CURATOR’S NOTES: Deanna Ongpin – Recto
It feels like a lifetime ago, but it has actually been only two years when I first broached the idea to Marivic Rufino of her having a show of her works for a program of art exhibitions I was promoting at the time. She readily agreed, but proposed that she team up with another artist, Susan Fetalvero Roces, for a joint show. From there, the idea quickly morphed into a group exhibition of five women artists. We invited Rosario Bitanga, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, and Lenore RS Lim to join the group. Soon, we were excitedly meeting over lunch to discuss the concept and to decide on the title and date of the show. Well aware of the diversity of their art and not wanting to put constraints on their creativity by imposing a specific theme, I suggested calling the show Appassionata simply to reflect their lifelong passionate commitment to art.As fate would have it, unforeseen circumstances arose to put the show on hold until a more felicitous time and place were found. The intervening period, far from dampening the artists’ enthusiasm, only served to stimulate their creative imagination, as seen in the exciting new works they produced for Appassionata, which art critic Cid Reyes describes as a “tempest of creation”.
It has indeed been a delight working with these “appassionartists”!
EXHIBITION NOTES: Cid Reyes
Regarded as “the most tempestuous” piano work by Ludwig Van Beethoven is his Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Opus 57, which is popularly known as the Appassionata. The word is Italian for “passionate.”
Five artists also chose Appassionata as the title of their group exhibition. All ardent and brimming with passion for life and art are ROSARIO BITANGA, IMELDA CAJIPE-ENDAYA, LENORE RS LIM, SUSAN FETALVERO ROCES and MARIVIC RUFINO.
To be sure, the show is more than just female bonding, but a coming together of diverse talents and temperaments united by an impassioned, lifetime commitment to their artistry.
Appassionata is their own tempest of creation.
The late art chronicler and pioneer publisher of Philippine coffee table art books, Manuel Duldulao, did once make a well-reasoned claim that the first Filipino woman abstractionist was Rosario Bitanga, and not who you had in mind. In retrospect, that claim may sound like trivia now, but it still carries as much import as it did then. Six decades hence, Bitanga’s sustained art making continues to bring forth exquisite artworks that affirm her standing as a gentle force in Philippine abstraction.
“City Lights” sparkles in contrast with Bitanga’s landmark abstract action painting titled “Coda”. More genteel in design, less agitated, the work retains the artist-sculptor’s clarity of composition, with a serene sense of spirit and deep nuances of space.
Like National Artists Arturo Luz and J. ELizalde Navarro, Bitanga is one of the rare few who are adept at both painting and sculpture, enriching the vision of one with the other, not in a gratuitous manner, but with passionate fealty, attending to both with equal seriousness. Her sculptures are exemplars of “drawing in space”, not in the linear mode, to be sure, but planar, as evinced by her gleaming sheets of stainless steel, as though liberated from the flatness of the canvas.
In her sculptures, Bitanga’s handling of materials – the favored terra cotta, resin bases, and stainless steel – is emblematic of her refined and exquisite eye for expressive design. “Nurture” is a variant of the family triad theme, brought to an elegant elongation of proportions. A work in stainless steel, “Dewdrop,” is a finely shaped metal sheet configured to suggest a leaf. A gleaming glass orb is an object-distillation of dew. “Tesseract” is the visual analogue of the fourth dimension – the time-space continuum.
But whether in painting or sculpture, Bitanga adheres to the same qualities she has always upheld: “discipline, control in emotion and composition; order, neatness, serenity.” Lyd Arguilla Salas, founder of the historic Philippine Art Gallery (PAG) extolled Bitanga as “a first rate artist!”
Bitanga’s long creative career can be attributed to her full commitment to her art. Indeed, the book that traces her life and works is titled “Living for Art.”
IMELDA CAJIPE – ENDAYA
Feminism in the arts has been, by turns, a revolution and a subject for re-evaluation. Now troubled by being regarded as “out of fashion in contemporary art”, as reported in the London daily The Guardian, feminism, nonetheless, is an artistic doctrine “one of the major contemporary sociological theories, which analyzes the status of woman in society– It is most concerned with giving a voice to women and highlighting the various ways women have contributed to society.”
In Philippine contemporary art, the name Imelda Cajipe-Endaya is at the forefront of feminism. Wrote eminent critic Alice Guillermo: “She has focused on the plight of the Filipina in her various contemporary roles in a feminism that is articulated with the quest for national liberation… Most remarkable is her use of indigenous materials and folk symbolic elements to convey local textures and colors along with their rich social and historical connotations.”
Cajipe-Endaya first gained recognition as a printmaker. Her most notable series was titled “Ninuno” (Ancestors) which made use of images of ancient Filipinos as gleaned from the Boxer Codex and the 19th century artist Damian Domingo’s albums of costumes. Thus she made her mark as a historically conscious artist intent on making serious visual statements, during an era that was being convulsed by a radically changing social and political climate.
The succeeding decades saw Cajipe-Endaya confronting a harsher reality, which demanded a medium capacious enough to contain her seething, simmering themes. Through her assemblages and installations Cajipe-Endaya explored in depth such themes as race and cultural identity, gender issues, women’s rights, social inequality and the plight of Filipina domestics as uniformed slaves to the First World.
Endaya’s “Happy Mother’s Day, Tandang Sora” is a poem to Melchora Aquino, revered in our history as the Mother of the Katipunan, who ministered to sick and wounded revolutionaries. “Portrait of the Artist as Babaylan” is a self-portrait rendition of the artist in a drama-ritual that conflates the roles of healer, shaman and creator.
