelings of happiness and yearning for that time when joy meant hours of chasing after rewards, when Pac-Man was king of the arcades, and chasing after ghosts and gobbling pellets was the ultimate source of enjoyment.

“Waka Waka: Crossword Maze”

“In creating and completing the 17 Waka Waka paintings and nine sculptural objets d’art, I relived the many years of my life I frequented the video arcades in Greenhills and Makati, particularly playing Pac-Man, and even more particularly the moments when the fruit which corresponded to bonuses appeared. These moments were fleeting, and I had a second to gobble each bonus up before it disappeared—sometimes at the risk of losing a life. I guess this attraction to acquiring this fruit before it disappears reveals a side of me that seizes the moments or the opportunities life offers despite some possible risks. This collection brought me back to happy times when, at the cost of a peso coin, you are transported into an 8-bit universe (not yet metaverse) where you lose yourself in the thrill of an adventure before you go home and do your homework,” Tanseco recalls.

He muses, “That’s what Pac-Man meant to me then and now, in retrospect. What did it mean to you?”

Waka Waka opens October 15 and will be open for public viewing starting October 17 at J Studio Gallery in Pasillo 18, La Fuerza Gate 1 Compound, 2241 Chino Roces, Makati. Waka Waka will feature 17 acrylic on canvas paintings in 48” x 36”, 40” x 33”, 36” x 30”, 27” x 32” sizes and 9 sculptural objet d’art.

The exhibit will run until Nov. 4, 2023.

For more information, see @carlotanseco_art on Instagram, or email Mitzi Duque Ruiz <[email protected]>, call/text: tel. no.  (+63917) 422-9291.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Sign up for’s Weekly Digest and get the best of, tailored for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *