An artist named Pep
- Juaniyo Arcellana () - February 11, 2002 - 12:00am
In high school she wore the blue-skirted uniform perhaps a bit shorter than usual, as was the fashion of the ’70s, and hung out with friends with names like Peppon and Denden. Who knows if she wasn’t at that time already drawing stuff in her notebook while pretending to listen to the teacher, Mr. Prado or Mrs. Matutina.

In college she, like the rest of us, seemed to have drifted from the batchmates, each of us finding our own niche in fraternities, sororities, religious organizations, with their new friends and disposable obsessions.

Then one afternoon I ran into her along with another old face from the Diliman school, Edwin John, at Junior’s Sari-Sari Store in UP Village. It was possible they were drinking some beer. Edwin remarked how he’d read me in a music magazine, now late but not so lamented.

I’d come across a clipping or news item somewhere that related about her upcoming art show, Pep Manalang was slowly making her way in the Philippine art world, a kind of late bloomer.

Electronic mail then flooded the inboxes of the elementary school’s faithful, about another show of Pep’s that ran in January at West Gallery in Megamall, art for the mall masses in the gallery of Malang.

As an advancer, she had e-mailed batchmates about her show, Drawing Paintings, which could have easily been transposed to "Painting Drawings," and if we cared at all there would be a work raffled off to a lucky hanger-on on opening night.

Not that we didn’t care enough, and the traffic’s no excuse, but we passed up a chance to win a work of Pep Manalang courtesy of Malang, a modest drawing/painting that stands abstract art on its often weary if a bit distracted head.

Opening night or no opening night, we were there days later in broad daylight to peruse the drawing paintings, over a dozen works that have a studied calmness and pastel, non-confrontational colors. Walking into the gallery that day was like straying into an aquarium minus the fishes, just a surfeit of rocks, sand, lines and windows that open into the reflective distance.

We forget now the titles of the works, but one with a blue view sticks with us, as if we were peeking into a patch of sky, or an indecipherable countryside.

In a panel or two Pep chooses to use red, and the effect is like a slow bleed washing over the subtle graphite gray. Other times she uses what could be white graphite, perhaps a stray rock or mineral found in beaches of desire, or some profound shore of remembrance.

Well okay, maybe her art is not meant to be dissected and analyzed in the context of a school of thought or philosophy, because she can always argue that it just is.

What was that quote we learned in high school? She walks in beauty like the night is its own excuse for being. But is the work beautiful? Even Imeldific will admit that art goes beyond beauty, which is only skin deep as your love.

One might detect a tinge of anger in the drawing paintings, but always this is contained and never allowed to spill over the four corners of the canvas.

As it happened, the occasion of Pep Manalang’s show became an impromptu reunion of our elementary and high school classmates, people we hadn’t seen in decades.

You know that old commercial how two former classmates run into each other in the up/down escalator, and how the companion of one reacts by saying the other looked so much younger, such tactlessness can be humorous.

No such tactlessness exists in Pep Manalang’s works, which can go anywhere from P15,000 and above if you’re not lucky in the raffle, but which in its handy size would be a welcome conversation piece above a dining table or even in a library.

Maybe one day we will see her, Pep, again in the up/down escalator in Megamall, handcarrying one of her drawing paintings, or is it painting drawings, and our companion will remark, "What, an artist? In your batch?"

Whatever it is you hope to see is there, whatever it is you never expected to see is there, too.

And Pep, holding a blue notebook filled with doodles and graphics, will no longer be wearing a blue uniform skirt, her married name being Dennis, not the menace.

DRAWING PAINTINGS EDWIN JOHN EVEN IMELDIFIC MALANG MEGAMALL MR. PRADO MRS. MATUTINA PEP PEP MANALANG PEPPON AND DENDEN
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