Joel Vega

Archive for 2009|Yearly archive page

Thank you 2009!

In Books, Travel on December 31, 2009 at 2:34 pm

The Waipio Valley, Big Island in Hawaii, July 2009. An amazing place I visited with my family.

As I look back at 2009 I realized there were many things I should be thankful for. I started 2009 with a working trip to Istanbul in January and, co-incidentally, ended 2009 with another trip to Turkey in mid-December–  not to Istanbul but to the southern coastal region across Antalya to Pamukkale and to the ancient cities of Heirapolis, Aphrodisias and Myra, amongst others.

For the last blog this year, I have selected some photos which remind me of times that I am thankful for, or places finally visited after standing in my to-do list for a long time. They capture wonderful moments that make 2009 memorable.

Revisiting Istanbul in January 2009 showed me new facets of this fascinating city

And one of the pleasant surprises for me in 2009 was actually writing this 18th Moon blog as I didn’t expect it would prompt me to write about things and ideas I would normally take for granted.  Each blog is a reminder that writing is one of best ways to explore ideas, test our opinions or even re-create experiences. 

Meanings accumulate and when we write about distant experiences their impact and significance somehow shift depending on the perspective and attitudes we now have. What seems right 20 years ago may not necessarily be as convincingly true today.

18th Moon visitors thanks for passing by and enjoy the photographs.

A healthy and happy 2010 to all!

The ancient stadium in Aphrodisias, southern Turkey, with Sjef. The stadium is one of the world's intact Roman-era stadiums.

Reading Naomi Klein's captivating 'Shock Doctrine' while lazing around in Hawaii's Hapuna beach last July was a wonderful 'big thank you' moment!

Walking down San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge last July was a childhood dream fulfilled. Thank you for a memorable 2009!

Catherine’s World

In Art, Books on December 27, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Illuminated pages from Catherine of Cleve's The Book of Hours, Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen

Exhibiting for the last week at Nijmegen’s Valkhof Museum is “Catherine’s World-Devotion, Demons and Daily Life in the 15th Century,” which highlights the Book of Hours, considered one of the finest examples of illuminated manuscripts from the Northern Netherlands crafted in the late Middle Ages.

 The Book of Hours was commissioned by Catherine of Cleves, Duchess of Guelders who lived from 1417-1476. The artist who crafted this finely illuminated manuscript remains anonymous although scholars named him as the “Master of Catherine of Cleves.”

Authentic reconstruction of Catherine of Cleve's medieval costume

The book, owned by The Morgan Library & Museum in New York was specially disbound for the Nijmegen exhibit, and more than 100 illustrated pages are being shown in Nijmegen until January 3, 2010 (the exhibit opened in October 10 this year).

With a superb eye for detail the unknown artist created an intimate world of devotion, demons and daily life in the Middle Ages, and delicately drew and painted on the margins and text exquisite miniatures of scenes from the life of Christ, saints, demons, flowery scrolls, richly colored and accented with filigree of gold.

Another page from The Book of Hours, note the bird cages drawn on the margins

It is astounding to see the delicacy and control of the artist’s hand since some of the drawings and paintings are so miniscule in scale they could only have been possibly painted and drawn with a magnifying glass and using drawing instruments that were as fine as needles. The fine penmanship and scroll-like borders were so delicately and subtly accented that they looked as if they were printed with modern printing techniques.

Accompanying the main exhibit of The Book of Hours were artworks from major museums and collectors of manuscripts from across the world such as the British Library (London), the Royal Library (The Hague), and the Landesmuseum fur Kunst und Kulturgeschichte (Munster, Germany). Important manuscripts were also loaned by The British Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge) and the Staaliche Museen zu Berlin.

A hall in the Valkhof also displays faithful replicas of clothing worn by Catherine’s household and servants. One of the unique pieces was an authentic reconstruction of the costume in which Catherine of Cleves was portrayed in the Book of Hours.

Delicate gold filigree and scrollwork adorn the book's margins

A parallel exhibition shows the administration books and ‘kitchen’ records of the duchess which includes the very first written and printed recipe books in the Netherlands. Also on display were kitchen utensils, pots and glassware from the Middle Ages, as a whole providing a complete overview of the life and times (at least of the elite classes) of that period.

