Wash away the dust of everyday life
FIFTEEN YEARS ago, I went on my first trip to Bali, Indonesia, with a group of friends. The fabled enchantment of Bali, which spellbinds travellers searching for bliss, charmed and captivated me. Bali impressed all my senses with a riot of creativity, from the paintings, sculptures, crafts, architecture, interiors, landscapes, floral arrangements, scents, and clothing to the glorious food.
I figured that with over a thousand Hindu gods to pay homage to in their artworks, temples, daily rituals, and elaborate festivals, the Balinese people have programmed creativity in their genes for over a thousand years. The fascination became even greater when I remembered that the Philippine islands were once part of the Majapahit empire, the greatest and most powerful empire that ever ruled the whole Southeast Asia. Bali was a major center of the empire’s Hindu-Buddhism civilization before Islam dominated the region.
What impressed me the most in Bali were the artist-villages where artists live together in a community of clustered huts and sell their artworks displayed all together in a series of interconnected gallery halls. I purchased my first ever artwork from one of those artist-cooperatives.
The enthrallment of creativity I experienced in Bali lingered beyond my trip, because I found my feet dragging me to art exhibition openings after I returned to Manila. In these visits, I met and made lifelong friendships with a fascinating community of artists, collectors, writers and gallery owners.
I started collecting the works of the artists of my generation who were just beginning to make names for themselves and whose prices were within my reach. I was drawn to the witty visual stories and biting commentaries I found in the artworks of these artists, especially the likes of Jeho Bitancor, Elmer Borlongan, Emmanuel Garibay and Mark Justiniani. And it surely did not discourage me to personally hear the stories of senior collectors who likewise started collecting the artworks of their contemporaries 30 summers past, for sums ranging from P500 to P1,500, and which are now priced in the millions of pesos in the current sizzling art market.
When my collection of artworks began to exceed the capacities of my house and office, I was stumped as to what drew me like an addiction to yet more art finds. I noticed, however, that every time I felt work burnout, I would escape to the nearest art gallery for a momentary break from the staring contest with my computer.
After just an hour of art conversation with the gallery owner or a fortuitously visiting artist or fellow collector, I would feel sufficiently invigorated to go back to the office and complete my work quota well into the night.
I gradually realized that my work as a practicing lawyer—with an overuse of language that employs the sight and sound of the alphabet, from reading thick case records and law books to reviewing kilometric contracts and spewing long-winding questions and answers during meetings—was draining me every day. At the end of the day, I would find that the overdose of word communication had numbed the left hemisphere of my brain.
But whenever I immersed myself in a work of art, the resulting shift from word language to a language that employs visual symbols would work wonders in transforming my mood and the expanse of my outlook. Emblems of the alphabet are replaced by symbol and symbolism consisting of human/nonhuman figures, colors, brushstrokes, and an assemblage of materials.
I discovered that stories, concepts and feelings could be expressed without the use of word language, but with the use of nonalphabet symbols that marvelously make the comprehension enjoyable through a stretching of the imagination. Paintings and artworks in general are riddles that challenge us to decipher the story, emotion, or idea behind the uniquely presented combination of figures, colors and materials.
I discovered artists who could narrate stories with the same lyrical flair as poets, stimulate feelings with the same intensity as drama actors, and articulate concepts with equal eloquence as fiction writers—all without employing a single letter of the alphabet.
I discovered that abstract artists—who paint without any recognizable figure in their artworks and rely entirely on a combination of colors and brush strokes—could connect with the same impact as classical musicians who, by playing Beethoven or Mozart masterpieces, can elicit emotion by creating music without lyrics and relying entirely on a combination of rhythm and tempo. One looks at abstract paintings without searching for figures, in the same way that one listens to classical music without expecting to hear lyrics.
The overwhelming volume of words and numbers that assaults all of us in our everyday lives makes us oblivious to the vibrant colors and sheer wonder of the snippets of life that magically unfold before our eyes, and numb us to the brooding hues of our alarming inhumanity to our brethren. Art presents life in a different language that makes us see our world from a vantage point of color and texture, unobstructed by the dust of words and numbers.
In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
Happy New Year!
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