Walking along the row of art galleries on Megamall’s fourth floor I resolutely looked straight ahead and avoided so much as glancing into any of their windows, fearing that my resolve to not buy even just one painting would crumble. I hadn’t figured on my wife though who, as we passed one particular gallery, stopped in her tracks mesmerized by a painting that took up its main wall. She was like one of those hapless Greeks who were turned to stone simply by gazing at Medusa, the goddess chick with reptilian dreadlocks. Breaking my fast, I followed her gaze and was struck by the painting. On a generously-sized canvas and painted in a wild assortment of colors, an entire city block (yes, an entire city block!) sprung from the musculature of a man’s head. Before you could say “buy me” we were in there coveting the piece which had been made by a young artist named Janos Delacruz.
Okay, so the clouds didn’t open up and a booming voice tell me to take the painting home, but something did speak to me (us, as my wife now reminds me that she heard the voice, too). During epiphanies such as these I forget to tread carefully as I tend to break at least a couple of rules about buying artwork. The first is to avoid having your tongue dangle from the side of your mouth like an idiot. The second is to never deal with the salesperson but talk only with the gallery owner. Well, I closed the deal with the salesperson. I always say that a successful negotiation is one where neither of the parties comes away being too happy and I had the uncomfortable feeling that the salesperson was pleased as punch. No matter, it was a good price.
Delacruz is a traveller of sorts within various media of the visual arts. According to his bio he is a painter, etcher, and printer, having exhibited in the Philippines and abroad. His body of work tells me that while he is at home in all of these creative capacities he is not too comfortable as to be complacent with each one. If this signals an artist that has yet to settle on his style and voice, then he’s got an exciting journey of discovery ahead. He explores the what-if side of things, like what if Hannibal Lecter opened up your head and a city popped out of it. While his paintings of cities-for-brains and carnival goers tend to the bizarrely humorous his watercolors are more dreamlike in execution. His lithographic prints, on the other hand, convey the confusion of life in a mega city such as Metro Manila, and the resulting madness that can creep in by just trying to cope with its daily offerings of traffic jams, cheek-to-jowl slums in the shadows of brand new high-rises, and more “interesting” inhabitants.
What draws me to Delacruz’s work? It teems with activity and motion, creating his vision of life in a disordered but magical world. And that is what art should be: not just colorful pictures to prettify a room (although that’s a bonus, especially with the colorful piece that we acquired), but the artist conveying his sentiments and consciousness though his craft. In short, it must speak to the viewer. Postscript: my wife brought home a painting recently by a relatively well-known artist. It’s a pretty piece done up in blues and greens, with wiggly lines that go this way and that. She asked me how I liked it. I looked at it. Then looked at it again. I closed my eyes in concentration. I opened them and declared, “It didn’t speak to me”.