Amorsolo-ing deaths via group hug

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2013 - 12:00am

Sometime in the ’60s, when Jai Alai on Taft became my one true religion for a devotional phase, an unfortunate outing with then best buddy Monet Serrano of San Juan found us grinning sheepishly as we filed out of the art deco “church” past midnight. We had lost our tuition money for UP Diliman.

The next morning found us enrolling at the College of Music and Fine Arts of Philippine Women’s University. I kid you not. It took only a few pesos. We’d still be occupied academically for that semester. And we could prove to our respective fathers that we were still in school.

Besides, Monet had real talent. He has since passed away, rather early. But if he had seriously pursued a painting career,  many other supportive friends would have agreed that he could have “made it” to our ever-burgeoning pantheon of Pinoy visual artists.

As for myself, I just went along for the bohemian ride at PWU-CFMA, so to speak. What do I know about drawing hands? I could only appreciate hands that could. When Prof. Mariano Madarang assigned us to a still life drawing session, I couldn’t concentrate on the fruits on the table, instead wound up fascinated with the majestic profile of a Bayanihan dancer seated a little ways from me. And doing an awkward sketch of her.

She will remain unnamed. We became friends much later, but she married a fellow with the same surname as mine. She’s edited a wonderful book for kids and adults alike, and still heads an important museum on Roxas Blvd. Right beside the US Embassy, if you want a cincher of a clue, ha-ha.

Oh, there were characters galore in that environment. Resty Embuscado became an important artist. So did, to some degree, the Bicolano painter Rene Castillo, with whom I spent a woodcarving week in Sagada in 1964. And Monet and I both profited from friendship with one Virgilio “Pandy” Aviado, who shared his Bob Dylan collection at his Philam Homes studio. We explored Ignatian laughter and existential wisdom while engaging spiritually and spiritedly with THC.

Pandy has become a great artist, undeservedly underrated away from the circles of his fellow professionals who know and admire his worth. I have a multi-media triptych by him, which I’m still longing to get back from an old domicile where it’s being held against its will. But I’ve also kept some of his sketches  erotic, phantasmagoric, redolent of wit and sexy detail.

I feel privileged to have made many artist-friends, and not just because they’re a great help in decorating all the walls in multiple/serial abodes. It may not be billed as a priceless collection, but it’s certainly invaluable for me, since the gifts and/or cheap buys have friendship for a foundation.

Sans any Amorsolo, but I do have a Nune Alvarado, a John Altomonte, the Aviados, and three terrific paintings by Abelador, Awee (a young Batanes surrealist artist who will go many places).

To add, the artists whose works I daily revere include Jaime de Guzman (a rare female nude oil portrait), Danny Dalena (prints), Cesare A. X. Syjuco, Maxine Syjuco, Camille dela Rosa (several oils), Margot Marfori of Davao City, Ed Aragon of Sydney, Bert Monterona (a large tapestry sent in from Vancouver), Cid Reyes, Erlinda Panlilio, Agnes Arellano (bas relief), Eric Villegas (also a bas relief), Salvador “Dodong” Arellano of Los Angeles, Cirilo Bautista, Igan D’Bayan, Jose Legaspi, Santi Bose (several prints and illustrations), Tita Lacambra Ayala, Lito Aro and Muffet Villegas of Dumaguete, Iya Fernandez of Paris, Carlos “Dennis” Filart, Nonoy Marcelo and Rock Drilon (both with sketches of me), and Jobe Nkemakolam (yes, the former Ateneo basketball player, who paints exceedingly well, as does his wife Adie)…  I may miss out on a few.

And I expect the return soon of a BenCab print, together with glass trophies by Mon Orlina and oil paintings by the late lamented Ibarra dela Rosa and David Fowler of Sagada, a watercolor by Ernesto Carratala of Barcelona, and an early Cesare Syjuco. Pity that several more will still be held away, for now: prints by Ofelia Gelvezon Tequi and Hilario Francia, watercolors by June Poticar Dalisay, oils by David Cortes Medalla, Tony Perez and Jaime An Lim, plus several others I forget now.

