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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

T'boli Woman Painting

T'boli Woman 2015
Watercolor on 140# Arches cold pressed watercolor paper
10" x 14"
by jojo sabalvaro tan

When I started posting about my paintings of indigenous women from the Cordillera Region of Northern Luzon in the Philippines, my cousin's wife mentioned that one of her favorite textile are those hand woven by the T'bolis, one of the more than 40 ethnic groups in the Philippines. They are also one of the 18 tribes from Mindanao, a large island in the Southern Philippines. I must confess that I did not know much about the T'bolis or Mindanao, for that matter. My family came from the island of Luzon in Northern Philippines and I lived there through part of my grade school and then high school and college so I was more affiliated with the northern part of the Philippines. My limited knowledge of Mindanao is from what I learned in school. Back then, we would refer to the people of Mindanao in general terms as Moros, a term used to refer to Muslims in Spanish-conquered lands. Now, the indigenous people of  Mindanao are collectively known as Lumads and the T'bolis are one of the tribes of the Lumad indigenous group.

Map of Southern Philippines showing Cotabato where the T'bolis live
For this painting, I needed to learn more about the T'bolis  and their culture. Legend has it that the T'bolis are descendants of survivors of a great flood. According to Ronald de Jong, a freelance photographer and writer based in Mindanao, the story goes like this:
A man named Dwata warned the people of an impending great flood. But the tribe refused to listen, except for two couples, La Bebe and La Lomi, and Tamfeles and La Kagef. Dwata told them to take shelter in a bamboo so huge they could fit inside and in this way survive the flood. The story tells that the first couple are the ancestors of the T'boli and other highland ethnic groups The second couple descended the other Filipino indigenous groups."

The T'bolis settled in Southern Cotabato in the fertile valleys around Lake Sebu but as more and more settlers from different regions arrived in the area, they were gradually pushed up to the mountains slopes and highlands where they continued to employ slash and burn farming techniques to plant corn, rice, vegetables and root crops. They have managed to stick to their traditional ways with a culture that is richly tied with and inspired by nature. This can be witnessed in their metal craft (mostly brass ornaments and jewelry)  lively dance and music, complicated beadwork adorning their outfits and worn as jewelry, their elaborate and colorful attire featuring intricately and uniquely patterned woven fabrics especially the sacred T'nalak made from abaca fibers and their core belief that everything has a spirit that must be respected and revered.
My painting is of a T'boli woman wearing the  traditional T'nalak's red, white and black colors which are regarded as a symbol  of their cultural heritage. The woven sarong or malong adds even more color to the outfit, so does the salakot (hat) covered with more woven fabric decorated with beading. According to legend, the T'bolis were taught to weave by the goddess Fu Dalu through dreams and  weaving is considered a manifestation of the tribes collective consciousness since the designs and patterns come to them in dreams. A note about the lady in my painting who I rendered as a little heavy set. In all the pictures I found on the internet of T'boli women, I did not come across one that is even a bit overweight. Right diet and exercise or plain genetics?

T'nalak Fabric
On my next visit to the Philippines, it is my goal to see the T'boli women in action as they weave the T'nalaks and hopefully, purchase one or two for my collection of textiles woven by the indigenous people of the world. I do hope that in some way this blog serves as a plea for the conservation of the fragile indigenous culture of the native tribes of the Philippines. There is no need or advantage to destroying these ancient culture and forcing our own upon them.

Let me end this post with following quote from C.S. Lewis:
"Human life has always lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Illuminated Letters/Alphabet - More Painting on Vellum

Resurrexi (I am Risen) - Illuminated Letter R, 2015 (8"x7.5")
after a cutting from an illuminated manuscript choirbook (c:1520) attributed to artists from Lombardy, Italy
on vellum with gouache, acrylics, watercolor and gold paint
by jojo sabalvaro tan

