Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cuzco Paintings

Filipiniana Madonna and Child 2012
16? x 12"
by jojo sabalvaro tan
Watercolor, gold paint, gold leaf, colored pencil on handmade parchment paper

My cousin Bong sent me a whole bundle of beautiful handmade paper. It was given to her by another one of our cousins from the Philippines. She knew I could use it with my arts and crafts projects. The paper had dried flowers and leaves embedded on it. For my first project, I wanted to try painting with watercolors on the paper.

The first challenge with using watercolors on this paper is that it does not have any sizing so that the paint runs and absorbs more. Other challenges were the uneven surface and the placement of the embedded flowers and leaves which could generally detract from the whole composition..... Yet, I was determined to use this paper and just make adjustments to my style and technique to cope with the challenges. If the ancient Egyptians were able to paint and write on parchment thousands of years ago, so can I. Right?  well, who am I kidding, these guys built the pyramids after all.

I opted  to do a Madonna and Child painting Surprise! Surprise! It was a natural choice because I am now getting quite comfortable with painting this subject matter and would only have to contend with the paper challenge.  I had always wanted to do my version of the religious art from the Cuzco School which originated in Cuszco, Peru and subsequently spread through the other areas of the Andes such as Bolivia and Equador. The Cuzco School originated in the colonial area where Spanish painters were brought in to teach local artists religious art in the interest of spreading Catholicism in South America. The local artists incorporated their local influences and interpretation into the European style dynamics of these paintings. This singular expression and representation of European religious art combined with Peruvian sensitivity became known as La Escuela Cusquena or School of Cuzco Painting. For more information, please click on the link Cuzco Painting and Cuzco School.

Virgin of the Rosary of Guápulo, ca. 1680
Peruvian (Cuzco)
Oil on canvas
67 1/4 x 43 1/2 in. (170.8 x 110.5 cm
At The Metropolitan Art Museum in New York City

For my painting, I decided to do a Filipiniana - Cuzco Painting borrowing from the tradition of combining the traditional European religious art and indigenous. I did some preliminary sketching on my sketch pad and once satisfied with my composition, I decided to sketch directly on the handmade paper rather than trace so I can work around the flowers and leaves. To give it stability and prevent buckling while painting, the paper was stretched on a foam core board with bulldog clips. I usually use artists tape to attach my paper but given  the delicate nature of the paper, I did not want to risk tearing when it comes time to remove the tape.

Early Filipina in Baro't Saya

The Madonna is wearing a typical Filipino costume called Baro't Saya. I am using a red, blue, white and yellow palette to pay homage to the Philippine Flag and the national colors. Of course, I will be using gold leaf and gold paint as embellishment in keeping with the typical European and Cuzco School. I am leaving my background unpainted to showcase the handmade paper. This is a departure from the Cuzco School where backgrounds are dark, heavily embellished or painted with pastoral scenes.

Face Detail

The Madonna is painted with downcast eyes as the Incas would have done in comparison to the Europeans who depict the Virgin Mary with her sight towards heaven. I also tried to depict a non- smiling Virgin Mary , in the tradition of Byzantine Icons, to honor the gift that was given her of knowing the fate of her Child.

One tip I have for those who are going to attempt painting on handmade unsized paper is to really gauge the wetness of your brush. Too much and your colors will run into areas you may not want the color. I call those happy mistakes because it gives me the opportunity to be creative by working the negative into a positive. Too little water and your paint won't adhere to the paper. I also start painting furthest from an area where the color changes dramatically such as when painting a dark area that is adjacent to a light area. When the brush is a little drier, I can come closer to the lighter area. Another tip is to be sure the paint on the paper is completely dry before starting on another area unless you deliberately want them to blend together.
Painting in progress

As in any painting, you never know how it is going to turn out. I imagine those Cusquenan painters saying a prayer as they paint asking for God's guidance and grace like I do. And if the painting does not turn out like you wanted , well there's always the next one and the preceding ones were guides to make me paint better. I couldn't help thinking, though, if the Incas received 40 lashes when they made a mistake.

