Penman No. 191: For Love of Art and Artists

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Penman for Monday, March 14, 2016

 

 

MUCH AS I’d want, I can’t possibly go to all the literary and arts events I get invited to, so I’ve occasionally had to deputize my wife Beng (June Mercy Dalisay to others)—a painter and an art restorer—to do the kibitzing for me. Or, I should really say, for herself, because, as president of the Erehwon Art Foundation, she often has more immediate reasons than I do to meet with artist-friends and luminaries from the arts world.

One recent event I was truly sorry to miss was a special raffle and auction held last February 27 for the benefit of Beng’s dear friend Norma Liongoren, doyenne of the Liongoren Gallery, sister, mother, and confidant of artists young and old. The Church Café, a Bible study group founded by Norma, initiated a fund-raising project for her, called “For Love of Norma.” The group was composed of writers Alma and Mario Miclat, painter Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, writers Fe and Roger Mangahas, sculptor Julie Lluch, and Magel Cadapan, Norma’s gallery assistant and curator.

Norma’s artist friends donated almost 150 artworks to the cause, and Simoun Balboa, manager of the Sining Kamalig gallery in Cubao, lent the venue. A mini-concert and performance was put together by pastor Ed Lapiz, together with the Day by Day Ministry, Kaloob Dance Group, and Jerry Dadap’s Andres Bonifacio Concert Chorus.

The event proved a resounding success, with the spirited bidding raising a substantial sum for Norma, who very graciously and bravely left her hospital bed to join the party with her husband Fred to personally give thanks. The audience—all deeply moved by Norma’s gesture—included writers Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Menchu Sarmiento, and Wilson Lee Flores, gallery owner Silvana Diaz, artists Junyee, Gus Albor, Adie Baens Santos, Anna Fer, and Ato Habulan, diplomat Al Vicente, Quezon City busybody Ruby Palma, pulmonologists Rene Cheng and Julius Dalupang, activist Princess Nemenzo, GSIS museum head Ryan Palad, and journalist Jenny Juan, who emceed the event. Beng helped organize the auction-raffle, which lasted well into the evening, along with businessman and art collector Sonny Go.

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A few weeks earlier, Beng also attended a media event organized by her friend Ricky Francisco, an independent curator and fellow conservator, at the Fundacion Sanso in San Juan. This time I’ll let Beng’s words speak for themselves:

“It was a sunny afternoon when I walked up the steps of the new and modern building of the Fundacion Sanso. I passed through a lobby with minimal furniture but glimpsed lovely watercolor paintings that filled the walls.

“I was late and the media event had started. I tried to be inconspicuous and sat between sculptor Toym Imao and a dignified elderly gentleman who turned out to be the artist himself, Juvenal Sanso. He looked at me and smiled. I smiled back and said a few words. He didn’t say anything and just nodded his head. Later I would know why.

“Gilda Socorro Salita, managing director of Fundacion, briefed the guests and media people on the series of events for the celebration of Sanso’s 70th year as an artist. The retrospective includes art exhibits at the Ateneo Art Gallery, the Vargas Museum, and the Lopez Museum. By the time this report comes out, the first in a series of exhibitions will have started, entitled ‘Other: Zobel and Sanso,’ an exhibition of prints and drawings at the Ateneo Gallery. This exhibition is free and runs until May 20. As a memento of the afternoon, the media kits given to everyone included a charming bookmark lifted from an old plate and printed on cream paper by Pandy Aviado.

“The guests began to leave but I decided to stay behind so I could talk to Sanso some more. But it was Ricky Francisco and gallery owner Jack Teotico whom I found myself with. Jack was one of the founders of the Fundacion, which serves as a repository of Sanso’s personal collection of artworks, books, and other mementos representing seven decades not only of creative work but also of travels and lasting friendships nurtured and preserved despite great distances. An old friend from our UP days, Jack invested not only funds but also much time and effort in gathering good people to run the gallery and museum.

“When I asked Jack why the artist seemed to have a hard time hearing, Jack told me the story of how, during the Second World War and when there was heavy fighting between the Japanese and Americans in Manila, a bomb landed just a few feet away from Sanso. He sustained injuries on his arm and still has tiny bits of shrapnel embedded under his skin. However, his hearing was greatly affected, and he remains practically deaf on the left side.

“The afternoon settled quietly into dusk as I was transported to many places and events from stories Jack and Ricky narrated—Sanso as a child of an affluent family in Spain, his country of birth; the blue-eyed Sanso as a young boy in Sta. Ana, Manila speaking fluent Tagalog, playing with boys of his age and forging strong friendships with his playmates, especially one with Henry Sy; Sanso as he diligently worked on his drawings with his teacher Alejandro Celis; Sanso as a student at the UP College of Fine Arts in Padre Faura and his friendship with artists Araceli Dans and Larry Alcala; and his entry ‘Incubus’ winning first prize in a competition held in the 1950s and sponsored by the Art Association of the Philippines then headed by Purita Kalaw-Ledesma.

“It was time to leave but before I did, I treated myself to the mesmerizing display of visual delights that represented Sanso’s beautiful watercolors from the Brittany series as well as the paintings representing memories of Parañaque and Cavite. Sanso’s haunting and mysterious images in the retrospective Elogio de Agua or Hymns to Water keep running like a lovely brook in a quiet corner of my heart. The exhibit can be viewed until October 1st at Fundacion Sanso, 32 V. Cruz St., San Juan City, Metro Manila.”

Many thanks, Beng, for that glowing report, which makes we wish I had been there to chat with the artist (and now I’ll know to stay on his right side). I’d always been engrossed by Sanso’s dark waterscapes and their vegetal inhabitants, made even more intriguing by the total absence of human figures.

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I did, however, tag along on a day trip up to Baguio last week with the folks of the Erehwon Art Foundation led by Beng and the foundation’s chairman, Boysie Villavicencio, on a very special mission: to receive the donation of an etching press to the foundation by none other than National Artist Benedicto Cabrera. I’ve been a frequent guest of Bencab’s at his museum because UP’s summer writers’ workshops have always begun with a visit with Ben (except this May, when we move to Los Baños), and I’ve watched that museum grow from a few stakes in the ground to the breathtaking complex and tourist attraction that it’s become.

Bencab was as gracious as ever in meeting us, and his donation of one of his two etching presses will be a great boost to Erehwon and to other Filipino printmakers. The press used to belong to National Artist Arturo Luz, who gave it to Ben in the 1990s. Erehwon is now planning a printmaking workshop with Fil de la Cruz, Ambie Abano, and other noted printmakers leading novices into the art.

As a former printmaker myself, I just might reignite this old passion, this fascinating interplay of paper, ink, and metal. It was at the old Printmakers Association of the Philippines (PAP) workshop and gallery on Jorge Bocobo in Ermita that I met Beng in the early 1970s, so without art and a shared love of it, we’d never have married, and this column-piece would never have happened.

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