Starweek Magazine

Revealing De Guzman

Michele T. Logarta - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The images are magical. A dark and swarthy man, a shaman perhaps, holds an open jar filled with fireflies that become stars in the sky in a painting called Pakulba.

In another work named Mang-kek, the glimmering night sky is swirling with birds in flight and men below on mountain tops reach out to catch them with nets strung on bamboo poles. 

Then there are the lyrical, calm and expansive scapes – of land, forests and seas – of places the painter had traveled to and lived in and made his home. 

There are many quiet interiors of old houses and antique churches and pensive and telling portraits of others and the self.

And of course, there are the huge murals, angry with skull faces, distorted bodies, splotched with red, black and gray.

These paintings represent a lifetime of works by artist Jaime de Guzman, whose retrospective exhibit – at the CCP Main Gallery until April 26 – spans a career that began in the 1960s.

To those too young to know, Jaime de Guzman is a name to reckon with.

He is one of the first batch of CCP Thirteen Artists (1970) and was first known for his brand of Expressionism, which has been described by writer Krip Yuson as “a very dark one.”

His contribution to Philippine art, cultural and art historians have written, is “his daring introduction of the distortion of the human figure as a projection of harsh and painted contemporary reality. He burst into the art scene with his apocalyptic paintings exposing body, innards and spirit done in feverish strokes and emotive colors. The anatomy of his figures – sharp, skeletal; the psychology – tortured, absorbed. He bared himself in all sense of the word, painting as if he was looking introspectively for himself, his mythology and his identity. 

“He was a true Expressionist; his exaggeration and distortion of form channelled the anxieties of modern man. His two acclaimed large murals, Metamorphosis and Gomburza, catapulted him into the realm of the cultish, infused where his emotive power-packed expressions were coming from.”

De Guzman, who turned 73 on March 4, the day his exhibit at the CCP opened, says he isn’t the angry young man he once was.  “I’ve tamed,” he says. “I’ve calmed down. I have no more anger.”

The exhibit is curated by Emily Abrera, a lifelong friend of De Guzman and his family.  Abrera met De Guzman through her late husband Caloy when they were at college at UP Diliman in the 1960s. “We’ve been friends for more than 40 years!” she says, with mock shock. 

Abrera reminisces: “We’d hangout at Jaime’s, often pooling our money to make a shared dinner, and talking about books we were reading at that time. Caloy used to sketch too, but mostly we enjoyed being around that atmosphere of creative energy. Sometimes, we sat for Jaime...Jaime painted nonstop. The place was just filled with canvases everywhere and it smelled of linseed oil and artistic intensity.”

In 1970, Jaime produced his iconic large scale murals Gomburza and the Metamorphosis series. These works are part of the CCP collection and for the retrospective fill up four walls of the CCP Main Gallery.  And for those who are seeing it for the first time, they are a startling and impressive introduction to De Guzman.

De Guzman remembers having worked on the Metamorphosis murals “in a very small space” and finishing them in a month’s time.

It was also in 1970 when he traveled to Mexico and studied mural painting with the revered Mexican muralist painter David Sequeros. It was also there that he met his wife Anne Polkinghorn.

“I met her there... She was... is a potter.  She was my neighbor, she lived next to the pension house where I stayed. And I saw her. That was a critical junction,” he recalls.

And it was also the first time he saw pottery being made. “I thought it was fascinating.”

De Guzman and Anne made pottery together for a time. They have seven children, all grown up now. “They are all artists in their own way,” De Guzman says.  

Abrera has fond memories of visiting the De Guzmans in all the places they lived. “We remained close friends with the De Guzmans and their growing brood throughout the years. We visited them regularly in Liliw, Baguio, Sagada, Candelaria. Often there at the opening of their kiln after a firing, it was like attending a birthing. They handled each piece with great love and awe, marveled at the colors, ran their fingers of the little imperfections as if they were distinguishing birthmarks.”

De Guzman doesn’t make pottery anymore; it’s hard work, he says. But painting...he has never really stopped. 

Viewers of the exhibit are told: “Jaime de Guzman currently resides in Candelaria. He has been regularly painting again. His work evidencing quite a departure from the somber expressionism and busy surrealism that initially inhabited his canvases more than four decades ago.”

Some of his most recent works are included in the retrospective. There is a pristine waterfall from 2010 and a picture of a lonely cloud hovering over a plain from 2013. 

But always, there is the mountain. 

De Guzman has always lived near or on the mountains. He was born in Liliw, Laguna at the foothills of Banahaw, once lived in Sagada and currently resides in Candelaria, Quezon, also under the shadow of Banahaw.

Yes, he acquiesces, the mountain is his muse.

“I like to be out of the city. I’m close to the mountain. I have friends up there, farmers and people I like to associate with. I love the mountains. It’s just in my backyard. Since childhood, I think I’ve been kind of exposed to the groups there, although I am not a cultist, but I grew up with that kind of mystical environment.”

But, surprisingly, it is not his breathtaking landscapes that de Guzman wishes people to see.

“I would say the interiors. Yes, these ones here” – he points to a wall full of interior scenes he had painted throughout the years – “a series of churches, old houses...they’re mostly gone now. People don’t see that now. This generation at least. It’s our connection with history, with culture that is fading away. That kind of memory is being lost.”

De Guzman says that he wants people who come to his retrospective to see what’s familiar to them. “Like the interiors of houses and how they relate to it. Maybe it would make them think of their own interiors. The idea behind art and painting is to relate.”

There is a painting of the house in Liliw where he was born. Painted in 1969, he wrote: “The room where I was born hasn’t changed much.”

Of De Guzman’s interiors and other works, Abrera has this to say: “Jaime has painted dozens of interiors. It’s always an inward journey, a desire to discover the darkness and lightness within. He captures the mundane and treats it with respect, makes it meaningful. Harbor scenes, a bodega, a procession, the country side.

“But much of his large pieces are a conversation with what’s happening around him at the time he is painting; he explores the mystical, the mythical, he captures some truly magical moments. I think Jaime is among our major contemporary painters but one who has remained somewhat undiscovered by the public. Until now.”

Revelations is the name Abrera gave to this sweeping panorama of de Guzman’s works. 

“I called it Revelations because for one, very few have seen the extent of Jaime’s work or the range of it. He has never really kept track of who has what. So even the gathering of his work was like a treasure hunt; finding all the people who own his paintings is like discovering gold nuggets. You know they’re there but they will reveal themselves as they please. Many of the paintings I had seen before still surprise me. Why? Some are surprising in their harshness or their depth or their grace. They reveal society. They reveal Jaime and they reveal our hidden selves. I think often, Jaime surprises himself too.”

“Revelations:  A Jaime de Guzman Retrospective” runs until April 26 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Roxas Blvd., Manila. Visit the CCP website at www.culturalcenter.gov.ph



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