I am continuing to experiment with painting on vellum since I wanted to have an authentic feeling finished work in the illuminated manuscripts I am attempting to paint. A few years ago, I started an illumination manuscript project where I depicted the Five Joyful Mysteries (see Illuminated Manuscripts - Book of Hours). My goal was to make an illuminated manuscript page for each of the mysteries of the holy Rosary. I used watercolor paper, watercolor and gold  acrylic paint on the Joyful Mysteries series. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, I did not go on to the rest of the mysteries.  Then a few weeks ago, I was inspired to do the first Sorrowful mystery - The Agony on the Garden (Illuminated Manuscript - The Agony in the Garden) on vellum, using watercolors and gold acrylic paint.. I really liked how the vellum looked, wrinkles on the paper, notwithstanding.
For this project I decided to do an illuminated letter. An illuminated letter is usually the first letter of a page or paragraph of an illuminated manuscript. The illuminated letter is quite ostentatiously decorated with gold, color and sometimes painted with scenes from the Bible, people, plants animals or mythological figures and the letter is enlarged as compared to the rest of the manuscript which is in small black calligraphy letters. As I was studying the calligraphy in an attempt to translate it, I found out that the monks liberally used abbreviations in their writing. I do not know why and if I had to guess, I would say due to space constraints. For example the word quod would be written as q' or Domine as Dne.

An Illuminated Letter S
From Wikimedia Commons
For this illuminated letter project, I worked on vellum again but I decided to use gouache paint which I thought would lend the painting some body and brilliance. During the process, I  switched to liquid acrylics since I felt that the gouache was way too opaque for the effect I wanted. I was not very happy with the acrylics either and ended up using watercolors in the end. So this piece is a combination of water media. I tried to stick to the steps/processes of the illuminators of the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period. So I made a rough sketch of an illuminated letter R  from a work auctioned by Christie's titled RESURRECTION, historiated initial R, cutting from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM (http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4393910.). I chose this subject matter since I intended the piece for my sister-in-law who is named after the Resurrection. Coincidentally, this is also the first mystery of the Glorious mystery, The Resurrection. After I completed the sketch, I went over it with a waterproof ink pen (Pigma Black #01) since I was going to be painting over the lines with water media and did not want the ink to bleed. Then I applied gold paint (Jacquard Lumiere 554 Sunset Gold). On this particular piece, the background is gold. It took about three coats of gold paint. After the gold dried, I painted the border and then the inner motif, the risen Christ.

To finish, I penned the Latin  prayer "Deus in adjutorium meum intende. Domine ad adjuvadum me festina." English translation: "Incline unto my aid O God. O Lord make haste to help me." This is a prayer that appears at every opening of the prayers from the Book of Hours. I sprayed the whole thing with matte varnish which I found dulled the paint and gold on the painting. I still have to find the best way to protect the surface of the painting on vellum. Now, if I can get my husband to make me a mat for the piece, at least it will be halfway secure when we mail it to Australia. I hope my sister-in-law will like it. I guess, if she doesn't,  she can give it to one of her siblings since all their names begin with R.
All in all, what I learned from this study/experiment with vellum is that I should stick with watercolors. I am not discouraged with working with vellum since it does lend an overall  bona fide feel of an illuminated manuscript. I love doing this project since through painting I am able to meditate and reflect on the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary and pray for family and friends. I imagine the monks of the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period felt the same as they prepared the parchment or vellum, scribed the prayers and hymns and created the illuminated letters and decorations on the pages.

Detail from Resurrexi (I am Risen) - Illuminated Letter R, 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ifugao Painting Collection - Talungko Studies

Talungko studies 2015
Watercolor on Moleskine watercolor sketchbook
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Ok,  I am still obsessed with the indigenous people of the Philippines, so I continue to crank out painting after painting of the Ifugaos from the Cordillera Mountain Region with emphasis on their woven fabrics which I love. These are my latest and I am calling them my Talungko Studies since all the women are sitting on the ground with their arms crossed over their upraised knees in position referred to in Tagalog as atalungko (squatting).  It seems like this is the Ifugao's favorite sitting position since many strike this pose when they are resting, eating, smoking, playing a musical instrument, gossiping or just plain hanging around watching the world go by.  The women in the painting's pose reminnd me of the wood or stone carved deities that are called anitos, which are mostly depicted in the same squatting position. One of my relatives had  one at their house. I do not know how it got there, a gift or souvenir from travels to the Cordilleras perhaps. But I remember it since the dark wooden statue scared me when I was younger but as I grew older and learned more about anitos, I started to appreciate its cultural significance and artistic merits. The anitos are household deities that may represent deceased ancestors, nature spirits or dryads. The ancient Filipinos used these statues to ask for favors, guidance and protection. I am not sure if they are still in use today for worship since many in the Cordilleras have been converted to Catholicism.  Today these statues are prized by collectors and displayed in homes as works of art. I think they go very well with any d├ęcor. They are very traditional but at the same time very modern.
An anito statue

