Thursday, January 31, 2013

VIAJES : Celebrating Memories and Solitude

Migration’s Painful Heart Bleeds in Zulueta’s Canvas

By Filipina Lippi
Published: March 25, 2013
Manila Bulletin

Artist, political cartoonist, and photographer Jose “Pinggot” Zulueta has experienced migration and has painted his experiences abroad like images of a bleeding heart. In his art works, he has also captured the essence of a migrant whose heart belongs to two places – both in his own native soil and the host country where he has stayed and taken root. Again, navigating between two worlds, whether real or imagined, makes the migrant perpetually hybrid and schizophrenic; or in an eternal state of being lost and found, qualities that are not lost in Zulueta’s self-referenced art works.

In his fourth one-man show entitled “Viajes” at Galerie Francesca in Mandaluyong’s Megamall, from February 21 to March 7, Zulueta’s works included diptychs and triptychs with abstract and figurative works. His abstract pieces depicted pure emotions and raw impulses with colors and gestures; his figurative works depicted the migrant’s persona, a steady body, but whiplashed with colors that could easily signify a tumultuous and unsettled existence of someone who keeps coming back and forth from his origin.

Combining his abstract and figurative images with straight and colorful lines, Zulueta succeeded in underlining the narrative of a migrant’s psychological tension. His titles: Blue Figure, Blue Night; Flight; Figure Rising; Introspection; Meditation; Moon Dancer; Night Walker; Oblivion; Quiet Mind; Dawn, and Wind Talker, were also tell tale signs of a migrant’s desire to overcome himself and his giddy, and global world.

In “Viajes”, Zulueta also showed stand alone abstract pieces entitled Albany on My Mind, Castle Hill Memories; Crying Heart; Dreaming of North Shore; and Imagining Parramatta River. They were all about memories of his adopted home that kept haunting him even after he has returned to the Philippines.

“I never thought much of these places that I saw abroad. But they keep coming back in my mind like intimate spaces, after I have returned home in 2008,” says Zulueta.

He and his wife Vanessa, a top social development worker for international agencies; and daughter Paula, (now a media graduate of Macquarie University), left for New Zealand in 2002. They transferred to Australia in 2006. His wife and daughter were left behind in Sydney when he returned to Manila in May 2008, to pursue his art while working as a lifestyle photographer of The Manila Bulletin.

“It is hard to be a migrant (especially if one has to give up one’s art while abroad). At the same time, it is harder to be away from my family while pursuing my art alone in the Philippines,” confesses Zulueta. It is a never ending tension for the artist who has also realized after returning to the Philippines, that going home ironically means being with one’s family whether it is based abroad or not; that one’s country is no longer a place, but one’s soul.

His life abroad was full of sacrifices and unnecessary alienation. Like any other overseas Filipino worker (OFW), he has experienced asserting his identity either through persuasive interactions or clashes of cultures.

It was not the first time that Zulueta tackled the issue of migration. In 2005, just three years after living in New Zealand, he depicted images of a man with clipped wings in an exhibit entitled “Aotearoa Series,” at the Philippine Center on Fifth Avenue in New York.

These early pieces on migration were more expressionistic in depicting the pain and loneliness of being uprooted and the difficulty of settling down abroad, says Zulueta, adding there was no other authentic voice he could amplify in his art at the time.

Although other artists have explored earlier Zulueta’s signature theme on migration, many of them have tackled the issue objectively, not subjectively, because majority of them have not experienced painful episodes of living abroad.

In 2012, social realist artist Edgar “Egai” Fernandez depicted the OFWs using a balikbayan box and candles shaped like human beings. Unlike Zulueta, he has not lived abroad for a long period of time.

In 2011, installation artists Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan used rows of compressed boxes in telling stories of migration, in an art exhibit entitled “Address” at the Vargas Museum of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. Although Australian residents since 2006, the Filipino husband and wife team has been doing collaborative works on migration that tend to be more Platonic than expressionistic.

In 2007, Antipas Biboy Delotavo who belongs to the group of social realist artists, made a large oil painting entitled “Diaspora,” which portrayed a sea of lonely and passive people moving away with their luggage (at the airport). Using the same “objective” approach in depicting OFWs, Delotavo held a one man show on migration entitled “Street Guide: A Roadmap from Home” at the Artesan Art Gallery in Singapore in 2008. Like Fernandez who has not lived abroad, Delotavo’s interest on migration has a strong socio-historical flavor.