I have never been to South America and one of my travel goals is to go to Peru and visit Macchu Picchu and see the Cusquena paintings in their native settings. I have great sensitivity to altitude and become very ill which has made it very difficult to embark on a trip to the Andes. So in the meantime, I live the experience vicariously through, Don Carlos, a friend who is lucky enough to go there often and takes along friends who photograph and write about their experiences wonderfully. Maybe one day soon, he can take my husband and me too.

Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sketches by Ely Santiago and others

by Ely Santiago, 1967
Ink on Index Card

There are people you come across in your life that will stick in your memory even through your Alzheimer haze. One of those folks for me is Ely Santiago, a gentle. soft spoken, talented soul, who I met when I was studying at the University of the Philippines Diliman. I met Ely at Vinzon"s Hall. the university"s student union building housing the offices of the Student Council, the Philippine Collegian (the school newspaper) and The International Club. It was a popular meeting place for students and was known at the time as the hot bed of the then fledgling student activist movement started by members of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation. As dissent for the Philippines government and anti-American sentiment grew, so did the student activism which eventually sprouted SCAUP (Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines) and later a larger group called Kabataang Makabayan (KM). This was all happening during my stint at the University. For more info on the growth and impact of student activism that originated in UP, please read The Incubation of Activism in the University of the Philippines by Jose Maria Sison. Also look into Icons and Institutions: Essays on the History of the University of the Philippines - Confrontations with Student Activists by Oscar L. Evangelista.

As I often do when I'm blogging, I catch myself going on a tangent .. Sorry.....

Anyway, most groups of students find their own little areas on campus where they meet and hang around. Fraternities and sororities take over the lobbies of the buildings or the cafeterias and canteens.  Most of my high school graduating class ended up  at the UP Diliman campus and Vinzon's Hall was designated as our meeting place probably because we were used to hanging out there after our Saturday Phys Ed classes when we were at UP Prep. We knew that we could go there anytime and see one or more of us waiting for the others to join in. At the small cafe, we would often snack on empanadas, ice cream, cakes with tea, coffee or softdrinks until it is time for the next class.

Ely Santiago would often be found in a corner table quietly sketching his caricatures. He was already an institution then. Many students would stop by and have their caricatures drawn. He also did them during college fairs. My friends and I would often sit with him talking about life and campus activities and he would sometimes draw our caricatures at the same time.  In his caricatures, drawn on whatever material was available - such as a napkin, he would embellish the sketch with what he feels or sees as your essence and interests. I do not remember if he ever asked for payment from us but I know he did charge others a small fee - cigarette money.   Ely had a natural ability to read people, During one of these sketching sessions, he figured that my best friend, Gemma, will make a great writer before she even thought of herself as one. She now has a successful career as a journalist and a best selling author.

Ely became a regular newspaper contributor as a comic strip creator which showcased his talent as a cartoonist as well as his wit and humor. Ely passed away in 1993. One of his Beta Sigma fraternity brothers, Vic Tirol, wrote a moving tribute to him entitled Remembering Ely Santiago. Ely Santiago will always be part of my memories of  happy UP days.

I apologize in advance that this may seem a tad vain of me but I really just wanted to feature these works of art.

Some of Ely's sketches of me done in 1967:


Sketches done of me by some of my university friends:
by Nicky ?, was a Fine Arts student when he did this sketch. 

by Armand (Bim) Bacaltos, now a Professor of Fine Arts at UP and an award-winning artist
Another sketch by Armand (Bim) Bacaltos
by David Nguyen, a student from Vietnam who I met through the International Club.  He was a good friend who died in tragic circumstances.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Beffi Triptych and other Altarpieces

The Madonna and Child with Scenes from the Life of Christ and the Virgin (The Beffi Triptych), Master of the Beffi Triptych, about 1420–40, Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo

The Beffi Triptych is an altarpiece that was once in the Church of Santa Maria del Ponte and is named for the village of Beffi in Abruzzo, Italy.  It is attributed to an early 15th century painter who was possibly a follower of Siennese artist Taddeo de Bartolo (1362-1422). I saw this particular triptych on temporary display at the National Gallery of Art  in Washington DC. At the time, it was on loan to the United States in gratitude for being the first to lend support in the aftermath of a violent  earthquake that ravaged Abruzzo in April of 2009. Luckily, this triptych unlike many other works of art in the region suffered only minor damage.

