Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Utopian Dream

My friend, fellow painter and quite successful I might add, Omi Reyes, will be having a one man show in Singapore. As part of his exhibit, his wife, fellow classmate, Tutit Reyes, asked me to make a write-up for the show. I am reproducing it here for safekeeping. I am also attaching two of his former works for your enjoyment.

tito rolly


Man has always been in search of that ideal place where one is completely satisfied with what he sees, smells and feels to the point of a sensory overload. A place where a perfect socio-politico legal system exists, where one can communicate with God through His creations making His word translatable in all languages that leaves man without any ambiguities and where the gap between the rich and the poor is totally non-existent. This longing for the ideal is brought about by the awareness that we live in an imperfect world and is present with different cultures as attested to by literature that is replete with the concept that may have started with the Greek poet Hesiod and Plutarch extending to Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, or the German's The Land of Cokaygne and that ever famous work of Sir Thomas More - Utopia.

However elusive this dream of a perfect place has been, artist Omi Reyes has succeeded in giving us a glimpse of that world albeit within the confines of his canvass, thus illusory, making for at least a visual concept of a place we have dreamt of since time immemorial available and within our grasps, forever etched in the confines of our minds, giving solace to our desolate existence that is full of despair and want and fodder to our hungry souls. This he managed to do using his rich imagination translated unabashedly by flawless renditions of harmonious colors through excellent brushstrokes, hard work and a natural flair for what is truly beautiful.

As a painter, Omi Reyes has undergone several transformations starting from the simple finger painting technique which epitomizes a primeval urge to paint devoid of other implements but his hands, and yet, one can see the complexity of his creative mind for the images conjured by this seemingly raw technique is anything but simple. His landscapes alone can attest to his vivid memory juxtaposing a scene he once saw with his ideal world. The exuberant landscapes illumined by the sun are reminiscent of a stage play where a crafty lightsman distributes hundreds of volts into the right places to suggest a particular mood. This is usually accented by birds in flight making us feel free and unbothered by the pressures of our day to day problems. Echoes of the Valley and Threads of Light are masterpieces we know are teeming with the wonders of nature not of this world but from the rich mind of a master craftsman, a true artist. Through this style, one can feel that he truly knows his medium and speaks to us directly from the heart.

Then, there are those flowers that evoke a feeling of perfection. Once again, we see the mastery of the artist at composition, sometimes radial evoking a life continuum that goes on and on, sometimes linearly upright as if wanting to touch the heavens inducing one to remember his long forgotten dreams and ambitions. Omi has paid very close attention to detail that one can actually see the veins bringing life to his horticultural world. The brilliance of his rich hues is even more captivating than an actual bouquet of flowers one can almost smell the fragrance or feel the softness of the petals that one forgets it is a canvass one is looking at.

His semi-abstractions of multi-planed panels coupled with realism give us an idea of how he works his compositions. Unlike any other abstract artist, there are just no accidents in his compositions. There are no fortuitous effects one sees in Jackson Pollock or Franz Kline. Every single unit has been planned well. The textured background panels, the placing of the bird perched on a tiny twig and the contrasting colored appliques are well-planned that they succeed in taking us back to our ephemeral subsistence.

Lastly, there would have been nothing extraordinary with his attempt at music had it not been done on canvass. His musical instruments cascade with musical notes both lyrical and enigmatic in its execution. He need not play the instrument per se for his canvass is poetry put to music in its purest form. Looking at his Harmony in Still Life and Harmony in Silence can be compared to listening to Beethoven's symphonies or Chopin's Etudes.

If there is one common denominator throughout all these metamorphoses, it would be Omi's search for perfection and succeeding in attaining it. Omi has mastered all the techniques he had invented through sheer tenacity, perseverance and wit. He has given us a view of a perfect world defying the evils brought about by our shortcomings. Through his canvasses he reminds us that somewhere there is a place where there exists a balance between transcendence and reality, of abstraction and concrete, of imagination and fact, if only we look and work hard to achieve it. Going to an Omi Reyes exhibit has always been like living the Utopian dream.

"Harmony in Still-life"

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My friend Arlene

I have written about my friend Arlene Lawson a couple of times. For those of you who haven't known her yet, she was a Canadian/American who I have befriended when I joined Writersvillage, an online university for writers sometime in 1998. We had been online friends since then and our relationship was strengthened when she came to the country to visit my family. Our story is a living testimony of how the internet, in spite of the horror stories we've read or heard over time, can be a tool for lasting friendly relationships. For those of you who missed this story, you can read it here.

When Arlene passed away on December 8, 2006, a huge part of my being has been taken away. She was not only a friend but "she was my mentor, my muse in poetry, my confidante who always listened when I whined, laughed at my antics, my source of energy everytime I felt so-so, my fan who believed in everything I do, my patron who had taken me to places I would not have dared go". As if to add insult to injury, my mother who was bedridden and suffering from Alzheimer's disease for several years, died two weeks after while my closest aunt (possibly the only one I have known) and best friend, passing on several months earlier. That was a very lonely year for me.

Yesterday, I was very happy to receive from our common friend, Bob Wands, a book of her poems together with pictures, which I think summarizes what she was when she was alive. Bob (her best friend) is co-owner with Arlene of an online poetry e-zine which also saw print called "The Country Garden Mouse", a namesake of her once -upon-a -time souvenir shop in Steveston, BC. During the memorial service, Bob "was given permission to extract from her computer all of her writing, and many of her pictures." Bob painstakingly sorted out these pictures that "have a relationship to the poetry, intending to chronicle ... from (our) many conversations - were the important periods of her life." AS a result, this book aptly titled, "The Real Arlene" is born. Reading this book reminded me of long conversations with her over the phone, the internet and during my stay in Canada.

