Illuminati: Creativity and the Awesome Pinoy


Creativity and the Awesome Pinoy

By: Krip Yuson 


I wake up daily to an education in art. Honest, that’s what happens from the first moment I open my eyes. While still in bed, I have a view of wall parts around me, where hang some works from artist-friends.

On the corner to my right, framing a pendent lamp are two beloved collectibles, if a rather immodest acquiescence to vanity. One’s a sketch by Rock Drilon of the room’s resident. But done outdoors — as I recall vividly, when he sat me down on a curb on Malvar Street in Malate over three decades ago, right across what used to be poet Virginia R. Moreno’s Café Orfeo where there was a dinner party going on.

Rock was then doing a series of charcoal portraits of artist and writer friends of his in our common culturati-cum-bohemian circle. He eventually exhibited those at the PhilAm Building lobby. Then gave me his portrait of me slumped on that curb, smoking a cigarette. The gift still meets with much appreciation (albeit I hope you readers don’t assume that the first thing I do upon waking is to gaze lovingly at it).

Having said that, if parenthetically, now I must blush to admit that it’s a ME corner, since the other invaluable artwork in that area is another portrait, also of a very much younger me as subject. It isn’t so much the subject that makes it important, but that the glass-encased and framed portrait was taken by the distinguished photographer Jaime Zobel de Ayala.

Hah! Between Drilon and Zobel, I can only say with unmitigated pride that my ego is well served in that corner. Or is it because both priceless pieces are rendered in black-and-white? Guess.


Michelline Syjuco’s stunning horse sculpture.
Michelline Syjuco’s stunning horse sculpture.

On the opposite corner, what I glimpse upon turning left while supine is more evidence of art and my continuing education. There arrayed are nude portraits of women, again awarded me by artist-friends — the portraits, that is, in charcoal, in pen-and-ink, in black-and white, by Gus Albor, Ramoncito de la Cruz, and Camille de la Rosa — plus an acrylic and gouache portrait in vivid color by the late terrific artist Carlos “Dennis” Filart. He passed away over a year ago, soon after I acquired this distinctive nude. That is why it now has pride of place closest to my bedside lamp, the only artwork in color.

And so it’s a gallery of pubes on one side, and an ego wall on the other. Not that I intend to someday attempt to replicate what’s called the “Museum of Me” being established by the excessively wealthy Robbie Antonio in his knockout of a Rem Koolhaas-designed modern residential palace in Forbes Park.

Now, the controversy over this over-the-top enterprise, however private, is sure to serve further education, if not awareness of the power of art, to generations of Filipinos.

Getting back to my own quotidian custom, when I stride down from my bedroom I am greeted by more works of art on the landing: by friends such as Bert Monterona who’s still based in Vancouver, Salvador “Dodong” Arellano of Los Angeles, and the literary goddess Gilda Cordero Fernando. It sure pays to have artists for buddies.

But I will desist from cataloguing all the other friends’ artworks displayed on walls in our otherwise modest home. Or I might run out of space, both ways.

Instead I must now cite my fortuitous membership in an e-group called Banggaan, since a few years ago. It’s a circle of visual artists, including photographers, mostly based abroad, with a few homegrown and/or stay-homes like photographers Ben Razon and Joe Galvez, the iconic music maker Heber Bartolome, painter and editorial cartoonist Benjo Laygo, poet Marne Kilates, and artists Ross Capili, Eric David, and Ilonggo semi-retiree Eduard Labadia.

Across seas and an ocean are our friends, such sterling exponents of Pinoy creativity, with quite a roster of champions: Ding Roces and Edd Aragon in Sydney, Claro Cortes and Dengcoy Miel in Singapore, John Altomonte in Darwin, and in the USA, Mario Mercado, Glenn Bautista, Tante Tagamolila, Jun-Jun Sta. Ana, Rodolofo Samonte, Vics Magsaysay, Mimi Nolledo, Zen Lopez, Mel Vera Cruz, among others — world-class painters, photographers, editorial cartoonists, musicians, poets, tattoo artists, conceptual artists, what-have-you.


Trix Syjuco’s video room and sculpture installation .
Trix Syjuco’s video room and sculpture installation .

If anything, this group alone, among so many others that encompass the Philippine art scene, shares in the bragging rights over the cornucopia of awesome creative power among Filipinos.

Again, daily is it a continuing education, like, say, seeing Rod Samonte’s latest art product: a 3-D installation or bas relief composed of found objects “carpenter”-ed onto a wooden gate he picked up somewhere in Los Angeles. He has titled it “California Suite” and posted it on FB to both the Banggaan and Art Philippines FB group walls, eliciting quick comments and praise.

And if I were to visit my Significant Other in Ayala Alabang, I am very aware that I also come close to another shrine of devotion and comfort zone: the Syjuco family’s ArtLab atelier cum gallery cum workshop venue. Here, my kumpare Cesare A.X. Syjuco and kumare Jean Marie Syjuco have established a wondrous exhibit space for their own impressive art pieces, from paintings to sculpture, installations, hyper-text arrangements, why, even a bathroom reeking of superb minimalist design and art!

Here, too, their daughters Michelline, Trix and Maxine have their own respective studios for their creative output: sculpture, jewelry, striking fashion pieces such as one-of-a-kind wood-and-metal bags, video walls, conceptual effusions.

Art education? Maxine runs her The Little Picasso weekend classes for kids from ages 2 to 16. She offers individualized programs for children’s arts and crafts, designs each module based on each child’s unique interests and skills. She doesn’t employ assistants or relies on other teachers. She teaches all of the classes herself.

Entirely admirable, for someone who is often the toast of the town for her own visual produce and books of poetry, let alone her effervescent beauty. And her little wards in art come up with engrossing takes on Picasso, Dali, Edvard Munch’s “The Kiss” and Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (see photo with a three-year-old’s version on the wall).

All is well and bright and dazzling in Philippine art. When it comes to creativity, Pinoys enjoy awesome blessings of continuing education and inspiration.

Poet, visual artist and children’s art mentor Maxine Syjuco with a three-year-old student in her The Little Picasso weekend workshops at ArtLab in Ayala Alabang Village.
Poet, visual artist and children’s art mentor Maxine Syjuco with a three-year-old student in her The Little Picasso weekend workshops at ArtLab in Ayala Alabang Village.