Below are my studies. No more than quick practice sketches on my sketchbook, I had so much fun painting these ladies, so much so that they have become "virtual" friends. As I worked on these paintings, I thought about and imagined what kind of life they have had. Their faces leathered and lined with deep creases inform me of their hardiness, determination  and strong will and yet behind the eyes there are a variety of emotions - sadness, worry, amusement, determination, wonder, even despair but above all I see their love for their land. In the Cordilleras, women transplant the rice from the seed beds to the fields since it is believed their fertility in child bearing leads to a richer and more abundant harvest.

I am told there are still areas in the Cordilleras where clothing and headdresses like the ones shown in my paintings are still worn but, most of the women now wear western-style clothing for everyday. For the most part, you will see the Ifugao in these attire/costume at a festival, special occasion or for show for the tourist trade. Much is being done for the preservation of their culture but westernization is quickly taking over. I really hope that the Philippine government make the preservation and retention of the culture, heritage and mores of the indigenous people a priority.

These sketches are very small, about 4.5" x 3". Maybe after doing these studies, I will be temporarily rid of my obsession with the people of the Cordilleras and jump into other projects or clean the house. Tough decision... Not!!!! The dust bunnies just will have to wait.

Talungko study #1 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Talungko study #4 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Talungko Study #5 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Talungko study #2 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Talungko study #3 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Talungko study #6 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Steps from start to finish
Talungko Study #6, 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Here is a very nice film on YouTube from Living Asia Channel about the Ifugao people


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Painting a Miniature

Verbum caro factum est (And the Word was made Flesh 2015
Watercolor on porcelain 4.25" x 2.25"
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Challenge by the early medieval artists who painted miniature paintings on parchment or vellum in great detail, I decided to try my hand at it. Instead of paper or canvas, I chose to paint on porcelain without really knowing how it is done. So running on just inspiration, I dove into it.
Sketch on porcelain blank

I had a 4.25" x 2.25" porcelain blank shaped as an oval lying around in my studio for years. I do not even remember when, where or how I got it. Must be one of those thing I thought was a must-have years ago. I started out by sketching my subject, The Annunciation, which I tried to replicate from the work of a Georgian master iconographer, Amiran Golidze. I really admire his work and thought that I might use one to emulate his style only for the sole purpose of honing my skills. Unfortunately, my work turned out folksy and amateurish as compared to his exquisitely and exceptionally delicate and refined work. Someday, I hope to come to even at least I/100th of his talent. As they say, practice, practice, practice!!!

Original work by Amiran Golidze
The  Annunciation is the moment where the angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. I love this story since it represents one's unwavering faith, embodied by Mary, whose consent epitomizes acceptance, trust and belief in God. This is also the story of God's generosity in giving mankind  the gift of his Son, Jesus, in His human nature. 

Work in progress
Porcelain painting proved to be as difficult as painting on vellum. the paint (I used watercolor) did not absorb on the surface and you had to wait for each layer to dry before adding more paint or risk removing previously applied paint. I did use that to my advantage by just using a clean moist brush to remove some of the paint for highlights. The brushes I used were small  rounds with sizes running from 2 to 10/0. It was important that the brushes came to a sharp point since I was working n a very small image.
I added a border of gold surrounding the oval motif, where I wrote the prayer "Hail Mary" in Latin. The title inscribed just below the image of the piece is "Verbum caro factum est (And the Word was made Flesh)". I derived the title from the Catholic prayer, The Angelus, which is a daily devotional that reminds us of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and the Incarnation of Jesus. This passage is also found in the gospels in the Bible.

The gold edging with the prayer "Hail Mary" in Latin

The Angelus Prayer

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done to me according to your word.
Hail Mary. . .
V. And the Word was made flesh. R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary. . .
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

John 1:14 New International Version (NIV)
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.