Arlene is by far one of the best poets I have come across in my years of stay in the university. Just to show you how good she was, here is a poem she wrote about the most painful experience she ever had. In November of 1959, she lost her 23 month-old baby, Theresa, (she could have been the same age as I) on her lap when she was killed by a drunk driver. In this poem, we can feel the anguish of a mother who has cared so much for her daughter only to lose her so soon. The brevity of the poem and its simple imagery makes it very powerful for me. Here it is:

Empty now


Pack away
forsaken playthings.
still damp diapers
folded dresses


Wipes the final
finger smudges
from off

Arlene Lawson

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A useless obligation and more.

I am not very fond of June. This is not because the month ends a long hibernation from work. While it puts to an end to an enjoyable summer, tours I have embarked on included, experiencing new cultures, making new and enforcing relationship with old friends, meeting new acquaintances and learning a lot of things, there is a different reason why I do not like the month of June. June is the time to work on my obligations, one of which is to register my old car at the LTO, purchase a new insurance policy and worse, take my car to an emission testing center to ensure that it is still street-worthy. Emission testing - what a hassle and a lot of waste of my valuable time. I would not have minded taking my car for testing if I am assured that the procedure does what it purports to do. Lessen, if not totally eliminate the terrible pollution on our air. What makes me angry is that I see vehicles which have just been registered, hence, supposedly have passed the test emitting a lot of dangerous smoke. Public buses and trucks are major culprits and the government could not do a thing about it.

Sadly, pollution in the country is so bad that this is the first thing my foreign friends who come for a visit, notice. Rightfully so because I have occasion to visit several countries and it has always been a delight to inhale their fresh air. Not so in the coutry. Try deep breathing and you won't last a single breath. The smog will stop your attmept making your lungs heavy and longing for clean air. If only government had a good political will to stop pollution, we could at least solve this problem. However, when police authorities do not care, probably because they have been bribed to look the other way, no emission testing or any procedure for that matter, will work. In the meantime, I have to worry about finding time to register my car and all the ramifications that go with it for I work on the days that these government agencies hold office. Pray tell me why these agencies do not open on weekends?


Talking about cars, the increase in the price of gasoline seem to be unstoppable. Nothing can be done about this. This is a world-wide phenomenon. What we don't realize is that this entails a more horrific scenario than we think. It is possible that we are running out of this very important resource. Think about it. It took billions of years for an oil deposit to be built and this is not replenishable. With the way we consume this commodity, it is not impossible that we have used up all the oil this planet can provide. When this happens, we will have to go back to riding horses or walk our way to our destinations. No more planes or ships or even fast cars to take us to any far-away country or province in a short span of time. We will probably have to use the same kind of ships used during the galleon trade to go to America, for example. That is unless we find a substitute for oil.

Solar energy perhaps but research on this technology may been stunted by the powers that be for it would mean business loss for oil companies. However, with the advent of the depletion of the oil reserves, now is the time to look for substitutes and Filipinos, if given the chance and the encouragement, can face this problem head on.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

We must be doing a good job

Last Wednesday, I was out of the house for a cig when my son called me from the house. He said my eldest daughter who is now working for a car company, has something to say. Just like her mom who has a penchant for ceremonies, I was wondering what the announcement would be. As I was told that she wanted me to be the first to hear the news, I entered the gate and was about to go inside the house. However, before I could enter, she already met me at the door. Secretly, she whispered that she was given her yearly bonus. Much to my surprise, she gave me 2K. I asked her how much was her bonus but she said I did not have to know. (Of course!) Then, she called her mom and gave her mom her share. Then, she called on her siblings, who was jumping with joy upon receiving her surprise. My eldest son, in jest, even kissed her footsteps while the youngest gave her kisses on her cheeks. Then, we partook of the ice cream that she brought home.

Of course, she did not have to do that. She already shares with some of the household expenses. When I was growing up, we had a neighbor who was berating her son for not showing utang na loob (debt of gratitude) to his parents for having reared him and sent him to school. At the time, I thought that was right but my parents told me that there was something wrong with her logic. It is the parents' obligation to rear their children, give them shelter and clothing, send him to school and all that. But, the child has no obligation to his parents for bringing him into this world. The child never chose who his/her parents will be, in the first place. If a child decides to take care of his aging parents, feed them and give them a share of his/her earnings, that would be out of the graciousness of his/her heart, not out of duty or obligation.

Nevertheless, I rememeber the first time I earned money. It was during the first quarter storm and ironically, the country was visited by a strong typhoon and hundreds of people were stranded in Central Luzon. The government ordered nutribuns (I wonder if anybody can remember these) to be sent to those stranded along the roads of Pampanga en route to Manila. The producer of these nutribuns were neighbors and could not keep up with the demands to supply the needed product unless they work round the clock. The solution was to employ us, the neighborhood gang, for the night shift and I got the chance to work even for just a night. I remember having earned Php10.00. (Maybe we were underpaid but we did not care. What we knew was that we had fun). I offered my mom half of it and she was very pleased. When my eldest daughter Now I know what that money meant to my mom.