By channeling her own persona into other distinct historical female figures, Cajipe-Endaya’s art extends her feminism, reaching out into centuries past. The current denigration of feminism is itself symptomatic of the anomie that afflicts contemporary art. True to character, Cajipe-Endaya is impervious to the fickleness of fashionable art and has remained staunchly committed to the cause of feminism as attested by her recent works.
LENORE RS LIM
“Chine-collé is a special technique in printmaking, in which the image is transferred to a surface that is bonded to a heavier support in the printing process. One purpose is to allow the printmaker to print on a much more delicate surface, which pulls fine details off the plate. Another purpose is to provide a background color behind the image that is different from the surrounding backing sheet… Chine-collé roughly translates from French chine = tissue, and collé, meaning glue or paste. The word chine is used because the thin paper traditionally used in the process was imported to Europe from China, India and/or Japan.” -WIKIPEDIA
Essentially technique-driven, the graphic arts (relief: woodcut, wood engravings, linocuts; intaglio: engraving, drypoint, etching, aquatint; planographic lithography, screenprint, digital) pose a distinct challenge to painters who may want to cross-over to printmaking. But to Filipino-Canadian Lenore Lim, the demanding technical process is sheer exhilaration.
In her book “Profound Afterglow: The Prints of Lenore RS Lim,” it is written that she “seeks out new processes, rediscovers lost techniques, and combines abstract and representational imageries.” In both these idioms, Lim “distills and abstracts images found primarily in nature, whether they be leaves or the spider-like qualities of handmade lace.”
Lim’s works transcend the explicit intrusion of technique to a level that interweaves with emotional feelings. A sense of loss and longing seeps through the fibrous interstices of her image, pervading “Alaala”, with the unfurled, sorrowful shreds of fabric in starkest black, as though windblown at the edge of a deep abyss. In “Lotus” masses of black passages arise like a blanket of gloom from which barely emerge glimpses of minute Chinese characters.
Lenore RS Lim once shared that, during a time of critical illness, she had her own intimations of mortality. This was the time when her work started to mature. In her own words: “This latter body of work reflected a new attitude. I’d say these pieces revealed greater depth, soul and passion.”
SUSAN FETALVERO – ROCES
Formalist criticism disdains the analysis and consideration of artworks that delve into anything that digresses from the elements of line, form-shape, color, space, texture. Such aspects as biographical, societal, or historical allusions are deemed extraneous to the appreciation of the work. Artists, however, do not live in an hermetically sealed world, immune to various currents of life.
The works of Susan Fetalvero Roces remind the viewer that they are sustained by personal references, even if not directly autobiographical. As artworks they are an integration of the artist’s consuming interests and fascination, and her technical skills. Recall that Roces was once a vaunted abstractionist whose works merited praise from the late National Artist J. Elizalde Navarro. Innovation in the use of material distinguished her works. Roces’ use of raffia was a display of stunning sophistication, tapping into nature and a free spirit.
Her recent works, “Viajes de Vida,” is a sculptural piece that consists of boat paddles. Isolated from the context of their usage, they evoke an abstract feeling that hews to Minimalism’s spare and stark aesthetics. The artist, however, reflects on these paddles as instruments of voyages and journeys. She intuits the swift passages of her life as though it were a continuously running river.
“Para Ti”, a self-portrait, is a personal offering by the artist to every individual viewer, in her dance and in her painting. She takes a peek from the drawn curtains to observe the audience. Oblique and witty, this visual approach subverts our expectation in watching her dance. The point of view of the painting is Roces continuing to move forward as she glances at her past. Enjoying the present, anticipating the future, and grateful for her past experience.
“Masks”, on the other hand, seduces us with these instruments of camouflage. Beyond their ornamental exhilaration and gorgeousness, these masks, obviously channeled as a collector’s delight, hold remarkably symbolic connotations for the artist.
“Nature and the Divine are my inspirations. I paint images of my dreams, from memory, and visions of the future. I paint the sky, the sea, landscapes, sunsets, sunrises, the moon, the stars.” Thus remarked Marivic Rufino, in one of several interviews with the artist whose works one regards as great stress-busters. It is a fitting compliment to an artist whose brush has dipped into the still, quiet waters of contemplation. For Marivic Rufino, art has been a healing sanctuary. In her works, one partakes of an art that is stripped of excrescences and senseless adornments.
Watercolor has been a preferred medium with Rufino, and for good reason: the liquid flow of colors, seemingly denuded of the body and volume achieved with acrylics and oils, reflects the lucid transparency of her spirit and feelings. A collection of her book-bound images has inspired the poetry of National Artist Virgilio S. Almario. It is aptly titled “Romanza” and beguiles the viewer with shades and shadows of muted colors – even the fiery reds and oranges seem ecstatically bleached. Her “Dreamscape” series are tranquil journeys of the spirit.
Rufino’s recent works are imbued with a Zen sensibility. To be sure, the artist has always invoked a contemplative psyche and the intimacy of memory. Ostensibly these are depicted landscapes. Such works as “Tuscan Reverie,” “Tuscan Dream” and “Paradiso”, though anchored by allusions to trees and hills, skies and seas, are paradoxically metaphors for spiritual vistas.
An equestrienne, Rufino has a soft spot for horses, here immortalized in two works: Fantaisie (“Horse at Sunrise”), a digital print on glass backed by a watercolor “Dreamscape” on Arches paper, and “Duet”, depicting a butterfly alight on a horse. Indeed, Rufino regards the paintings as a kind of self-portrait, personifying their contrasting characteristics in her own being.
Despite the austerity of details – or precisely because of it –the viewer senses the soul to be in a state of stasis. The artist continues to evade a tempting accretion of layered tactility such as has enslaved other artists. Rufino luxuriates in the almost immaterial substance of her watercolors that sublimates all visual sound and fury.