A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: REVIEW: Life in Fluid Colors: A Watercolor Art Exhibit

REVIEW: Life in Fluid Colors: A Watercolor Art Exhibit
La Herencia, Davao City
June 2-19, 2022
Karl M. Gaspar CSsR

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 June) – “Perhaps watercolour is more art than acrylics or oil, because the opportunity to correct errors is very limited as the colours are transparent… The sun, wind and temperature influences water-pigment-paper!! Everything flows, painting with watercolors!” These are words uttered by the Italian watercolor artist Adriana Buggino.

By way of a metaphor then, the American painter Sergie Bongart posits – “Watercolor is like life. Better get it right the first time – you don’t get a second chance!” Jean Burman, the Australian watercolour artist agrees but points out to why he prefers watercolor painting: “Watercolor is a medium that can be as demanding and temperamental as those who choose to paint with it. But it is a colorful and exciting medium all the same – well suited to describing the many moods of the subject, as well as those of the artist wielding the brush.”

What is it about watercolors that make such artworks appealing and for some art lovers, they are oftentimes their favorites? It must be because unlike other works of art, watercolors are like anything related to zen. They appear very gentle, not loud. They calm our spirits, not agitate them. They reflect the softest of colors that caress the soul, and not contribute to our accumulated stress!

As we all know, watercolor or watercolour, also aquarelle, is a painting method in which the paints are made of pigments suspended in a water-based solution. They are a regular feature of visual art exhibits around the world. Most famous are those of Frank Webb, Tony Couch, Cheng-Khee Chee, Mary Whyte, Milford Zornes, Antonio Guidotti, José Apaza, Eugen Chisnicean, John Singer Sargent and Paul Jackson. It is claimed that the most famous watercolor painting is that of Paul Sandby (Cathedral of Llandaff).

Now comes a watercolor exhibit that is a feast to watercolor lovers of Davao. Now ongoing at La Herencia – which has now become Davao’s major art center for exhibits – is LIFE IN FLUID COLORS Watercolors Exhibit by Davao Artists which is on until June 19 only. A total of more than 60 watercolors (with sizes ranging from mostly 20”x30” to 29”x30”) deftly accomplished by 18 artists are distributed across a small gallery in La Herencia’s east wing.

This exhibit includes the works of Lito Pepito and his son Paul MV, Anthony Serafin, Saldy Mascardo, Jojo Jimenez, Royroy Gulayan, Editha Abada-Tuason, Vicente Aviles, Orvil Bantayan, Cacho Ferrero, Liza Rita Jardinero, Gilbert Miraflor, Ritzel Polinar, Ging Lopez Balinas, Vanessa Ann Ong, Matthew Aarts, Odette Oliveros, April San Pedro and Jonathan Vencilar. Congratulations Ladies and Gentlemen for having mounted this truly delightful exhibit.

La Herencia, too, deserves a pat on its back for having provided Davaoeňos an easily accessible and comfortable venue which has consistently mounted art exhibitions worth viewing for a population hungry for art. Unfortunately Davao City has not been known as a local government unit providing much incentive for those interested to mount art exhibitions and until today the city has very few galleries that could inspire our visual artists to have more exhibits. La Herencia is one of the very few cultural institutions that is filling up the gap!

Of the works exhibited, the ones that stand out are those of Lito Pepito with his five pieces which represent various styles of how watercolors can be pursued. There are three representing the usually realist images ranging from a goatherd holding an umbrella leading a flock of goats up a gentle slope (The Flock, an artwork that takes the breath away with its play on lights and shadows) to one that shows a detail of a coconut tree (Golden Coco) and one that interplays the various shades of green (Fern). On the other hand, his two other watercolors (Sariling Sikap and Agua Fauna Sanctuary) are abstract watercolors with a hint of cubism. These are, indeed, remarkable works and they stand out from the rest of the collection for their unique projection of what watercolors are capable of!

On the other hand, his son’s (Paul MV Pepito) does mostly the traditional form and his Purple Orchids is the stand-out among the works he exhibited. Given Davao City’s vibrant endemic orchids with the most distinguished colors like the waling-waling, watercolorists are naturally drawn to painting them along with the other flowers one can find in the most expensive flower shops. In fact this exhibit would have been perfect for May, the traditionally known Flower Month in the Philippines with its Flores de Mayo. Of the more than 60 works, the subjects of more than 20 paintings are flowers. With the long-lasting influence of impressionists (e.g., Claude Monet’s Water Lilies), this exhibit has its share of water lilies, e.g., Editha Abada-Tuason’s Pond Memories and Anthony Serafin’s Water Lilies.

Next are sea and landscapes and the scenes with water. Orvil Bantayan’s Tampisaw with a boy having fun swimming across what would appear is a canal along a busy street with water splashing all over the entire canvas shows how water’s colors can so effectively be done in watercolor. No wonder there is an anonymous saying: “Watercolor is a swim in the metaphysics of life… a mirror of one’s own character. Let it be unpredictable and colorful.”

Other scenes from nature are favorite subjects of watercolourists of this collection, including Royroy Gulayan’s Tree of Life, a detail of leaves in various shades of oranges and browns. As expected of watercolor paintings there are those depicting life as it stands still, e.g., Ging Lopez Balinas’ Sa May Bintana. Children and Mother and Child are also favorite topics. Bantayan’s 2 Jesus Boys is a rather interesting take on the Madonna and Child icons. In his piece, Bantayan adds another boy and the mother’s breast is publicly exposed (not a usual depiction of the Blessed Mother!). Her face is much more emaciated ad she seems to carry the burdens of the entire universe!

Otherwise, most of the watercolors in this exhibit are bright and breezy as they cover images of nature from flowers to fruits, birds to cats. As the English biographer Evan Charteris wrote: “To live with watercolours is to live with sunshine captured and held.” This is the paradox in Saldy Mascardo’s four pieces in this exhibit; while he paints the faces of mostly the elderly who constitute the hoi polloi of society (The Flower Vendor, The Koi Whisperer, The Grill Master and his Bukas Muli) there is dignity even in their lowly state. Besides he shows the elderly’s faces with depths of wisdom and grace!

In a way these pieces are, indeed, a lot more appealing than photos. Francesco Clemente has remarked on the difference between photographs and watercolors: “A photograph to me is always a reminder of how the person was on a certain day in that certain light fixed. When I look at a watercolor of that same person, it seems to me alive, more open than a photograph.” Mascardo’s works show how right Clemente’s assertion is.

All in all, the reviewer had a wonderful two-hour viewing of this exhibit, certainly a rare exhibit of just watercolors. He cannot but exhort everyone to go and see it while it is on. For there is indeed, magic in the translucence clearly manifested in this type of visual art.

Which is also why the artists themselves are drawn to their respective studios to immerse themselves into its magic. For in the words of Michele Cooper, an American artist-surgeon: “Translucence is an effect unique to the medium of watercolor and the lure that beckons me into the studio for yet another creative adventure.”

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland,” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012, “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]