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.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Illuminated Manuscript - The Agony in the Garden

Illuminated Manuscript - The Agony in the Garden 2015
(9.5" x 6.25")
adapted from work by unknown artists from the Middle Ages
Watercolor on Vellum
by jojo sabalvaro tan

What do you do when you are grieving? I find myself painting. I lost my dear friend Tessie just a few days ago and although she had been ill with cancer for more than two years now, the news that she was close to the end proved unbearable.  We met in high school when we were just 10 or 11 years old. All her life, she had been kind and generous in her affection, amity, allegiance and care; and even in her death, she left us a rare gift -  an example of complete trust in God which allowed her to accept the inevitable with dignity, grace, courage and even good humor. Her passing saddened me deeply and I fell into lassitude until I realized this is not what she would have wanted. It is important to her that life is enjoyed to the fullest every minute of the day. So I  abandoned my funk and decided to paint something in her honor. I usually use my painting time for meditation and prayer especially when I am working on my Madonnas or religious themes and this time I would reflect on the life of my friend.
Detail on border work

For the painting, I chose the theme of The Agony in the Garden since my daddy would often paint or sculpt this subject whenever someone he loves passed away. It was his coping mechanism. When my grandfather died, he painted a large Agony in the Garden mural (fresco) on one of the walls of our terrace at home. I also decided that I would be adapting my painting from an  illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages.   Parchment and vellum were typical materials used for Illuminated Manuscripts so I decided to use vellum as my paper for a more 'authentic' feel. It is a leap of faith since I have never painted on vellum before.  I quickly found that the thin and translucent vellum is a difficult surface to paint on. Blending colors and glazing is almost impossible since the layer underneath will almost always be lifted off.  The colors sat on the paper with minimal absorption so I had to be careful that each layer was absolutely dry before I proceed. Vellum also crinkles when wet and taping was no help at all.  Crinkling was a little less of a problem when I was working on the border since each motif was small. When I got to the actual Agony in the Garden image and had to apply larger washes, the crinkling problem became worse. What to do, what to do????  Frustration sets in.

Ok, this is the time I need to place myself in the woven leather sandals of the monks in the Middle Ages who were working on illuminated manuscripts. I imagine them painting  surrounded by cold, damp stone walls, crouched on a stool bent over on a table  with  very little light, probably one dim candle perched on the table. To make the blue for the sky or the gown of the Virgin Mary, they had to make their own by  grinding lapis lazuli with a mortar and pestle into fine powder and mix it with egg yolks. They also made their own brushes from the hair of the goat or boar in their livestock pen or the tail of a badger or squirrel scurrying in the woods surrounding the monastery.  They probably could hear Brother Alwinus and his fellow brothers chanting some prayers in the chapel. Working from dawn to dusk, they stop only for the occasional meals and daily prayers such as matins, lauds and vespers. My 21st century reality is quite different -  I am in my studio, with three bright lamps pointing at my painting, in a comfortably temperature controlled room and use paint and  brushes bought online delivered to my doorstep by the postal service. Oh yeah, I do have to take care of mundane tasks from time to time such as cooking so my husband and I can eat. For music, I listen to Gregorian chants on my IPad for a simulated ambiance. And let's not forget that monks were producing manuscript pages of about 5.5" x 3" where my page is 9.5" x 6.25", about double the size. Painting those miniatures in great detail and in low light with their hands numb from the cold had to be unbearable but, because the monks are doing God's work, they were happy and content. Even with all the 21st century comfort and gizmos , my work can not hold a candle to the work of the medieval monks. So, in the scheme of things, there is no cause for me to be distressed.
Monk writing an Illuminated Manuscript
Source: sunysuffolk.com

Working on an illuminated manuscript requires a contemplative, meditative and prayerful mindset. Each leaf or flower represents the beauty of God's creation and each subject matter a reflection on Jesus' life. One of the most common Latin inscriptions one will find on illuminated manuscripts is from Psalm 70, "Deus in adjutorium meum intende and Domine ad adjuvandum me festina ( O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me") which I repeatedly invoked as I worked on this project.
Completed border work
I started the painting the day my friend died and, with what I am sure is divine inspiration and guidance, I completed it two days after she was buried. The crinkles on the paper are there, many, many more than when I started  and now to me they like the chinks in our life or wrinkles on our faces  that give us character and embodies our experiences and lessons learned. While working on this project, I cried and laughed as I reflected on Tessie's life, especially the times we spent together and I prayed fervently, not just for her and her family but also for my family and friends, especially my classmates. I thought that the Agony in the Garden theme is perfect for Tessie since like Jesus who knew what was going to happen to Him when He was praying at the garden of Gethsemane, she surrendered her will to God.  This painting which is dedicated to my dear Tess is a cathartic release. Tessie, you will always be in my heart.
What do I do when I am grieving. I paint.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Kalinga Woman Painting