Here is a  description of the panels from the exhibit brochure:

The wings of the triptych depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, who appears in the central panel, enthroned with the Christ child beneath an elegantly brocaded canopy. The left wing features Christ's Nativity, which takes place in a cave under the watchful gaze of an ox and an ass, following Byzantine tradition. Mary holds the swaddled infant while Joseph, at right, ponders the miraculous event. At the top, angels announce the birth to shepherds tending their flocks; below them, two shepherds adore the newborn child, and at the lower left, maidservants prepare his first bath. Represented at a smaller scale, the kneeling figure to the right wearing red and black stockings is the unidentified donor of the altarpiece.

The right panel portrays the Dormition, or Death of the Virgin, who lies on her funeral bier, surrounded by the 12 apostles. Angels scent the air with incense from censers incised in the gold ground, giving the scene a heavenly aura. The figure in the foreground represents the disbelieving priest who, according to legend, attempted to overturn Mary's bier, but whose hands were frozen when he tried to commit that sacrilege. Above the Virgin and apostles, the Assumption of the Virgin is depicted with Christ holding Mary's soul, which traditionally takes the form of an innocent, swaddled infant. At the top, Christ crowns Mary as Queen of Heaven. 

I so admired the Beffi altarpiece that I decided to paint one for my husband in honor of our wedding anniversary. As I was working on it, I imagined all the hours of work the Master of the Beffi put into this work. You really come to appreciate the dedication and talent they had. Here is how my version turned out. We had it framed professionally. I'm sorry that I am unable to capture a good photo due to the glass.  We did have museum quality non-glare glass used with the framing but it does not seem to help when taking a photo.
Jojo's Beffi Triptych inspired Altarpiece
by jojo sabalvaro tan,2009
Watercolor on watercolor board
The Triptych altarpiece before it was framed.

I also painted this other altarpiece. In the pictures below, I show some of the steps in painting the piece. This one is larger than the Beffi-inspired one. It was originally commissioned by the proprietor of the shop which framed my Beffi-inspired altarpiece but I decided to keep it. This one depicts the Coronation of the Virgin Mary in the center panel, the Nativity on the left panel and the Crucifixion on the right panel. It is still seating on my easel waiting for my husband to find inspiration to mat it.
Cartoon Sketch
Middle Panel - Coronation

Left Panel -Nativity Detail

Right Panel - Crucifixion Detail

Virgin Mary Enthroned Triptych Altarpiece, 2010
by jojo sabalvaro tan
watercolor on watercolor board
I love painting these altarpieces. I am sure that I will try and paint more. I always dreamed of  having a small chapel in my home ever since I saw one in the house of one of my relatives when I was younger.   I also saw some in homes in Italy and Spain and really love the idea. I feel painting these altarpieces brings me steps closer to my dream chapel.
A private chapel we saw at a villa in Italy during a tour with my high school classmates. This is similar to what I would like as a chapel, small, simple intimate and very conducive to quiet reflection and prayer.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Meet Willhelmina

Electra Townie 7D
Meet the newest addition to our household, Willhelmina. She is a bright orange women's 7 gear comfort cruiser style bicycle made by Electra.

My husband and I decided that we would take up biking again after more than 30 years of not riding. we stopped biking after I almost hit a car and could not get over my fear. In the 70s, we bought his and hers Sears Ted Williams 3 speed bikes. We gave mine away after a few years of disuse but my husband kept his in our basement for years. He has now brought the bike up, cleaned it up, added air to the now flat tires and took a test ride on our cul-de-sac and surprisingly, the bike is still in very good condition. So we decided that this bike is a keeper.