Viewing the pages

The long lines of visitors surprised me, but that could have been due to the exhibit’s last and final week. We stood on queue for more than half an hour. Magnifying glasses were supplied and that prompted visitors to carefully view each page, adding to the long wait and queue.

 The pages were either framed or displayed in specially lighted glass cases and to fully appreciate the illuminated pages one has to scrutinize the pages inch by inch. Since flash photography is not allowed, I only managed to take shabby shots as the books were displayed under glass and in dim light conditions.

This is the second time since 2005, after the successful Brothers of Limbourg’s illuminated manuscripts exhibit, that the Valkhof Museum has given attention to Nijmegen’s art history and legacy as a center of fine art in the Middle Ages.

For lovers of exquisite art works and rare books that were made with lavish attention and eye for detail, the Nijmegen exhibit is definitely a not-to-miss show.

A silver chalice from the household of Duchess Catherine

White Christmas

In Christmas, Uncategorized on December 21, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Dutch winter landscape

After a week in rainy Turkey, I arrived back in snowy Holland late last week, on a landscape that was white, cold and slippery. For the first time in 10 years even the winter-loving Dutch were taken by surprise by the snowstorm over the weekend, a storm that busted transport systems not only across the Netherlands but also in Belgium, France and the UK.

Local news were full of winter blues with passengers stranded in train stations, highways and bus stops as traffic grinded to a halt, leaving thousands of commuters out in the cold, literally.

Snow truck on the road

With temperatures plummeting to minus 10 degrees Celsius (low by Dutch standards at this time of the year) driving from Eindhoven Airport to Nijmegen, which normally takes 45 minutes, almost took two hours with poor visibility, slow-moving traffic and intermittent highway detours.

On Friday and Saturday morning I woke up to clumps of snow festooned on the glass of the bedroom window. With a chill in my bones, the first thought I had was that I don’t even need fake snow dust to decorate window panes for a White Christmas!

Bikers have a tough time on slippery roads

Weather bulletins on Dutch TV warned motorists and commuters to restrict travel on Sunday. Bus stations were closed and what usually was the busiest shopping weekend just before Christmas turned out to be a non-event for shopping centres, a calamity for the retail sector which is counting on year-end sales to lift the moribund retail performance this autumn and last summer.

My weekend plan was to catch a unique exhibit of an illustrated miniature prayer book dating from the Middle Ages which is currently being displayed at the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen, but without a working public transport system, I trudged back home in ankle-deep snow.

Trudging back home. Behind me the shopping mall complex

The numbing chill of minus 10 never fails to inspire me to voluntarily exile myself at home. After almost 11 years in the Netherlands I still have to get use to the winter blues, with the sun already down by 4 in the afternoon and darkness lingering up to 8 in the morning the following day. Oriental fish that I am, I must admit that I do miss the sun…

The long slippery road to the office, on a Monday morning

However, the chance of a White Christmas this week is high, a prospect the cheers up a lot of people.

I still owe 18th Moon readers assorted reports of my Hawaiian trip last July and the recent break in southern Turkey. Loads to write in the next few days…

In the meantime, here are some snap shots of the snowy landscape in Holland.

Enjoy!

Snow-swept highway

Empty bus stop

Wintry landscape in Holland

Prague Lite

In Travel on December 2, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Baroque and Roccoco buildings dot the old centre of Ljubljana

The Slovenian capital Ljubljana reminds me of story book European villages where the church, the market place, a thinly forested mountain, a meandering river that neatly cuts across the town and slate-roofed houses seem to be all at the right place. Don’t get me wrong, I love the small-city charm of Ljubljana and I can understand why some travellers fondly call this very compact city “Prague Lite.”

I arrived in Ljubljana on a rainy October afternoon where the wind and the rain chased me right to the hotel’s revolving doors. I wouldn’t have been tempted to leave the hotel’s warm cosiness had it not been for the fact that all of the city’s ‘must-see’ sights are all within walking distance.