Kalinga Woman (Bu'baqi) or Waiting for Banna (Man-uuway kun Banna) 2015
Acrylic on 10" x 30" canvas
by jojo sabalvaro tan
Picture taken at my studio
I have been continually inspired to paint by my Ifugao fabric collection.  I was even doubly motivated after I read the Kalinga folklore about Banna, his battles and pursuit of a wife. The story energized me to tackle another Kalinga-inspired painting. This time I painted on 40" x 30" canvas using acrylics, a medium I have not used in a while so it took a little bit of dabbling to refresh my brain cells on the technique which is quite different than painting with watercolors.  I also had to get adjusted to the large canvas after having worked on small format watercolors for years now. This is probably the largest painting I have done so far.
The subject is a girl named Edonsan (or Laggunawa), Banna's new wife who got separated from him while they were making their way back to Banna's village after their wedding.  Banna had to return to her village to help defend the villagers from a siege by an enemy tribe. He had instructed Edonsan to wait for him to come back. The painting depicts Edonsan waiting for Banna who would never return since he was killed during the encounter. Edonsan is wearing an alampay or tapis, a woven cloth worn as a garment typically tied around the waist often without any top covering. After I completed this painting, I realized I have now created four paintings featuring Ifugao weaving,  I  have what can be called a series collection but probably more appropriately an obsession with the Ifugao culture.  Original title of this  painting is 'Bu-baqi' which is Kalinga for Woman which is now changed to "Man-uuway kun Banna" (Waiting for Banna in Kalinga) to tie in to the ullalim story about Banna that inspired my artwork.

Kalinga Woman (Bu'baqi) or Waiting for Banna (Man-uuway kun Banna) 2015
Acrylic on 10" x 30" canvas
by jojo sabalvaro tan

An ullalim is an epic poem or song relating the story of heroic exploits passed down for hundred of years, a tradition, my guess is, was repeated everywhere on earth ever since men developed the human oral language or learned to communicate. This is in the exact same line as the Native American storyteller, the European bards or minstrels or the legendary Scheherazade of the One Thousand and One Nights. Storytellers would go from one gathering of people to another  telling epic stories to entertain or spread the news.  I imagined the ancient Kalingas sitting close to each other around the fire in rapt attention listening to the  performance of the ullalim declaimer or singer. The performance could go on for hours or days, interspersed with dancing or chants  and some communal enjoyment of the latest hunt victim or gathered food items such as fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves or tree bark. I also imagined someone drawing or carving  on stone or cave walls elements of the stories they were hearing about.  More often than not, the creative storyteller will add his own interpretations to a story including embellishments or eliminating elements from the story based on the audience or the environment. Just like performers today, where an intimate connection is developed between the audience and the storyteller, the ancient storytellers and their audience were able to establish  a personal bond with each other enabling the transfer of knowledge and culture throughout the generations. 


As in any ancient culture,  the indigenous people of the Philippines, such as the Kalingas, handed down folk stories and myths by their oral re-telling from one generation to the next. The legend of the love of Banna and Edosan (also referred to in some versions as Laggunawa) is one of the most lasting ullalims in the history of the Philippines  This story, which inspired me to create this painting,  came down through the ages with some parts of the story left out or embellished, typical of any folk lore. Here is one version of the story from http://aboutphilippines.ph/

The Legend of the Sleeping Beauty

By Virginia Gaces

In those days, tribes were not in good terms with each other. Tribal wars were common. There was a man in Tinglayan called Banna, who had extraordinary bravery and strength. He had an unusual charm so people look up to him for leadership. He was also a very good "ullalim" (epic song) singer.
One day Banna realized that he needed a life time partner, someone to share his life with, so he went in search for a wife. Since there were no eligible women in his barrio he decided to ascend Mount Patukan, a mountain east of Tinglayan and go to the sitio of Dacalan, Tanudan. While it was still daylight, he stopped and rested under a big tree at a distance away from the village so that no one could see him. This is because he might provoke trouble by his presence.
When night came, Banna slowly went down nearer to the village and searched for a place to observe. After some time, he heard a soft, melodious female voice singing the ullalim. He was drawn to the voice and moved closer to the hut. Peeping, he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever set eyes on. Long, wavy hair, dark, fringed eyes, and a voice that grew sweeter and sweeter as he drew closer to the hut. Banna was mesmerized...captivated by the lyrical voice. The leaves of the trees around him seemed to be dancing in unison with the woman's ululations. He knew it was extremely dangerous for him to reveal himself inside the village territory, but his burning desire to meet the woman, was stronger than his sense of survival.