On to the search for my bike. Since, we have not looked at bikes in years, we went to see what is available out there by visiting our favorite big box store, Target,   I never knew there were so many bike types to choose from - cruisers, hybrid, mountain, comfort, road, BMX, etc. Please visit this link to see the differences in bike categories - Bike Types. I wanted a simple bike for riding around the neighborhood and maybe some bike trails so that eliminated the road, BMX and mountain bikes. I am also not very tall so I settled on a 26" wheel. I preferred the coaster brakes where you use your feet to stop the bike since that is what I am familiar with as opposed to hand brakes. As far as gears, at first I thought I would stick with a single gear - no decision making while riding. I also like the look of fenders and rear racks - just like the bikes I grew up with. Target carried Schwinn and Huffy bike brands - these again were brands that I am familiar with.

Nowadays, one does not make a purchase without consulting the Internet for customer reviews and best prices.  During this research, most folks advice checking out your local bike store for best selection and service. So the next weekend, we decided to visit the bike and sporting goods shops around us. I must say that at all the local bike shops (except for a couple), we met some very accommodating and knowledgeable sales personnel. They all wanted to help you find the perfect bike for your needs.
Our first stop was Prairie Path Cycles in Geneva, Illinois, a shop that carried Trek bicycles. I was fitted with a Trek Navigator which I really felt very comfortable in. I think it had 21 or 7 gears and hand brakes which slightly intimidated me.The size was a good fit for my body and it was light weight because of the aluminum alloy used for the frame.  I sat upright and was able to reach the handlebars without straining. I could also get in and out of the bike easily due to the lowered cross bar - lower than the normal women's bike design and my feet was flat on the ground when I am stopped which removed some of my fears of falling or crashing. All these features were new to me and I was excited about them.

So now I added to my list of desirables for my new bike: aluminum alloy frame,  easy step thru boarding and being able to have my feet flat on the ground when stopped. I liked the Trek bike except that it looked too sporty for my taste. I was leaning towards the look of a what I later learned to be called Dutch bikes or Omafiets (Dutch translation for "grandma bikes"). I imagined myself tooling around town in my bike with a wicker basket on the front just like Jessica Fletcher on Murder She Wrote or one of the characters in Agatha Christie's Miss Marple.

We went to REI next. The bike that caught my eye (and fell in love with at first sight) was an orange Electra Townie. It had sort of the Dutch bike look but no fenders and rear rack. It had seven gears and hand brakes. I really wanted one or 3 gears and coaster brakes. I did try on for size a comparable REI brand Novara bike and a blue 21 gear Electra Townie. The 21 gear Townie was nice since it had shock absorbers  on the front wheel and seat which made for a more comfortable ride.

A few more bike shop visits learning about gears, brakes and other bike features and looks and I was able to narrow down my requirements. I set my budget at $600. I did not want to spend more than that not knowing if I will be able to really use the bike fully. These are the list of items I want in a bike:
1. Dutch bike -look
2. Aluminum alloy frame - for less weight
3. Coaster brake or coaster and hand brake combination
4. 3 gear sealed hub - for less maintenance, and less thought about shifting
5. Step thru frame - for ease of getting on and off
6. Flat feet technology - for more secure feeling
7. Colorful
8. Wider tires - for extra comfort
9. Available at a local bike store

With that I was able to narrow down my selection to the following bikes. All are step thru bikes with aluminum frames.

 I really loved the look of the Electra Amsterdam and found one on the internet that was a special edition design by artist Frank Girard called the Madonna. This bike would definitely be like riding on a work of art. The appeal of the Madonna was irresistible to me as one of my favorite subjects to paint is the Madonna and Child. The Madonna was sold here in the US in 2009/2010 and is still sold in Europe. I found one available at a bike shop in California but I needed to try an Electra Amsterdam in person for size first.

I printed out a picture and specs of each of the bikes I was considering and tacked them to the wall so my husband and I can compare them. We found a store in Chicago that carried most of the bikes I was contemplating. With list in hand, I played the Goldilocks game with bikes in the store.... this one is too big, this one is too heavy, this one is too sporty, this one is too small and so on and so forth. The salesman was very patient, even helping me along as I tried riding the bikes in their indoor test track. I did not do very well on my test run because I was nervous about doing damage to the bike I was on or the ones on display but he did say that he is confident that in open space I will pick up biking again. Sadly, I had to eliminate the Electra Amsterdam from my list because it was too big for me.  So there goes my Girard Madonna.  The best fit in this store ended up to be my first love: The Electra Townie 7D.  My only reservation is that I was still dead set on a 3 gear with coaster brakes and that  this store is quite a trek from our house.  But if you reside in Chicago and are in the market for a bike, I definitely recommend you check out Kozy Cyclery.