My first stop was at the Prešeren Square, the main town square dominated by the Franciscan church and the statue of the renowned poet France Prešeren. This must be the first time that I see a city’s main square dedicated to or honouring a poet, instead of a king, warrior, Catholic bishop or some mythical beast. So a full 10 points for the Slovenians for honouring a man of word, not of the sword!

A statue of the poet France Preseren on Ljubljana''s main square

The square led me into the Three Bridges (Tromostovje) and across the side footbridges and the bridge between them into the old city centre. My battered umbrella was protesting against the wind, but with the fading light I was as just determined to check out City Hall, the main cathedral, the Castle sitting atop the mountain and the River Ljubljanica.

My itinerary proved to be a tall order. I managed only to reach the cathedral, lazily strolled along the banks of Ljubljanica and arrived at the new funicular or boxed elevator that brings visitors to the  Ljubljana Castle. Although less grand compared to other European castles, the Ljubljana Castle is worth a look as it gives you a panoramic view of the city. I did that the following day with a bunch of Italian tourists. Renovated several times in the past, the Castle served as jail and extra housing. Today, it is a favourite venue for art shows, cultural exhibits and weddings. With a restaurant, a souvenir store, a small bookstore and the view deck from the Castle’s original ramparts, the castle complex attracts its regular share of tourists.

Flea market and antiques at the town's Three Bridges

With the Roccoco and Baroque architecture dotting the city, the comparison with Prague is fair although the scale is smaller, less grand but more intimate. At night the cafes along the river bank would set up café tables and chairs, but due to the early rains, the three nights I was there I had to be contented to watch the nightlife and passers-by from indoors.

Evening view from the top, at the Castle's viewing deck

My last half day was spent at the flea market-cum-antique wares peddled on the Three Bridges and along the northern banks of Ljubljanica. Anything old, painted, framed or with pages all act as magnet to me and I can spend hours just looking around piles of old books, unwanted paintings, broken chandeliers, sepia postcards, you name it- anything with dust and memories are sure to grab my attention.

I didn’t pick up anything though as the objects I found compelling were either  taller than me or older by a least 200 years, with an equal worth in euros or triple my body weight. And yes, compared with its Eastern European neighbors, Ljubljana is far ahead in inflationary terms, with prices at par with those in the west. Think in terms of Austria and Italian goods which are all amply sold in this city.

Like in other visits or trips that were intended for work with European urologists, I only managed to lightly scratch the surface of Ljubljana. But definitely this picture-book city deserves another leisurely visit on a sparkling, windless day when rain and battered umbrellas are clearly out of the way.

Glorious sunshine broke out on our last day, on the way to the airport. A view of Slovenia's ski mountain ranges

Touch and go

In On writing, Pop culture on December 1, 2009 at 3:13 pm

 

First steps, first break…This week marks the first full year of this blog. Reaching this far was something I have not expected for 18th Moon as I was unsure when I started in December 8, 2008 of how to keep an on-line platform going.

It turned out that topics, issues, assorted rants and raves all come naturally. One just have to master the skill of waiting for a moment of clarity when things slowly fall into place and you can speak across that space where the cursor blinks out from a daunting digital emptiness.

And the best sources sometimes are those that come to me from the past. Writing a blog then becomes a careful dredging up of impressions,  a recall of  forgotten incidents, chance remarks and other details that usually fall between the cracks of our febrile memory.

Although the more mainstream thing to do in a blog is to comment on the here-and-now, upload photos, post them and write a cursory remark or punch-driven line, I realised that the tougher challenge is to lucidly write in retrospect.

In that space (and time) the mind actually does little tricks, picking out details we didn’t notice in the real and actual experience, or prompting us to translate an experience into the “now” with a newfound attention or focus. Engagement.

Careful attention or focus, though, is often the collateral damage in our frenzied, tweeting media landscape, where the only constant is the barrage of information that continually blitz our networked lives, 24-7.

Touch-and-go is the dominant emblem, whether you line-up in a McDo queue, SMS a friend or press the ‘Send’ button.

The tempo of our digitally-landscaped lives makes us masters of quick sampling. A line or a recurring beat is more than sufficient to propel us to the next level, the next scrolling page or the next beat. In the stream of digital stimuli, many are caught in the ebb and flow and, perhaps, the only way to stay afloat and reach the shore is to consume and compress experience in well-digested bytes.

