“There are places I remember, all my life, though some have changed…all these places have their moments…I loved them all.”, so the song goes. And so does my art. It is all hands on deck for me these days as I prepare 7 new canvases for a show this July. In this show, I am paying tribute to the beauty that my eyes have touched and my soul has sensed in my travels. Each painting takes me back to that unique moment when my subjects caught my eye and moved me to capture both life and light. As I travel back through time, all that had once been faded memories are alive again, each one clear and crisp, as though on them the dust of time or the mist of parting had never settled. The ritual of preparing pigments and studying subject photographs just before marrying pigment to canvas with my brush makes me realize how the seemingly ordinary gains meaning when our soul is engaged and our eyes perceive consciously, even if only for a moment. To be seen for our souls is to be valued for who we are in our hearts. Too often do we see, but we seldom see consciously. This is why they say the essential is invisible to the eye. As each canvas is finished, I hope to share the work and their respective backstories —- all that I saw and all that it has made me feel and understand, about life so far. It is impossible not to have a backstory. Backstories are the essence of my art, and my daily reality of joys and struggles are their basic rudiments. Here is one of them. The work below entitled, “Measure In Love”, was done in February 2013 as a memento for celebrating a decade of friendship with my closest friends. One chair for each friend who has taught me to measure my life in love. Indeed, there are many ways to measure our lives — too often we measure by what we have taken and acquired for ourselves. We forget too easily that deep down, our hearts long for the joy of giving, of giving freely and from the heart. This painting is for all of us whose lives have been enriched by the power of friendship and measured in love. Enjoy!
It all began in early 2012, 23 years after I had left Art School to pursue a course in business because I did not feel I was ever going to be good enough in my art. I was on a wild and expensive whim — I learned that the Musee D’Orsay Paris was loaning out its Impressionist Works to the National Museum of Singapore— it was a prospect too decadent to refuse. So I packed my bags and went away for the weekend, with best friend in tow —- who else goes on a wild whim, guilt-free and spontaneous but your trusty friend who has tagged you along on her own versions of the wild side? So we booked a two night stay at the nearest hotel to the Museum and went on the adventure that changed our lives forever — and changed for the better, I must say.
It was the last weekend of the Exhibit in Singapore during our visit. We went to see the works on each day that we were there but it was that visit on the last day that charted me towards a path that I had secretly hoped would be mine again, though it was inconceivable to imagine how. I was up early on the last day and started for the Museum straight after breakfast. Naturally, I was the first guest that day. Entrance was free on that last day, an auspicious sign, unbeknownst to me. The Exhibit guard, thinking it was my first time to see the Show, met me at the entrance and spoke to me in Chinese, motioning for me to follow her through the maze of Impressionist works —– we passed Manet, Monet, Renoir, Pisarro, Degas, Bonnard, Rousseau, Cezanne and all the Impressionist Masters on the way to the non-Impressionist in the group, the one she was most proud to present to me. “Van Gogh…”, she said and smiled as she faded into the maze of panels, half-lit, encased in a soft silence, much like the break of dawn hinting at the rise of a new day.
So I sat before “Starry Night Over The Rhone” in solitude, the eerie silence around me falling away into irrelevance. I sat there in silence. Cobalt blues and gentle grays for the sky and glowing yellows for the stars. Lovers walking in faint darkness and two boats by the bank, parked for the night. Each stroke sure and resolute. Breathtaking. Celestial. And somewhere in that solitude, I felt it —- “When are you coming back?” the words pierced through my heart, in the exact same way that my soul felt seen, seen and stoked by a work birthed more than a century ago, by someone I only knew of from books and Don McLean’s famous, “Starry, starry night…”. I sat for awhile more and began to rationalize all that I had heard and felt, in my heart and in my soul, just as other visitors started pouring in. I realized that I was gifted with a moment of intimacy that was fleeting but powerful. Surely, I needed some air so I could attempt to make sense of it all, as I had been trained in business school —- to find the story (behind the numbers) and then form a view. I formed a view, but the story did not seem to make logical sense.
I went home to Manila and found myself strangely resolute about touching base with a lady who holds painting sessions in her gallery in Alabang. Her daughter’s works had enchanted me since 2005 and I was drawn to their path. Today they are both my teachers and mentors, in art and just as importantly, in life. Like love, art is lovelier, the second time around.
I had researched more on Van Gogh’s life and works and got more acquainted with the story behind Don McLean’s “Vincent”. The lyrics are beautiful and filled with meaning, especially “frameless heads on nameless walls with eyes that watch the world and can’t forget”….these were meant to reference the way Van Gogh’s paintings outlived him, each one a channel through which the artist continues to watch the world that he loved and can’t forget. This must have been the reason why I felt Starry Night pierced through my soul, watching me in a way I could never forget on that auspicious day.
As I drove from the Gallery on that Saturday in March 2012, the first of many that I would spend painting in the Gallery, I switched the radio on to a very unexpected sign —- “Starry, starry night….paint your palette blue and gray…” It was my writing on the wall, so to speak —- from what seemed like a wild and decadent whim in the company of the Impressionist Masters, I had found my way back to the path that called to me from a distant past. Starry Night pointed me back to my way home.
A mentor once told me, “Art opens many joys in your life that were hidden before – both inside you and outside you.” And this, by far rings true in my life in a way that humbles me and makes it possible for me to understand what it means to be grateful, everyday for everything. Not to say that I am spared from heartache or self-doubt because art has not dulled my senses to life’s imperfections. Art simply keeps nudging me towards positivity and this, I believe, is how it opens many joys within. And as within, so without.
I am preparing for a group show in July this year —- a stint that reflects my secret longing to share the beauty and mystery of places that have touched my soul in the hope that these pieces would inspire joy and hope and positivity. Each piece is a gift to those who would receive it. Each work is a child of my heart, birthed into the world for those whose lives, like mine, were changed by beauty, not only for the better, but more certainly, for good.
P.S. Exhibit details to follow soon. I’ll be seeing you! In the meantime, sharing with you a view of The Vltava and Charles Bridge against the Prague Castle in “Prague at Dusk”