A Whoa Moment

Landscapes of the Mind, oil on canvas, by Janos Dela Cruz

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.

My lovely wife Ina with Janos Dela Cruz's Landscapes of the Mind

My lovely wife Ina with Janos Delacruz’s Landscapes of the Mind, taken in our home.

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.

Detail from Landscapes of the Mind

Detail from Landscapes of the Mind

Detail from Landscapes of the Mind

Detail from Landscapes of the Mind

janos detail3 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.

Watercolor by Janos Dela Cruz

Nuno sa Punso, Watercolor, 21 ” x 14″ (Note:  All photos following are sourced from http://www.190gallery.com/artists.php?profile=30)

Watercolor by Janos Dela Cruz

Muni Muni, Watercolor, 19″ x 19″

Watercolor by Janos Dela Cruz

Pilak sa Langit, Watercolor, 19″ x 19″

Hari ng Kamaynilaan, Watercolor, 23" x 22"

Hari ng Kamaynilaan, Lithograph, 23″ x 22″

Bulong sa Panaginip, Lithograph,  23" x 18"

Bulong sa Panaginip, Lithograph, 23″ x 18″

Crossroad, Lithograph, 20" x 25"

Crossroad, Lithograph, 20″ x 25″

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”.


Why I Love Art

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.

The Sketch by Victorio Edades (1928) Oil on canvas, 96 x 117 cm. Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorio_C._Edades

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.

Dog Fight by Ang Kiukok (1982). Oil on canvas, 35″ x 35″. Photo from http://www.ateneoalumniassociation.org/?p=1896

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.

Itak sa Puso ni Mang Juan by Antipas Delotavo (1977). Photo from http://bjanepr.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/antipasdelotavo-itaksapusonimangjua.jpg

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.