I recall the famous arcade game Pac-Man of the 1980s with its vast appetite for smileys, devouring as much as it can to maintain a forward trajectory. The reminder of this gobble-and-go icon for this generation is that a consumption-fired lifestyle creates its own inertia since the next level can only lead to the next–  an endless maze of collapsing alleys and blind corners.

Back to the word ‘engagement’ which this blog has reminded me to pick up again. Since writing is the basis of this blog, I am prompted to recreate if not record, and to do that I am oblige to engage, actively. Ironically, in the dim corners of the big vast Net, there is a place to hold back the Pac-Man obsession.

                                                    

For this I may be inspired to keep 18th Moon for another year, and I hope that this promise is not a threat to those of you who, by pure chance, happen to happily pass by this web page looking for treats.

Pulse-Berlin

In Art, On writing, Poetry on November 24, 2009 at 9:33 am

In the big wide world of literary journals it is often a tall order to pick through the wide variety much less read one’s way up the high haystack. Once in a while though there are journals and art projects that seizes us by the collar, prompting not only a cursory read or the passive role of a reader but taking an active part as participant or contributor. 

Once such literary art project is the Berlin-based art collective called Pulse Berlin.  I had the good fortune of coming across this creative group and for their semi-annual journal they reprinted one of my poems from 2005 for their themed issue on `War and Conflict.`

 About Pulse-Berlin, in their website it says: “Pulse is a bi-annual journal about the activity that happens in the places between definitions. We live in a world where problems are no longer localized: issues in every discipline exceed the limits of that discipline and need illumination from many others, as do the problems of nations and cultures. Pulse Berlin is about opening new conversations between nations, cultures, and disciplines. We believe it is this interplay that ultimately leads to positive forms of change.

The journal is created twice a year in Berlin, Germany, printed cumulatively per year and gifted to bookshops, museums, reading rooms, and other exciting places internationally. “Because Pulse is also an art object, with original illustrations and artwork, the print run is always a limited edition. Half of the printed version is numbered and given to contributors and collaborators. Many of the articles and interviews in Pulse Berlin are also available online,” the editors say.

One good thing about Pulse-Berlin, unlike majority of the journals that one encounters these days, is its goal to freely share and disseminate  a part of the printed contents. Hence if you visit the links I am listing below, you can access, for free, my poem `The Fifth and Careful Season,’ and several other contributions to this wonderful  journal that acts as a bridge across cultures, communities, disciplines–  in other words it is an amalgam of views, experiences and creative expressions.

Amongst others, one benefit of finding oneself in such a crossroads of divergent views and experiences is that it prompts our minds to challenge our dearly held views in the face of other ideas or convictions that might be as valid if not equally liberating as our own.

Hence, Pulse Berlin accomplishes not only taking stock of what’s going on in our communities, or conveying the wider context and motivations behind our collective experience but also pushes its readers and contributors to reflect on the myriad and divergent paths that each of us take.

I haven´t got yet my contributor’s copy of Pulse-Berlin. Compared to 2008 and even the previous years, 2009 wasn´t a very productive year for me in the poetry department. But being a part of Pulse Berlin took up the slack.

You may not get hold of a printed copy, but with a big part of our world already ‘on-line,’  it is only a matter of clicks to access some of the challenging and unique art and literature being produced in our time.

Enjoy the read!

Link to Pulse/Berlin:  http://www.pulse-berlin.com/index.php?id=sitemap

Link to Poem:        http://www.pulse-berlin.com/index.php?id=188

Erwin’s eloquent silence

In Art on November 19, 2009 at 8:33 am

"Abandoned Relic" Oil on canvas by Erwin Leano, All photos courtesy of Art Informal

Noise- background, ambient or broadcasted- bombard us on a daily basis. I wake to the shrillness of the alarm clock, wait at the bus or train station amidst the frenzied rush of wheels, pick up my work routine with the endless click of computer keys, snatches of conversation, ringtones, TV static, MP3 beats— noise has become so pervasive we don’t even realise we are tightly ensnared in its web.

