Storms a-brewing in her eyes
ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan (The Philippine Star) - August 6, 2012 - 12:00am

Like a Tim Burton claymation fairy tale, or a bedtime story by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Dave McKean, it goes like this:

Her mother dies of cancer. Her father, who couldn’t handle the despair, takes his own life (days before his wife succumbs to the illness). A little girl is left an orphan. She will leave her home in New Jersey, be taken in by relatives in Manila, and begin a sad, sad chapter in her life. But in the future, art, love and rock n’ roll will save her  like a deus ex machina coming down from the rafters. But for now she remembers that little 10-year-old girl who just lost her parents, sketching feverishly in a corner  shapes, stories, spaces  all dark expressive eyes and sadness without a name. She draws a little girl with bangs who lives inside a star that she has sewn together. She has an alien for a friend. Now, the young woman holds exhibitions in galleries, plays gigs at SaGuijo and B-Side, earns a living as a tattoo artist, her image appearing on billboards in our unlovely metropolis, but once upon a time Sarah Gaugler was that little girl.

When Sarah shares her sad, sad childhood you’d think it is too Tim Burton-like to be true. (Cast Helena Bonham-Carter as someone in the flick, ask Danny Elfman to write the musical score, call Johnny.) But you know why it is better than a fairy tale? Because it’s all too real.

“My mom, when she was alive, used to nourish me with art,” Sarah recalls. “She bought me sketch pads and art materials. I knew how to draw  even before I learned how to write words.”

Sarah drew on her Barbie dolls as if applying makeup. “I have a box of scary Barbies  gupit-gupit ‘yung buhok at sira-sira yung mukha (laughs).” She drew elevator buttons on the side of the bunk bed she shared with her brother. Before she went to sleep, she pressed on the button so that she would dream she was either a mermaid or a girl who flies. She even drew on the inside panels of her cabinet, armed with a flashlight. 

Sarah Gaugler hasn’t stopped drawing since.

She presents her latest works in her second solo exhibition titled “Condemnant Quod Non Intellegunt,” which opens tomorrow, 6 p.m., at The Crucible Gallery, fourth floor, SM Megamall A, Mandaluyong City. The title of the exhibition translated from Latin means: “They condemn what they do not understand.”

“Compos Mentis” by Sarah Gaugler

Featured are the artist’s interpretations of Christian iconography. She explains, “In spite of its complexity and the manner it has transferred itself into human interpretation, it still succeeds in its original intent to orate the belief that humans were created out of the love of God, and that our purpose is to love one another.”

She adds, “Religious icons have been the medium by which humans connect with God and the concept of holiness. Though these icons have encountered opposition in many forms, like iconoclasm, they have still managed to thrive in modern times. Some are so quick to pass judgment and vandalize these symbols and images without compassion or understanding. I feel that these images should not be abandoned, but celebrated.”

Religious imagery in old houses or old churches, Sarah says, can be appreciated for their sheer beauty alone without the centuries of religious or cultural baggage that comes with it. “(These are) beautiful images that have lasted through the ages.”

Tattoo hue

Sarah recalls how she started as a tattoo artist.

“Before, konti pa lang ‘yung female tattoo artists. Unlike now na everyone is a tattoo artist  buy a machine and you’re a tattoo artist. Self-taught lang ako, so ang hirap noon.”

It all began when Paolo Peralta (her guitarist-boyfriend and Sarah’s co-conspirator in Turbo Goth) told her he wanted to have Sarah’s drawings tattooed on his body, and her friends encouraged her to try her hand at tattooing. “That was the epiphany. When I did my first tattoo, I was sweating and was really nervous, but when I made my first line I realized that was what I wanted to do (for the rest of my life).”

Sarah has 15 tats herself. Four of them are the most meaningful: Paolo’s name (her first tattoo, Sarah remembers the pain); a tattoo that represents her mom; a tattoo of a bird on her ribcage (a symbol of her brother); and a Latin line  Fiat voluntas tua  that means “Thy will be done” on her wrist. A sign of religiosity, perhaps?

Two against the world: Sarah Gaugler (on lead vocals) and Paolo Peralta (on guitar, electronic sampler) perform at SaGuijo. Photo by MONG PINTOLO

She says she used to draw monsters when she was younger. Her colors were shades of deep blues and grays  “dark and lonely” colors. Now her palette is much, much brighter. Her images, more positive.

“I want to inspire people,” she says. “(I want to tell kids that) if kaya nila gumawa ng bilog, kaya na nila mag-drawing.”

Does she ever want to revisit the black fairy-tale period of her life in a painting or an exhibition?

“One day I will do it,” Sarah Gaugler admits. “That was what made me  me.”

Does she have a message for that sad little girl with bangs inside a self-sewn star?

“My advice to that little girl who lost her parents is this,” concludes Sara, quoting Dr. Seuss. ‘You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the (one) who’ll decide where to go.’”

And by Jove, little girl, you can draw.

* * *

Sarah Gaugler’s exhibition  presented by the Pocket Universe Art Collective (PUAC) and The Crucible  is on view until Aug. 19 at The Crucible. For information, call 635-6061 or 0929-8424055.

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