I love art. I love paintings. I love sculpture. Photographs and prints, too. I love many things about art: splashes of color or shadows of darkness, brushwork, passion, pathos, humor. An artist’s ideas and concepts, the snapshots in his mind’s eye, these I love. I’m neither an art critic nor a historian, not a dealer but – to use a rather by now predictable description – an art lover.
My first memory of art was of seeing my aunt, a summa cum laude fine arts graduate of UST, painting a still life. Painstakingly, she recreated a scene of flowers and fruit where there had only been white canvas. How she created shadow and the effect of depth with a dab of this or that color intrigued me. She had completely transposed the objects on the table before her onto a flat surface without making them lose their fullness, indeed, making them even more alive.
Another early memory of art was when the National Artist Victorio Edades gifted my mother with a life-size portrait of her. I remember clearly when it was delivered to the house as a commotion ensued. Since the gift was a surprise about which she had no idea she did not leave word with the household help of its delivery. She had ad nauseam hammered it into them that strangers were not to be let in the house in her absence. One afternoon, the painting arrived borne by two men, its front and back boarded-up with plywood. They insisted that they had strict instructions to see the contents of the boarded-up item into the house and onto a wall, while the help was adamant that she had strict instructions not to let anyone in. A shouting match ensued with both parties arguing over whose instructions were stricter. The men left in a huff, leaving the painting on the street just outside of the gate, waiting for my mother to arrive. It eventually found its way on the wall of our house and, two house moves later, still occupies pride of place.
My fascination with and greater curiosity about art was piqued in my college years at the Ateneo de Manila in the late 1980s. I would study in the university’s art gallery which was located under the Rizal Library. I liked studying there at first because it was the coldest part of the university with large airconditioners operating at full blast to protect the museum’s valuable collection. And what a collection! On display were large-scale Fernando Zobels, canvases by Ang Kiukok, Arturo Luz, Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, to name a few. The quality of the work on display could only have been produced by these artists during their best and most creative years (When in Madrid once I spent an hour tracking down a Zobel in the Museo del Reina Sofia – and was disappointed that it was nowhere near as impressive as those displayed in the Ateneo. Arturo Luz’s works from the 1960s display an eagerness to experiment with linearity and subject matter, which I can’t say of his present works that seem to be coming off an assembly line. Aguilar Alcuaz’s exuberance gave way in the late eighties to polite scenes of high class ladies gathered in upscale surroundings. Very boring.) Eventually, I found myself pleasantly distracted by the artwork. Staring at them gave me a break from staring at my books. Soon enough, they drew me in.
The painting that struck me most, and which to this day I vividly remember, was a wall-size work by Antipas Delotavo who, like Edades, is a social realist. It is a close-up of a laborer in kamiseta marching in a demonstration, his face and shoulder muscles painted in heavy-handed brushstrokes which emphasized his desperate lot. Notwithstanding the coolness of the room, the painting’s harsh yellow and brown tones reflected the heat of the sun beating against the subject’s perspiring Malay skin. You could almost smell him – amoy araw. It is a powerful picture of a person of small consequence who is angry yet patient, frustrated but determined, at times alternatively resolute and uncertain. This painting was to shape my preference for art: bold, not timid; uncomfortable, not familiar; exuberant or forceful, not necessarily pretty, but not necessarily angry either.
These days I’m able to indulge my passion, not just because I’m fortunate enough to be able to set aside a modest budget for it, but also because the new breed of Filipino artist is continuously pushing new ideas and concepts beyond the limits of his or her canvases. And that is what makes me love art all the more.