He knocked boldly at the "sawali" (bamboo made) walls of the hut.
" Anna tago," (Someone's here.)
" Umma sanat?" (Who is it?), the singing stopped, but the spoken words were the most appealing sound Banna had ever heard.
" This is Banna" from Tinglayan.
He heard hurried movements from the house, then a male voice spoke harshly, "What do you need?"
The natives were very protective of their women and properties, and Banna knew that he could get killed by his boldness.
"I don't mean any harm, I come in peace. I would like to meet the woman who sings the ullalim with passion."
The family was so nervous of letting a stranger in the house and had urged him to go home instead. But Banna was persistent and had refused to go.
Dongdongan - the father of the woman - slowly opened the door and saw a young, handsome man standing like a sentinel at the door. He repeated his plea for Banna to leave but the stance of the Banna indicated, he would not be budged from where he stood. So, he reluctantly let him in.
"I am Banna from Tinglayan"

Once inside the house, as dictated by tradition, Dongdongan handed Banna a bowl of water. It was an old tradition that once a stranger is accepted into a house, it is also understood that he will be protected and kept safe by the host family. As a symbol of this unwritten agreement, the stranger would be given a drink of water. This is called "paniyao". If a stranger is not given one, then it denotes an existing hostility which may result to a deadly fight if the stranger does not leave immediately. The second phase of the ritual continued. Dongdongan offered Banna the "buyo" - a bland, powder which when chewed with certain leaves would produce red tinged saliva. This concoction is called "moma".
Ullalim was the official means of communication then so they sang as they talked. Banna too had a strong, masculine voice and it was apparent he could sing well. In his ullalim Banna revealed his search for a wife. Dongdongan introduced him to her daughter, Edonsan, who readily accepted Banna's handshake.

Banna, then and there proposed to Edonsan. Edonsan in turn, accepted the proposal and there was a flurry of activity, as all the village folk were invited to a meeting and then a "canao" (festivities with dancing and singing). Banna and Edonsan dance the "salidsid" (courtship dance) to the tempo of the gongs, while the community participated in the "tadok" (dance for all). The celebration lasted the whole day, with everyone in the village participating. No one had gone to the fields and to the kaingin as people usually did. The village people were the witnesses to the exchange of vows between the two. There were no officiating priests or Judges, no official documents to sign, but the vows were always kept and were considered sacred by everyone in the village.
Tradition also dictated that Banna had to stay with Edonsan's family for 7 days to prove his sincerity and purity of intention. Banna and Edonsan had their honeymoon along the slope of the Patokan Mountain picking guavas and wild strawberries, making love and dropping by the river to catch fish for supper.
In the evening of each day for the seven days that Banna was there, Edonsan took Banna to each of her relative's house. It is considered good luck to do so, as it is believed that the blessings and approval of relatives are vital to the happiness of the couple. At the end of the 7th day, the couple prepared to leave for Banna's village where they will establish residence. The parents of Edonsan and the village people prepared native cakes and tobacco as gifts for the departure of the newly married couple.

As dawn broke, the village people came together to see them off. The two left happily, with their hands entwined against each other. The trail was adorned with guavas and strawberries and they had a handful as they trek towards the summit of Patokan. It took them 8 arduous hours to get to the top. As soon as they reached the top, they heard unusual noises coming from Banna's village which was a few miles below them. Banna had a premonition that it was something dangerous so he instructed Edonsan to stay put and wait for him. He was going down to his village to investigate the cause of the ruckus.
Banna ran all the way down to the village. As soon as he was seen by the village people, a cheer reverberated in the air. He was informed hastily that their village was under siege and that his leadership was needed to drive the trespassers away. The bloody, face to face encounter of the two warring tribes went on for hours, spears and bolos clashed against each other as more bodies piled up in between the cluster of the nipa huts. The great number of the invading tribe slowly weakened Banna's men. One by one they fell, bloodied, to the ground. He could not possibly go back to Edonsan, Banna thought. He would fight up to his very last breath - but he had to make sure Edonsan does not come down to the village. Hastily, he instructed one of his men to warn Edonsan, but the man never made it far. He and Banna were simultaneously wounded and fell bleeding to the ground. Banna died with his spear in his hand and his last vision was the face of Edonsan .
Edonsan, on the other hand, waited and waited...and waited. But there was no Banna to take her home. She was weak from weariness and heartache. She had no desire to live without her Banna. When it was evident, Banna was not coming for her, she slowly crumpled to the grassy- matted forest and wept uncontrollably. Tears flowed down from her cheeks as she grew weaker and weaker and the tears flowed more and more copiously.
Night came and Banna had not returned yet...and Edonsan had grown weak with grief and fatigue, her breath slowly coming out in gasps... until she closed her eyes and breathed her last. On the spot where her body was laid to rest, sprang two waterfalls which are believed to be the tears of Edonsan.

