Press Kit March 2015 : Jaime de Guzman: Introspective Retrospective

March 02, 2015

By: KripYuson

A retrospective exhibit of creative works is important essentially for the spectrum and continuum it should manifest, allowing viewers to trace and track the development of an artist from the earliest stirrings to the most recent works.

            Early works may thus be considered even more significant than the latest ones, as they establish the provenance of an artist, the initial fount of creativity, and not the least the temper and character of his or her beginnings. Sundry may be the decisions made as a budding artist, and from which subsequent other directions may have then evolved. 

            All of these address the early choices of genre and subject, the propensity for a style or manner, affections and affectations both, plus all the other hallmarks of starting a serious career, vocation, and/or devotion as a visual artist.

For Jaime de Guzman, ground zero was the mid-to-late 1960s, when his creative energy propelled him to consume nearly all of his waking hours with artistic production.

            Friends of his at that time recall seeing stacks of paintings filling up the small space he occupied on Quezon Avenue, near where a covey of other struggling young artists also resided or frequented their peers’ “pads.” These included Carlos Abrera, Frey Cabading, Virgilio “Pandy” Aviado, Mars Galang and Ben Maramag.

            A high school graduate of Ateneo de San Pablo, Jaime began his university studies in 1961 at Ateneo de Manila as an economics major. After a year, he trasferred to the University of Sto.Tomas where he majored in painting. Two years into the program, he packed his brushes and spent nearly a year traveling and painting in Cebu, Samar, and Zamboanga. His paintings reflected the everyday scenes of his travels – the port of Cebu, house interiors of local artists, and the hills of Samar. He later returned to Manila to enroll as a fine arts student at the University of the Philippines.

            In the process, he had joined bohemia, or more specifically, the generation of war babies and baby boomers that had taken up from where European existentialists and American beatniks had trailed off — to become the Flower Power people by the turn of the 1960s.

            It was expressionism, a very dark one, that first appealed to Jaime as a painter. It has been written of his early works:

“One significant contribution of Jaime de Guzman in modern Philippine art is his daring introduction of the distortion of the human figure as a projection of the harsh and pained 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 channeled 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.”

Jaime had his first solo exhibit at Solidaridad Galleries in Malate, Manila in 1967. That same year, he also had a one-man show in the National Museum, quite a feat for a 25-year-old who traced his origins to Liliw, Laguna.

            In 1968, he had his second solo show, this time at the prestigious Luz Gallery. With the buzz about his apocalyptic art, Jaime was selected to be part of the Thirteen Artists show at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1970, the same year that he mounted yet another solo exhibit at the CCP’s Small Gallery, and joined a group exhibit at the Frankfurt, Germany International. He had fast become a staple in Manila’s art scene, being invited to join the annual group shows at Luz Gallery in 1969 and 1970. 

            A cult following developed around him and his art. The CCP officialdom’s patronage, as well as increasing international interest, reached the ears of Madame Imelda Romualdez Marcos, who reputedly urged for the purchase of his large, mural-size works, among these his Metamorphosis Series and Gomburza. Till the present, these iconic works have remained in the CCP’s collection.

The National Historical Commission sent Jaime de Guzman on a study-grant to Mexico for 1970-71 to study mural painting with the great muralist David Alfaro Siquieros, one of Mexico’s distinguished triumvirate of muralist-painters, together with Diego Rivera and Clemente Orozco.

            It was a landmark event in Jaime’s artistic career and personal life. There he met American ceramist Anne Polkinghorn, who had a pottery studio there.

            They won one another, and Jaime brought Anne with him back home to re-establish residence in his hometown of Liliw, in rustic surroundings at the foot of sacred Mount Banahaw, where enchantments were said to be daily occurrences, and where a private mythology would naturally be developed by a sensitive artist.

            Their romance became legend for Manila’s journalists, especially when they got married in Liliw and settled there, in an ancestral wooden house that had been bequeathed by Jaime’s Lolo Fausto, a notary public who also wrote plays and zarzuelas, translated Spanish poems to Tagalog, composed rondalla music, and became a Katipunero who served under Gen. Antonio Luna. 

Jaime de Guzman brought art and honor to Liliw, the sleepy town noted for its handcrafted slippers — for by then he had become the Manila culturati’s toast as a dynamic young artist; dashingly handsome and articulate, spouting strong opinions about creativity. The art writers of the ’70s lavished his work with praise, among them Jose Joya, Andres Cristobal Cruz, Barbara Mae Naredo, Domini Torrevillas Suarez, Beatriz RomualdezFrancia, Leonidas Benesa and Ray Albano.

            Wrote Albano: “His pictures depend on his phenomenological pursuit of his brushstrokes. He makes abstract dabs and dashes all over the board, sees them and conforms them to the shapes and objects stacked in his memory… Somewhere in the changing climate of Philippine art is Jaime de Guzman working against the grain of both the pundits of semi-representation and precursors of new art. His figures are un-anatomical, his work more evocative than literal. Aside from these we think de Guzman is recording some metaphysical insights by means of his personal mythology.”

            Poet-doyenne Virginia R. Moreno commissioned Jaime to create the set for her theater piece ItimAsu, which was staged at the CCP, then brought over to Liliw. The townsfolk shared in the triumphant return of a native son who lured in more than the slippered set in the cause of theater and art.

            Jaime executed a mural for the municipal hall lobby, with his Cubistic lines and figures of folklore and flora ranging from wall to wall, even swirling up alongside the corner stairs.

            He liked to point out then that Carlos “Botong” Francisco was the only one who came close to proper mural practice. Botong’s works, however, were on mural canvas, which could be transferred from place to place, whereas in Mexico the mural paintings were “permanent fixtures, part of the wall if not the total building.”

            “A mural is an experience,” Jaime stressed. “It envelops the viewers; it’s a man-made, forced environment.” The art had reached a high level of technology, he explained, “its known executors having worked on oils and other mediums specifically to withstand the elements and produce major works of art —whereas local limitations have included lack of such oils and walls to paint.”

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 SiningKamalig in 1973.

            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 inSagada 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 U.S. 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 swathes 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 grarled roots, yet is filled with brightness and quiet effervescence. These are in lieu of the darkly strenuous vehemence of brushtrokes of the milestone works of the 1970s.

            Circles rough and elliptical, respectively, are now the primary forms for Quaternity 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 apolocalyptic 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 re-introduction 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.