Framed photographs, digital art, and nude sketches include works by Eduardo Masferre, Jaime Zobel, Lita Puyat, Nap Jamir, Boy Yñiguez, Melissa “Mimi” Nolledo, Vics Magsaysay, Jun-Jun Sta. Ana, Mario Mercado, (the last four all in the US), Gus Albor, Peque Gallaga, Vince Pozon, the poet Reuel Aguila, Monching de la Cruz, and then some.


The bohemian rhapsody of the ’60s, ’70s and so on may be said to be fairly manifested in these souvenirs of the decades of camaraderie. And to each, I’m emotionally attached. Such that when Nune Alvarado announces by SMS that he’s set for a show at Oarhouse in Ermita later this month, the thrill is more than vicarious. I will be there, toasting to his art and our friendship. 

Early last month, I failed to find time to attend the opening of Igan D’Bayan’s “Recent Works” at Crucible Gallery in SM MegaMall’s Art Walk. I was so dyahe to my buddy. Then I stumbled on a thread on dear Sylvia Mayuga’s FB Wall, an incipient debate on the merits of Igan’s works.

Without being privileged by any friendship with Igan, whom she has yet to meet, Sylvia defended him against someone’s statement that he still has “to feel the gloom of D’Bayan.” To Sylvia’s assertion that Igan “is another genius,” the doubter contended that Igan’s “macabre” works “seem inspired indeed but on level one…” To which the defender replied: “Igan has his own frequency  he’s sardonic. You’re applying your own criteria to a different self-expression. There should be room for all.” Trust a Libran. 

Remigio David piped in: “D’Bayan indeed has some of the most intriguing and interesting imagery among Pinoy contemporary artists. Hats off talaga ako.”

Far be it from me to wade into any polemics on art, religion, sexuality and witchcraft. Bemusement seems to be the comfortable harbor of grace.

But since I’ve caught up with Igan’s new works, if belatedly, I can now dare to say that his take on Fernando Amorsolo (whose son Delfin is another buddy of mine, albeit that’s neither here nor there), is simply… okay, forgive the reversion to futuristic teenager-hood…  AWESOME.

This is evident in the landmark works “Death by Amorsolo” and “Death by Amorsolo II”  whose quality of meritorious homage to a byword in Philippine art not only surpasses the challenge of the conceptual ambition, but yes, transcends the sheer universality of art for and by fellow artists.

Indeed, the master’s familiar motifs have turned macabre, and masterfully so, with lavanderas and rice planters themselves paying homage to a medieval glow that is also timeless magic hour. It is the hour of mythological sunset that could also be mythic sunrise.

In “… Amorsolo II,” the carabao is joined in the frame by mutant creatures not so much of the underworld or any sci-fi realm, but the very Mordor of the murderous imaginings. In “… Amorsolo,” a distinct white unicorn appears by the edge of a forest howling with dim phantasmagoria, while a sea creature with a human arm seems to have been gutted in the foreground.

All of these myriad elements are of course a far cry from Amorsolo’s singular order in his pastoral landscapes. The solo love has been expanded or evolved into a group hug involving a Motherland that’s not necessarily of the dark side, but of a dream state in limbo  one replete with futuristic limbo-rock wanna-be contestants.

“Art is scary. It should remind you of your mortality.” Thus has my buddy Igan D’Bayan ir-rationalized his distinctive oeuvres that also spell sui generis. To hell with allegories. To purgatory with the ark of covenant with ordinariness. The earthy and earthly both become unearthly. The imagistic dissonance is created from all the contrapuntal rhythms of the contemporary world, where the limbo bar is both constantly lowered and raised at the very same minute.

I once asked Igan why he prefers oil to acrylic. He said it was because he found oil colors to be organic, and that it takes a whole lot of patience in waiting for layers to dry, so that it becomes a form of penitence.

“You like going through that penitence?” I pressed on.

His reply: “Yes. Penitence for all the horrors I unleash.”

Well, who lets the dogs out when there’s a limbo rock contest? Igan does.

Of our current rock idols in the art scene, I admire Ronald Ventura, Marcel Antonio, Liv Vinluan, Camille dela Rosa, many others. Including Igan D’Bayan. They all let the dogs of the imagination wander about and howl no end. As penitence, as a kind of individualistic penmanship that stamps a personal mark in whichever genre.

There’s so much to marvel at and be proud of in Filipino art  maybe because it never lets sleeping dogs lie.


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