To live – and die – as an artist

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/18 August) – When Casiana “Kasi” Cane Torralba retired from private school teaching 16 years ago, she did a most unexpected thing that surprised family and friends: she used her pension money to build her private art gallery,

“Friends asked me if I crazy,” she giggled. “Do you think I’m crazy?” she asked me. I told her yes, she was, because she didn’t belong in this planet. We roared with laughter. That was 16 years ago.

Two weeks ago, she passed away at age 76 and left behind a hundred paintings and poetry which she did in her retirement. “I’ve never painted and wrote poetry this fast before. All I did was teach but I always wanted to practice what I teach,” she told me in one of our many conversations in the then newly-built gallery of her home.

Kasi taught English and Humanities for decades. When she retired she said she had enough of teaching and only wanted to paint and write in the gallery or in her garden. “I am a product of old school. I may be old-fashioned but I am proud of it,” she said.

She was proud of her biggest influence, her own father who was also an English teacher and her private mentor whose flair for manners and values were carved from the classics.

She painted flowers and butterflies and birds, earth and sky and rainbows and she wrote poetry on love and hope and faith, even on Manny Pacquiao and tragedies.

“This retiree’s life is full,” she would claim. No doubt about it, she lived and breathed art. “It’s one reason to get up every morning.”

I teased her if this was not a means to escape boredom and she shook her head and smiled confidently. “This is a dream come true, my ultimate wish. Like a job that does not feel like a job.”

She giggled as she told me she realized she’s the oldest and the only lady in the annual artists group exhibition but feeling victorious and fulfilled. For how many 70-year old-plus would volunteer and remind everyone she’s much around.

For some young artists like GM Licong, a close friend of hers, she was an anchor and always a warm presence. (One of her paintings, “Yellow Flowers,” was said to have been eyed to be sent to Malacanang as a gift to President Aquino.)

For long, she dreamed of having her poetry get published. Unfortunately, the day never came as opportunities slipped away and she tried not to give up but lost anyway. Next month, the poetry society of Butuan will read her poetry collection in her honor, Kasi being a pioneer member and host of some of the poetry reading sessions.

Last year, in one of our last conversations in her garden surrounded with her paintings, I asked her if she had any favorites. “All my paintings are like my children and grandchildren; I cherished them all, that is why I have a hard time dispensing them.”

I should know, many times she would ask me to do the pricing for her. She also made sure the works would be taken care of by the buyers.

To me and the rest of us, she was the true first lady of the arts. (Ramon Jorge Sarabosing/MindaNews)