There is also “visual noise.” The clutter of advertising billboards, posters and graphic signs are ubiquitous fixtures in our modern lives. We read food labels, warnings, contracts, follow directional signs, go through our typical day always with an endless stream of symbols and codes that we are oblige to cipher and decipher.

"A New Day" Oil on canvas by Erwin Leano

In monitoring the visual arts, I also get into the daily habit of absorbing the ebb and flow, the constant flood of manufactured images. Call it occupational or ‘vocational’ hazard, it’s similar to facing a long banquet table where one is expected to gorge oneself to the fullest.

But in rare times, I do encounter gems of art that provide a space of silence.

Erwin Leano’s recent one-man show “Still,” at ArtInformal (Mandaluyong City, Philippines) is one such example of a clearing in the visual (arts) forest. Movement is arrested in a painting by Leano and a scene is framed with meditative contemplation. The horizon in his landscapes is often low or highly elevated, positioning the viewer at a distance, where unoccupied space is as vital as movement.

Strangely, Leano’s nearly empty landscapes are robustly alive, a place where one is drawn to reminisce, and wait for the cue, not to speak or move, but to contemplate.

"Shelter from the Storm" Oil on canvas by Erwin Leano

In the piece “Abandoned Relic” the shell of a car is reflected on still waters, the soft mossy green hues lightly saturating the background landscape. This is a scene of a journey halted or abandoned mid-way, as if the traveller was seduced to leave the vehicle.

But to Leano a journey is never completely abandoned, as he prompts or invite us to move in other directions. “Shelter from the Storm,” presents a prairie-like landscape, showing the viewer the back of a barn, an old one where the passage of time has obviously made its mark or have taken its toll. The invitation, as implied in the title, is to occupy a space of comfort, a fair warning to seek a place of refuge.

"Tumba-tumba," (Rocking Chair) Oil on canvas by Erwin Leano

With his sepia-like palette of light olives, tans and mossy greens, Leano attempts to beguile the viewer into a place and time where the sun is shaded, where afternoons have a soft glow and feel of being tarnished by the slow ticking of a clock.

But Leano’s latest oeuvre is not totally silent. It murmurs, coaxes, whispers. It gently pats us on the shoulder and leans to us with the easy manner of a confidant. Leano’s work may not stun with spatial flourishes. But one thing is sure. Once you draw the curtains to a work by Leano it subtly reveals to the eyes not only what has gone by, but more importantly, what pleasures you can encounter in the unwavering stillness of a moment.

Lost in Plantation, Part 1

In Travel on November 18, 2009 at 9:57 am

Sugar plantation worker in Hawaii

If there is one place during my short visit to Honolulu (in Oahu Island) last July that made a lasting impression on me it would be definitely the Hawaii Village Plantation, a so-called ‘open-air’ museum and memorial built to mark the history of immigrants to this island state, particularly the laborers who worked in the sugar plantations in the early 20th century.

The plantation village stands between a main highway and a sprawling field of taro root crops. Just inside the entrance gates stand a row of houses and buildings, one of which is an authentic Chinese temple painstakingly dismantled from its original site and rebuilt beam by beam, from floor to ceiling in the plantation village compound.

Each house or building is a ‘typical’ dwelling representing the main nationalities that labored in Hawaii’s sugar plantations from 1862 to the height of Hawaii’s sugar industry in the mid-1940s.

Workers' huts in a plantation village

Other buildings are a store, chapel, barber shop and a Japanese bath house, to name a few– all are faithful reproductions of period (1930s, 1940s) buildings from the bygone era of the sugar industry, with each house furnished with authentic furniture, clothing, down to the smallest details such as broomsticks, ovens, bird cages and board games that are specific to each ethnic group be it Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, amongst other races.

Metal tags identifying plantation workers by race

After we viewed a short video documentary on immigrant history and a selection of interviews with surviving plantation worker s and their families, we were guided to a house-by-house tour complete with an insightful commentary on the history, politics, culture and other socio-economic facets that illustrate the impact of immigrant sugar workers on Hawaiian history.