In 1978, National Artist Ben Cabrera (Bencab) also made a series on OFWs and mail-order brides in a show entitled “Larawan II: The Filipino Abroad” at the Luz Gallery. Although he has lived abroad with his now estranged wife Caroline Kennedy, and raised their three children in London, Cabrera’s works about migration did not refer to him, but to other OFWs who worked as professionals and domestic helpers abroad.

Filipino installation artists like Canada-based Lani Maestro and France-based Gaston Damag, have amplified the visual-voices on migration that are now resonating from almost all other ethnic artists based abroad.

In comparison with the more philosophical and objective works done by other artists on migration, Zulueta’s approach is more autobiographical, heartfelt and personal.

About nine million OFWs are based worldwide.

Zulueta is also involved with several art activities. This year, he will launch a coffee table book, a compilation of his photos of 75 artists in their studios that he shot for Manila Bulletin’s Artist At Work section.

In 2012, Zulueta’s 40 editorial cartoons, a collection of his daily output for Abante from 1986 to 1991, were included in a group show entitled “Papelismo,” at Crucible Gallery, SM Megamall in Mandaluyong.

In 2002, his images of political and socio-economic events for a show entitled “Asinta: Images and Imageries”. In 1985, he painted, in representational style, marine life for a show entitled “Tilamsik”.

For inquiries, call Galerie Francesca at +63(2) 570-9495 or email

                                                             Night Walker, Triptych, Mixed Media
                                                                Night Scape, Triptych, Mixed Media
Imagining Parramatta River
                                                     Mixed Media, 16 in. x 22 in. 2012

                                                 Dreaming North Shore, Mixed Media
                                                                16 in. x 22 in. 2012
                                                Moon Dancer, Acrylic on Canvas, 2005
                                                 Quiet Mind, Acrylic on Canvas, 2005

                                                       CATHARTIC EVOLUTIONS

                              “A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. “
                                                                                                                   -Paul Cezanne

Catharsis had its Greek origin in Kathairen, meaning to ‘cleanse’. The word was derived from Aristotle’s Poetics, in which it set forth the notion of release through art and drama. For Pinggot Zulueta, his process of catharsis gave birth not only to powerfully evocative paintings, but also the opportunity for his audience enjoy the works as a secret window to the intimate expressions of his soul.

There are two dimensions of loneliness that a man feels in his life. One is reserved for those away from home living in a foreign land; A loneliness that consumes the mind and body making it hunger for familiar sights, sounds and smells. The other is the loneliness in finding yourself a stranger in your own land as a result of being without the people you love; A loneliness that consumes the heart, aching for those who matter most making the quiet emptiness of the home chilling. It is the tension between these two dimensions of loneliness that has driven artist Pinggot Zulueta to create a deeply personal collection of works.

More than a diary of his thoughts, his latest exhibit is a tribute to the therapeutic qualities of art. The healing characteristic of an empty canvas, the soothing excitement of the oil and acrylic and finally, the hypnotizing beauty of a finished work that serves as a welcome and temporary intermission from the sobering realities of life.

However, Pinggot Zulueta graces us not only with his personal memories, he also takes us with him as he relives through the work his evolution as a painter. The collection is a retrospective of his recent evolutions as an artist. Exhibiting never before seen works, he includes his figurative, as well as gestural abstract works.

Some works form a trio of paintings, the middle work a token from his early figurative paintings, an intimate revelation created in the time that the artist was abroad. The figurative paintings present themselves to be self-portraits; a representation of being that discloses the darkness of that period in his dim palette and poignant strokes.  This nostalgic piece, is flanked on both sides by abstract pieces that display a changed yet similarly emotional state in the gestural brush strokes that reveal the powerfully reminiscent mind of the painter. His abstract works, the shifting between one style from another the noticeably varied strokes, and change in textures and colors is testament to the artist’s need to push the boundaries of his craft, constantly exploring different possibilities.

The three paintings, a combination of new and old, is held together by three bright arresting lines, connecting them and making them into one. In effect, each work is a holistic revelation of his being. His existence, formed by past and present held together by his unbreakable love for painting.

Not all however are positioned this way, some form diptych partnerships that similarly exhibit his movement from one style to another, other works stand alone as a statement of the powerful emotions he experienced in that particular period of time.

As a whole the collection divulges the passionate emotional state of the painter during the specific periods of his life. The shift from one style to another speaks of the restless that connects the works all together. However, taken by piece, each work can stand on its own by its very style.

However, beyond his cathartic process, is a message of hope. Hope that serves as a reminder that life, in its periods of solitude, still holds within it the possibilities, of beauty, love and friendship.
                                                                                                                       Hannah Jo Uy


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