In Tinglayan, one can clearly see from a distance, the beautifully, shaped body of a reclining woman.


My other paintings featuring the Ifugao woven cloth
Clockwise: Meme Na Anak, 2011, The Vanishing Breed, 2010 and Kalinga Madonna and Child, 2015

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Kalinga Madonna and Child Painting

Kalinga Madonna and Child 2015
Watercolor on 140# cold press Arches watercolor paper
by jojo sabalvaro tan

While my nephew, who was born and raised in the United States, was on vacation in Nevada he met a girl from Kalinga province of the Philippines who lives in Canada. They fell in love, married and now they have a beautiful baby girl. During the time I was in the Philippines, it would be unlikely that a person from Manila would meet a person from Kalinga unless they are both studying in Manila. Kalinga is after all a more than 12 hours drive from Manila and a difficult and arduous journey. Today, with the Filipino diaspora, anything is possible. With their baby who has Kalinga blood running through her, among others,  I am so proud to now have a leaf in our family tree that can trace back its roots to one of the most indigenous people of the Philippines, the Kalingas, who are said to have arrived in the Philippines around 5000BC to 3500BC in the second wave of human migration to the Philippines.

Since the beginning of Christianity, Mary and Jesus were depicted based on the ethnicity of the painter or place of worship. So you would find images of Mary and Jesus as  Italian, French, African, Greek, Armenian, Chinese, Spanish or Filipino. In honor of the birth of our new grandniece, I decided to paint the Madonna and Child inspired by the Kalinga culture (above).  I love ethnic and indigenous woven cloth and have been collecting them during my travels over the years (see my previous blog  For The Love of Fabrics ). I have some from the Kalinga province which I used as reference for the cloth on Mary and Jesus. This is called a tuwali - cloth, shawl or blanket used for carrying children who are strapped on the back or chest area.  I also set Mary and Jesus against the backdrop of the rice terraces. I love the way this painting turned out due to its graphic style. It is, as of now, the leading contender for our 2015 Christmas card image.

Kalinga Madonna and Child 2015
Work in progress
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Kalinga is in the Cordillera mountain region of the Philippines. They have been able to preserve their culture due to the mountainous terrain in and around their settlement (mostly in protected valleys along the Chico River)  making their area quite inaccessible to conquerors such as the Spaniards, Americans and Japanese. Kalingas are fiercely protective of their territory and are known for their warrior culture.  Many believe that the name Kalinga  is derived from the tribe's head hunting ways, a defensive practice they used to exact revenge against their enemies and since abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century.   Kalingas are prolific rice terraces builders and are mainly rice farmers. They are also skilled cloth weavers, potters, basket weavers, metal smiths, woodcarvers and tattoo artists.

Photo from:  paraisophilippines.com
Young Kalinga women in loom woven attire, pottery urns and metal and bead jewelry

According to the article on Exploring Kalinga Province from http://vigattintourism.com , here are the must-see destinations in Kalinga:

"The Sungang View Point is one the best places that can be found in the province of Kalinga. The area is surrounded with various mountains that hold a fantastic and majestic view, such as Tanudan Mountain, Tinglayan Mountain, Lubuangan Mountain, and Tabuk Mountain. When you are on the summit, you can clearly spot the amazing rice terraces made by the native people in the province. Aside from that, you can also see the entire expanse of the villages, including the valleys located near in the area. Mountaintops are the also ideal places where you can spot the charming and striking  view of Dananao and Tulgao Rice Terraces.
The Tanudan Mountain is one of the views that can be seen at Sungang View Point. This mountain is also known as the “Sleeping Beauty Mountain”. It is called Sleeping Mountain because the shape of the northern ridge looks like a sleeping woman. The mountain has a lot of names, such as Mount Patukan, Mount Mating-oy Dinayao, and Mount Mantingoy.

The province also boasts of its fascinating caves, lakes, and springs. Buaya Cave is one of the famous caves in Kalinga where a different view of stalactites and stalagmites are found."

Kalinga mountain views and rice terraces
Photo by Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap
from http://vigattintourism.com

Napiye un al-algaw
(Kalinga greeting)