Mar 222015


(Shared in this space last week was the first half of the brochure text that accompanied the exhibition, “Revelations: A Jaime de Guzman Retrospective” which opened at the Main Gallery and Hallways of the Cultural Center of the Philippines on March 4, and is ongoing till April 26. Here’s the second half of that text titled “Introspective Retrospective,” which I wrote upon the request of the exhibit curator Emily Abrera, the CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division head Ma. Victoria “Boots” Herrera, and Dr. Marti Magsanoc of Archivo 1984.)

Jaime’s large-scale canvases, which frolicked darkly on the margins of expressionism and surrealism, employed a motley array of folk symbols and personal motifs.

He explained in an interview: “How does Christ relate to Filipinos? Here we are confronted with the images of Christ in taxicabs, in the homes of rich and poor, everywhere. But most of these pictures may be considered safe because they don’t have any personal touch to it. Like the face of Christ, which is all white face, blue eyes and golden hair. What I’m trying to do is give my personal interpretation of Christ as a symbol.”

One such interpretation was rendered in “Waiting for the Apostles,” showing Jesus sitting in the middle of a room of a typical provincial house, idly waiting. Christ also appears as the central figure in “Historical Allegory,” a large, major work that drew appreciative gasps when it was exhibited at Sining Kamalig in 1973.

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Christ has the fingers of one hand touching his symbolic crowned heart, while the other holds up a sword. The Gomburza martyrs appear beside him, balanced on the other side by a framed portrait of Jose Rizal, while in the distant background above the central images is Miss Liberty and a group of faceless politicians and clergymen. A pregnant Anne, robed in white, red and blue, stands on one side, counterpointed by a self-portrait of the artist, loin-thonged only with leaves. And stealing the show in front of the Gomburza trio is the naked toddler Fausto, their first-born, then about a year old.

Anne bore several children in succession. An accomplished potter, she also taught Jaime all about centering. In Liliw they worked together on stoneware.

Together they began to exhibit their pottery, starting with a show at Manila Hilton in 1972 (with Baidy Mendoza), then at the CCP’s Small Gallery the following year, and subsequently, at the Grand Hotel in Bolinas, California in 1977 when Anne visited home. Followed similar conjugal pottery exhibits at the Design Center of the Philippnes in 1978, the Potters Guild in 1978 and 1979, and at the ABC Gallery in 1980. 

By the 1980s, they had migrated to Candelaria, Quezon, where they established a kiln and raised their growing brood. Conceivably, a couple will not produce seven children if they weren’t so magnificently and magnanimously in love. Neither might they experience a crossover of art genres, as Jaime and Anne did.

Jaime became so enamored of Anne, the family, and pottery that he devoted the next decade of his life to this art form. At some point they were producing high-fire output, inclusive of raku and celadon, as a thriving cottage industry billed as Mount Banahaw Pottery.

In 1985 the family uprooted itself again, this time settling in Sagada in Mountain Province, where their last child was born. Still they produced pottery.

Jaime’s early patrons and collectors kept hoping that at least he wouldn’t turn his back entirely on painting. But Jaime had written a poem early in the ’70s, which went: “The creative process does not stop/ when there are no walls to unwall/ There is always something to do/ Wedge the clay, invent a little/ It is good for the mind/ To feel the earth, to water it, to form it/ and be formed/ There is the fire/ In the night in harmony/ with the stars/ in the day as bright as the sun/ In a pot/ In a jewel/ from the fire.”

As an artist, he refused to be dictated upon by the law of supply and demand. He remained peripatetic physically as well as spiritually.

He returned to drawings, pastels and oils while still in Sagada in the late ’80s. His output was irregular, but collectors who swore by his art were elated that little by little, their new walls might again be given over to Jaime’s mythopoeic landscapes. One truly outstanding work at that time was “Night Birds,” which celebrated the seasonal net-catching of migratory fowl on Mt. Ampakao.

In the ’90s, Jaime traveled often to Dumaguete, and produced a superlative “Apo Island Series.” He has also since sortied through Vigan and Sorsogon.

With their children now grown up and Anne having returned to the US for an extended period, Jaime found more time to go it alone, try out other places of idyll for a renewal of what an art critic of the ’70s called his “innerscapes.” But this time his formerly intense landscapes would steadily turn into “light-scapes.”

Since returning to 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.

The dark swirls are gone, the mythic symbolism and surrealism now seem to be a thing of the past; for the nonce, anyway. Yet what features there were that used to be described as of a “numinous (and) mystic nature” remain, if evidently toned down and mellowed, with simplified forms. 

This retrospective is invaluable for its display of the cyclical passage, and more importantly, portage of inscape elements across the broad yet focused navigability of the artist’s persona and imagination. It is as if from dream to dream, early oeuvres to the latest creative maneuvers, the narrative of maturation suggests a retro-introspection.

“Primordial Form,” painted in 1975, presages recent works in its utilization of circles, here as jagged boundaries enclosing other primary forms of nature such as what appear to be a fire lotus and translucent bivalves, the sea, horizons, fields, pearl-gray skies — all imaginably in creation’s own muted colors.

It is only a few years removed from the “Metamorphosis Series” with their severe swaths and slashes, yet it already renders a foretaste of what the artist would revive or fall back on in his maturity some four decades later.  

Self-portraits are also a familiar stand-by, either serving as central subject or motif, or included almost as an afterthought in an otherwise unearthly pageant, such as in “Sabbath of Witches.”

Of the same period are “From the Horse’s Mouth” and “From a Bird Idea” — both also employing ovoids and flowing, curvilinear forms that have already departed from the severity of the erstwhile heavily angular strokes.

Undulating lines have now come to alternate with the harshness of primary forms; even his flora, forests, mountains and ravines have now delighted in indulgent chlorophyll.

“Untitled-Pink House,” “Casa Elias” and “Processo,” dated 2003 to 2009, are architectural renderings, soft yet laden with suggested autobiographical reflection. “Untitled (Tree)”. dated 2011, portrays rugged gnarled roots, yet is filled with brightness and quiet effervescence. These are in lieu of the darkly strenuous vehemence of brushstrokes of the milestone works of the 1970s.

Circles rough and elliptical, respectively, are now the primary forms for “Quarternity” and “Voyages to the East,” both from 2013. They have come full cycle from 1975’s “Primordial Form.” Of late, he has also painted outright mandalas. The apocalyptic view has been replaced by an ascetic’s vision. 

Invariably and invaluably, this display of Jaime de Guzman’s gamut of facets of a yet personal mythology serves not only as a looking-back retrospective, but also as a looking-glass reintroduction to his robust creativity.

The introspection is still paramount, even as this spells a renewal, and ultimately, a reclaiming of his exalted status as an artists’ artist.

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