One of the most evocative relics from this bygone era displayed in the small museum is the numbered metal tag assigned to each ethnic group. Plantation managers (called lunas) call out the plantation workers by numbers, a practice that many workers find humiliating.

A quote from a Filipino plantation worker displayed in the museum exhibit notes

But the number assignment pales in comparison with the sordid realities that immigrant workers found themselves in. Not only were salaries paltry, but the work involved was literally back-breaking with a daily 12-hour routine starting at 5 in the morning to 6 in the evening, with a strictly regimented pace, allowing only for meal breaks.  Some of the lunas used whips not only on animals but also on their own workers they felt were not working fast or hard enough. In other words, plantation profits were largely built on sugar-coated (pardon the pun) slavery, albeit a modern (and systematic) one.

Lunas were of all races but in the early days, most lunas or managers were Caucasians. In the museum notes it was stated that although some lunas were well respected, others were cruel and were hated by the workers, with some even attacked and left for dead in the sugar fields. Violence, in all forms, seem to be entwined with the capitalistic structure that the sugar industry was built on.

Next: Love and death in the plantation, Part 2

The art of speaking out

In Art on November 9, 2009 at 2:02 pm
Ina Api, pen and ink by Iggy Rodriguez Photo courtesy of Blanc Compound

Ina Api (Mistreated) pen and ink on paper, Iggy Rodriguez, Photo courtesy of Blanc Compound

In the art world where snobbery and elitism often permeates the very air that its denizens breathe in, it is a challenge for those on the margins to cross the very high threshold (both imagined and actual) that artifice has created.

Blanc Compound (Mandaluyong City, Philippines) is one venue in Metro Manila where one can find or encounter art in all shapes, sizes and conviction. Upon receiving the emailed invitation from Blanc last week on Iggy Rodriguez’s first solo exhibit “KIMI-IMIK” (from November 10 to 30, Shaw Boulevard), I immediately took notice for many reasons. Not only is Rodriguez in my artist-to-watch list after seeing, on-line, some of his earlier pen-and-ink works, but also the fact that it is his first solo (co-produced with Slash/Art Artist Initiatives) in a mainstream art venue.

Kimi is “timid” in Filipino, a trait often attributed by Western observers to many Filipinos. Whether the observation is correct or not, assertiveness is a social trait determined by one’s cultural genes in the Philippines where the politics of class, stature and money dominates or is the red line that crosses many social narratives. In Rodriguez’s chosen title the flipside of “Kimi” is “Imik” which in Filipino means “to speak out.” Not exactly a palindrome, the show’s title is a clever twist on the palindrome. More intriguing is the implicit suggestion: is the Filipino’s ‘timidity-assertiveness’ actually a Janus-face attribute?

"Hindi Laging Ganito," oil on canvas, Iggy Rodriguez, Photo courtesy of Blanc Compound

"Hindi Laging Ganito," oil on canvas, Photo courtesy of Blanc Compound

Three works in Rodriguez’s Blanc show engage my attention. I consider the piece on the invitation titled Ina Api as a personal favourite in the whole 10-piece collection, a pen-and-ink work that impresses with the density of its lines and subtlety of technique. The gnarled, wood-like hands of this mother alone is worth the price of admission, so to speak. Ina Api and two other pieces provided proof why Rodriquez was granted one of the 13 Artists Awards given this year by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Ina Api (again a play on the words Ina or Mother and Api, mistreated) or persecuted (in Filipino) draws on iconic images and associative meanings, conveying both religious piety and the machinations of blind faith.

Hindi Laging Ganito,” (Not Always Like This) is a sharp commentary on capitalism, where the fruits of a capitalistic society is literally rooted or made on the bent backs of the working class. Rodriquez’s burnt reds and frenetic lines and brush strokes eloquently convey this urgent message of social inequality, a powerful work depicting the ‘powerless.’ 

Sa Dulo ng Papel,” (At Paper’s End) underscores the absurdity in bureaucracy, one of the most pervasive social ills, even outside the developing world, where a paper chase occupies higher ground than what it suppose to originally serve. In Rodriquez’s work the paper chase is ‘high water’ that drowns all those that fall in its ridiculous trail.