On our way back to the burbs, I was able to slowly convince myself that I might be able to live with a seven gear bike. So we stopped at the REI store for a second look. We decided to buy the orange Electra Townie 7D I fell in love with during our first visit. What convinced me is REI return policy. Every item is 100% satisfaction guaranteed. So if the 7D does not work out, I can still return it or exchange it anytime. And the folks there were ultra helpful and patient.

I am very happy with my purchase. I got a bike with the Dutch bike look, aluminum alloy frames, flat feet technology, step thru frame, wider tires, colorful (orange), upright seating with forward pedals, 7 gears and front and rear brakes which equates to more comfort, ease and safety and satisfying almost my entire wish list. And I am already looking for accessories to spruce it up into a true Dutch bike such as fenders, baskets, racks and lights. I made Willhelmina a handlebar bag to carry my money, phone, etc on trips. And I am happy to report that I was able to bike around the cul-de-sac. I guess the saying is true that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. But for me, baby steps....baby steps.... gotta take care of these old bones. I predict that Willhelmina and I will have some great adventures to come.

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.  
~H.G. Wells

Life is like riding a bicycle - in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving. 
 ~Albert Einstein

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, March 2, 2012

Yves Saint-Laurent - The Designer of My Generation

The Yves Saint Laurent Exhibit Banner at the Petit Palais in Paris
I was lucky enough to be in Paris during the French fashion designer, YVES SAINT LAURENT (1936-2008), retrospective exhibition at the Petit Palais.   I went to the exhibit with my good friend Yogi and I think, for both of us, it was the first time we actually realized the influence Yves Saint Laurent had on the way we dressed over the years. On display were almost 40 years of couture and pret-a-porter (ready to wear) from Yves Saint Laurent 's collection. More than 300 outfits were featured from the trapeze dress to his evening gowns. I fondly remember my mommy and I wearing matching mother-daughter trapeze dresses when I was a young girl. Back then they were also called sack or tent dresses.

Trapeze Dress

As Yogi and I walked through the exhibition, we saw many outfits whose clones occupied our closets at one time or another in our lives. The first room featured his A- line collection, a style that is still relevant today.
An A-Line Dress
We also saw how Yves Saint-Laurent revolutionized women's wardrobe by drawing on the male evening, trouser and safari suit to dress women, thus empowering the women who wore them. Yogi and I were among the first women to wear pant suits in campus at our university. At the time, I had not realized that Yves Saint- Laurent had his hand in this.

In the menswea -inspired gallery
He also took inspiration  from countries such as Russia, China, India, Spain, Japan, Africa and Morocco and from artist such as Mondrian, Picasso, Matisse and Van Gogh. I remember having a Mondrian A-line mini dress which was on of my favorite outfits in the late 60s.
Mondrian dress

I had two favorite rooms - the one featuring the menswear influence on women's clothing and the ball gowns which to this date, more than 40 years later, looked so timeless and modern.

In the evening wear gallery
As we walked through the exhibit, we realized that every style and trend we ever wore were explored and done by Yves Saint- Laurent. He had an unparalleled attention to detail and an ongoing quest for refinement and renewal , as exhibited by the hundreds of fabric swatches he had collected over the years arranged  in various combinations.

Whether or not there were media influences behind it, I feel that Yves Saint Lauren's impact on the way my friends and I dressed just seeped into our consciousness unbidden because it was so natural, easy, beautiful and empowering. He is indeed the fashion designer of my generation. Thank you, Yves.
The cover of the exhibit catalog

“Le plus beau vêtement qui puisse habiller une femme, ce sont les bras de l'homme qu'elle aime.”
― Yves Saint-Laurent