"Sa Dulo ng Papel" oil on canvas by Iggy Rodriguez, Photo courtesy of Blanc Compound

"Sa Dulo ng Papel," oil on canvas, Photo courtesy of Blanc Compound

In socially engaged art it is easy to slide into pamphletry and sloganeering and the pitfalls are many even for the skilled artist. And, perhaps, for many Filipinos, the art of speaking out remains a skill that has yet to be fully mastered and expressed particularly in the face of blatant corruption shown by those who are in power. Thus, the posited query: which part of the Janus-face should the Filipino show in these dog days of  rampant power abuse? 

In this debut solo show, and among his peers, Rodriguez has shown that an artist can eloquently speak out on the country’s ills without straying from or abandoning his own artistic vision.   

In his foreword to the Blanc exhibit, the Filipino social-realist writer Jun Cruz Reyes wrote that Rodriguez obviously still has a lot to say on the social ills that continue to plague Philippine society, adding that it would be a fitting gesture if the art world open the gates to welcome this young artist.

If not for the 3,000 miles that separate me from the Blanc Compound,  I wouldn’t miss the chance to find out for myself and experience the works of yet another distinct and authentic voice in Philippine comtemporary art, a voice of an artist that did not track the usual and heavily trodden path of so-called ‘elitist’ art.

Flaming June

In Art on November 4, 2009 at 2:26 pm
AA Flaming June wh

Flaming June (1895) Frederic Leighton, displayed at the GEM, The Hague

For the last few weeks the trees and autumn foliage in my Nijmegen neighbourhood are quickly turning into a riot of orange, reds, deep browns, accompanied by the first chilly winds of the season. Some trees have already bared their branches as if in total surrender to the coming wintry months.

It is autumn’s deep hues of orange that reminds me of Frederic Leighton’s sumptuous Flaming June,  a masterful oil painting I saw in September this year at the GEM in the Hague. This could be the second time the painting has touched Dutch soil after it left an Amsterdam gallery in the mid-1960s when it was bought by Luis Ferre, a Puerto Rican industrialist and politician who also collected for and founded the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico.

Reports said that Leighton’s masterful painting was left unsold in Amsterdam in the early 1960s when it was auctioned with a reserve price of US $140! In those years, Victorian and pre-Raphaelite paintings were considered old-fashioned and their prices dropped to all-time lows just when prices for modernist and avant-garde art were on the rise. Obviously Leighton’s Flaming June was deemed too outdated in those days. Ferre sealed a $10,000 deal with the Amsterdam gallery and since then the painting has stayed in Puerto Rican hands.

AA Flaming June closeup

Detail of 'Flaming June'

For a few weeks in August and September, the GEM displayed a handful of paintings by pre-Raphaelites such as Leighton and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. I caught the tail end of the exhibit, when visitors are few and one could have unrestricted views of even small paintings such as Flaming June. The GEM exhibit of Leighton’s Flaming June was amongst the very few small retrospectives on Leighton’s work.

Leighton and his pre-Raphaelites colleagues were known not only for their romanticism but also for the strictly formalists concerns they espoused. In Flaming June, Leighton was obviously not concerned with conveying a message or did he make any references to literature or morality. His masterpiece was strictly l’art pour l’art. Flaming June simply evokes the heat of summer, giving the viewer a sensation of sultry heat.

The striking palette of Flaming June is dominated by the reddish orange of the sleeping woman’s flowing robe. Daydreaming or sleeping women were favourite subjects of Leighton and his colleagues, and viewing Flaming June gives the viewer an almost voyeuristic feeling as if one has just stepped into a private world. The theme of sleeping beauties also have associations with the motif of death and, less negatively, with the subconscious or timelessness.

Standing before the painting, I simply enjoyed and relished the visual spectacle, the exaggerated proportions (of the woman) and the subtlety of the palette that effectively draw in the eye (and the viewer). This is one hue of orange that I wouldn’t mind hanging in my house. 

Too bad I wasn’t around in Amsterdam in the early 1960s when Flaming June was cast aside in the dim corners of a gallery, neglected and abandoned amidst the fickle tastes and changing winds in the art world!

AA Flaming June etc

The GEM exhibit on Pre-Raphaelites paintings